Rather than injunctions, they were statements of high purpose and reason. The rights to free speech, religion, and assembly were not only derived from the decades of oppression which forced the earliest American settlers to migrate; nor from the more recent authoritarian regime of British colonial rulers, but from the philosophical principles of Locke, Rousseau, Voltaire, and Montesquieu.
There were indeed such things as ‘inalienable rights’, endowed by the Creator. The Bill of Rights was, then, far more than a determined and final rejection of Europeanism, the divine right of kings, and the pseudo-established order of monarchy, subjects, and exploitation. It was a statement both of obedience to God in whom these rights were immanent, and a declaration of the duties and obligations of His subjects.
Today, the Rights enshrined in the Bill have been distorted and used for parochial, personal ends. Freedom of assembly did not mean, in the minds of Jefferson, Adams, and Monroe, violent protest. Freedom of speech did not include inflammatory rhetoric, and demagoguery. Freedom of religion did not include the right to intimidate and marginalize those who value religion above secular interests. Freedom of the press did not mean a sanction of exploitative mass marketing of intemperate actions in the name of democracy.
Jefferson in particular was insistent on this point. The ‘pursuit of happiness’ did not give license to any and all personal ambitions for wealth, power, or status. It acknowledged the role of individual enterprise in economic, societal, and personal affairs; but such enterprise was sanctioned only within a communal context. One’s own ambitions were not to be pursued at the expense of others.
Of course Jefferson and his colleagues understood the nature of capitalism as well as any. They knew that private enterprise could be a zero sum game; but they insisted that for the sake of polity, and the rational, progressive growth of the new Republic, individual ambitions must be restrained.
In other words, the freedoms embodied in the Bill of Rights were essential for any modern society for they would ensure both individual growth and socio-economic progress. Hamilton, however, was a conservative outlier. He worried that an uneducated populace could easily pervert these essential principles, and that demagogues could use such uneducated ambition for their own venal ends. He advocated for a more traditional, less populist form of government than Jefferson.
Hamilton has been proven right. American society is in chaos because the brakes on populism and the excesses of popular democracy envisaged in the Jefferson-Hamilton compromise have been removed. Every 'progressive' cause has been legitimized by elites who, in the name of diversity and multiculturalism, have sanctioned them.
The Founding Fathers who wrote checks and balances into the Constitution and created the Supreme Court as the final arbiter of law and jurisprudence, never anticipated and would never welcome the partisan nature of the high court today. Far from the disinterested, removed, objective reviewer of lower court (and therefore popular) opinion, it has become an interventionist force in American society. The appointed Justices vote, in most cases, strictly along party lines; and anyone paying attention must conclude political partisanship in the extreme.
The divisiveness provoked by radical populism, progressivism, and the championing of any claim of ‘diversity’ has now reached crisis proportions. As the National Review has stated in an editorial (7.8.16) responding to an orchestrated sniper attack on police guarding a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas:
We don’t yet know who executed this attack, and we must wait for details, which should be forthcoming soon enough. But to suggest that lethal attacks on the police are not made more likely by the hateful anti-cop climate stoked by Black Lives Matter — with the indulgence and often the encouragement of government officials and opinion elites — is to be detached from reality.In other words, the rights of freedom of expression and assembly have been distorted. Racial hatred and venomous and now physical attacks against the police when many of the racially-motivated claims against police brutality have been dismissed by the courts are increasingly common.
The media – ‘freedom of the press’ – have been complicit in this call to violence. After the latest incident in Minnesota, the fiancée of a black shooting victim and her mother were interviewed on a national news outlet with no representatives of law enforcement present.
Given the successive legal dismissals of cases against policemen in Baltimore, Atlanta, and elsewhere; and given the heightened sensitivity of the issues of police-minority incidents, one would have hoped for a more balanced and fair reportage. Nothing of the sort. Not only was the reporting biased, but it demeaned and degraded those who were close to the man who was killed.
Even to the casual observer, it is clear that the intentions of the Founding Fathers have been disregarded and their words and declarations manipulated and perverted for venal, political ends.
There is no way to promote radical diversity – that is that all racial and ethnic minorities deserve favorable treatment in the courts, in college admissions, in hiring, and social expression – without promoting its ugly side. Activists whether on campus or in the streets, emboldened by the unequivocal support of ‘progressives’ and protected by distorted judicial renderings of free speech and assembly, have provoked more civil disorder than at any other moment in the recent past. .
There is good reason for foreign observers – both those sympathetic to American exceptionalism and those dismissive of it – to wonder what is happening in America today. It certainly seems as though civil discourse, respect for Constitutional provisions, and concern for polity and social harmony have gone out the window; and that America, far from the beacon of civilization, has become an ordinary, Third World state of intellectual corruption, untamed disorder, and venality.
Much of the responsibility lies with the ‘progressive’ Left which has been unalloyed in its championing of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity and its unforgiving criticism of those who oppose them. The Left has ignored the legitimate claims of religious fundamentalists, conservative Christians, and the white majority in its insistent calls for diversity at any cost. It has categorically refused to consider anything but its own political agenda.
The Left must accept responsibility for provoking, aiding, and abetting Black Lives Matter. The violence in Dallas is but the latest expected result of such partisan promotion of a radical agenda.