Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Consent of the Governed

Here's an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

And then here are the results of a secret poll conducted by the British Ministry of Defense in 2005 regarding the attitudes of Iraqi's. A mere 82% were strongly opposed to the presence of coalition troops. They want troops out. Of course the puppet regime installed there thinks they should keep the coalition forces. Probably because they know they'd be the first ones hanging from the lamposts if U.S. forces did withdraw. But we need to ask ourselves something. Do we believe that a government derives it's just powers from the consent of the governed, and if so what is our responsibility towards the Iraqi people?


Ufactor said...

Sounds like you're trying to have your Agnostic moral cake and eat it too...

Not to point out the obvious, but doesn't the logical syllogism here predicate the consent of the governed on the endowment of the *Creator*?

I suppose you could draft your own Declaration to the effect of:

We hold these actions to be the logical outworking of a Darwinian ethic which might not hold true in the future, but at least in the past we posit it has aided in the propagation of the species: life, liberty, and the pursuit of pleasure. To secure these attributes, governments, are instituted among men, deriving their just, er, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed.

Jon said...

Such a pain you are. Yeah, I don't agree with the founders that our basic rights come from a creator, but really the logic of my point is just that if you think a government derives it's just powers from the consent of the governed (an agnostic and a Christian might agree on this) then we have to consider the implications of that as it applies to Iraq. Does the Iraqi puppet regime have a legitimate claim to it's own existence?

Ufactor said...

I will grant you that the question you raise in the broad sense is valid, and at some level theists and agnostics/atheists should be able to discuss issues without having to continually defend their moral framework, otherwise discussions wouldn't get very far.

However, you're discussing a specific's government's actions, and pointing out what you see as an inconsistency in following it's own moral imperatives. But you then take it a step further and say that they should follow their moral imperatives when you find their foundational basis completely erroneous.

Again, I'm not arguing (presently) that an agnostic/atheist couldn't find reasons to behave in a similar manner and find the actions unjust for a completely different reason, I'm just saying when you bring in the Declaration of Independence as a model for moral behavior on one hand, and then outright reject it's starting premise of a Creator on the other, it just seems you're cutting off the very branch you're standing on.

I would be very interested to hear an agnostic/atheistic's rewrite of the Declaration of Independence, with the pesky theistic framework and talk about being "self evident" removed. ;-)

Jon said...

So many people disagree about the foundational basis for moral principles, but that doesn't bother me. As long as we can agree on what the moral principles are we can form a basis for a moral discussion.

Though people disagree about the foundational basis for the claims in the D of I they generally don't disagree about the moral principles. It is self evident that a man as created should have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is a fact that a government's claim to legitimacy rests on the consent of the governed. Do we agree on this? Yes we do. So we're good to go.

Not even Christians agree on the real foundations for moral principles. Some believe in Divine Command. Some believe that morality is something that God is subject to. Some believe morality itself is an outworking of the nature of God. The fact that Christians don't agree is not really relevant to the question of whether or not it's wrong to kill a person in order to take his money. We can resolve that without getting in to Calvinism.

Ufactor said...

The Declaration of Independence's notion of endowment by the creator is broad enough to encompass a diversity of views within Christianity regarding the exact nature of the moral law, while at the same time obviously excluding views which would reject a notion of God to begin with.

More to the point, it still seems like bit of a slight of hand to use the Declaration of Independence to support your argument when you have a fundamental disagreements on it's moral legitimacy.

BTW - Do you really find it self evident that man should have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? I thought morality had to be linked to selective advantage which has the potential to change in the future. :-)

Jon said...

Morality tied to selective advantage? I'm not even going to dignify that with a response. :)

Yeah, I do think life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is something man is entitled to and I think that is self evident.

There's no sleight of hand here. Moral discussions begin with shared values. We all share these values even if we don't agree on the foundation.