Jeremiah Wright’s longtime congregant Barack Obama wants to tell you what God desires for America. At a recent speech in Washington, the president proclaimed that “God wants to see us help ourselves by putting people back to work.” Obama’s rather tired revelation however is worth considering for several reasons.
First, Obama’s White House spokesman Jay Carney seems to have squirmed a bit when trying to unpack the president’s somewhat confusing proclamation. When challenged by reporters about the propriety of bringing God into the current political fray Carney responded by saying:
I believe that the phrase from the Bible is ‘the Lord helps those who help themselves.
The trouble with Carney’s response is that it is simply wrong. The phrase is not biblical in origin, and more importantly, the president said nothing about people who “help themselves.” The president in other words wants the federal government to expand in size, scope, and power in order to put certain constituencies back to work.
Carney seemed to realize this philosophical dilemma — but how could he not? Weeks earlier the president had thundered at a million-dollar San Francisco fundraiser that if he were to lose the 2012 election Americans would be cast adrift and unable to help themselves:
The one thing that we absolutely know for sure is that if we don’t work even harder than we did in 2008, then we’re going to have a government that tells the American people, “You are on your own.”
Stepping back then from his earlier statement that “the Lord helps those who help themselves,” Carney played it safe with a conclusion more socialist-friendly:
I think the point the president is making is that, you know, we have it within our capacity to do the things to help the American people.
Simply put, anything smacking of self-reliance doesn’t have much of a shelf-life in this administration. The purported constitutional scholar in the Oval Office has no grasp of the underpinnings of that document in a decidedly different concept of God’s desires for us.
The philosopher Eric Hoffer once noted that the very identity of America itself was fashioned by those who actually enjoyed being on their own:
The history of this country was made largely by people who wanted to be left alone. Those who could not thrive when left to themselves never felt at ease in America.
Hoffer was clearly channeling the exceptional energy created some three hundred years earlier by America’s honorary “Founding Grandfather” John Locke. Although an Englishman, Locke’s notions of self-reliance, limited and divided government, free trade, prosperity, industry, and justified rebellion inspired intelligent and responsible civic-republicans from our own Founding Fathers as well as to supporters of the contemporary Tea Party.
Locke, in his 1690 publication of the Second Treatise of Government, provided the most compelling modern standard for making an informed judgment about whether a country’s elected officials have betrayed their trust. The last thing Obama’s handlers should be doing is encouraging voters to revisit Locke’s Second Treatise — a book whose subtitle could have been “God Bless America.”
Indeed, Locke’s Second Treatise is a small but powerful book that should be within easy reach of all concerned Americans. (Its text can be found here and here, gratis.) In the first part of the Treatise, Locke wants to show that in the “state of nature” prior to any civil government men are usually reasonable enough to get along fairly well. Locke details the plethora of ways for example that small farmers cultivate, trade, and expand their property. Money is invented in order to eliminate spoilage and generate surpluses for exchange.
Locke’s objective in describing this fully functioning and government-free “state of nature” is twofold: First, he wants to demonstrate that men can actually rule themselves quite well without government (i.e., they can “help themselves”); and Second, Locke wants to show that self-reliance, industry, talent and free trade constitute the precise qualities that God wants for us to employ in order to solve life’s most basic problem: self-preservation.
In other words, if men decide to do the opposite and create governments that promote dependency, class warfare, resentment, and envy then our attempts to solve the problem of economic scarcity will fail, thus violating God’s most basic command: preserve thyself.
For example, in section #34 of the Second Treatise Locke tells us what God really wants:
God gave the world … to the use of the industrious and rational (and labour was to be his title to it), not to the fancy or covetousness of the quarrelsome and contentious. He that had as good left for his improvement as was already taken up, needed not complain, ought not to meddle with what was already improved by another’s labour; if he did, ’tis plain he desired the benefit of another’s pains, which he had no right to, and not the ground which God had given him in common with others to labour on, and whereof there was as good left as that already possessed, and more than he knew what to do with, or his industry could reach to.
Locke’s genius was in realizing that nature uncultivated would promote the kind of zero/sum thinking so precious to generations of economically-dense socialists. In short, in a private property, free-market economy there is always “as good left as that already possessed” since talented, responsible, and hard-working men and women always have room to “increase” nature’s bounty and establish new markets in the quest for the kind of prosperity that will benefit the entire community’s standard of living.
Covetous, quarrelsome, and contentious complainers who merely desire “the benefit of another’s pains” are therefore violating the natural law of self-preservation. This is precisely the point James Madison made about one hundred years later in 1787 when he warned about demagogues who would call for “improper and wicked projects” including inflating the currency, abolishing debts, and redistributing property.
Locke goes on in the Second Treatise to argue that men decide to leave the “state of nature” and establish a government precisely in order to protect their property from “quarrelsome and contentious” individuals who cannot thrive when left to themselves.
Locke warns also that unless government is divided, and unless politicians are circumscribed and issued term-limits they will tend to violate their original trust and begin to corrupt the very small-government, free market system they were established in power to protect.
The final part of Locke’s Second Treatise is in many ways the most important. It establishes the proper conditions for overturning an oppressive government. Locke argues however that since the people constitute the “master” in a commonwealth and the politicians represent the “servants” a rebellion is by definition a revolt by the government against the constitution and the hard-working people who want to be left alone to prosper under its guidance.
“The greatest crime I think a man is capable of” says Locke, is someone who “lays the foundation for overturning the constitution and frame of any just government.”
To prevent this kind of political corruption Locke advises constant vigilance by courageous individuals who can show troublesome politicians “the danger and injustice” of their behavior.
Being called “terrorists” by the nation’s vice president in other words pretty much indicates that Locke’s Tea Party progeny are fulfilling their constitutional (and arguably divine) function.
Locke’s Second Treatise then can be seen as one brilliant man’s attempt to demonstrate that God favors those who create the optimal conditions for personal initiative and self-reliance. In other words, human flourishing is impossible under conditions of big-government, socialist dependency.
A rather famous man of God, Mahatma Gandhi, once said that he looked upon “an increase in the power of the state with the greatest fear” because the state tends to do “the greatest harm to mankind by destroying individuality, which lies at the root of all progress.”
“Welcome evermore to gods and men” agreed Emerson, “is the self-helping man.”
Written by Ed Kaitz and published on AmericanThinker.com, November 10, 2011
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