I just rediscovered an incredible John Adams quote that I absolutely love.
Ambition is one of the more ungovernable passions of the human heart. The love of power is insatiable and uncontrollable. There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty
What a gem, huh?
The interesting thing about many of our Founders (Adams especially) was the disconnect often present between their philosophy and actions when in positions of power. Personally, I don’t think that speaks to a weakness in their character, but more so an understanding of their own lot in life; imperfect humans.
Progressive historians, like Philip Davidson and John C. Miller, who want excuses to demonize a philosophy that is antithetical to the pursuit of their agenda, often attack the individuals espousing thoughts they disagree with. I think that’s an intellectually weak and juvenile way of trying to further one’s own ideas. Sadly, it’s also something you see from today’s militantly ideological wings of both the right and the left, and it adds nothing to the political discourse.
A perfect philosophy will always be shared with the world via an imperfect human. That’s why I don’t see men like Adams, Jefferson or Madison (among many others) as hypocrites. On the contrary, I believe they were humble men, inherently aware of their own imperfections via their comprehension of human nature.
That’s why their goal was to limit the breadth of power government could have in our lives in a structural sense; which we see via the philosophy that informs the values set forth in our Constitution. A rule of law, not of men, is the ideal. The extent to which that noble notion can be realized in practice is an entirely different issue, deserving of exploration in its own right.
Philosophy is wonderful; but as we’ve seen, despite the perfection of an idea, its execution is another story entirely. I do think our Founders did the best they could in framing the Constitution (for the most part); but to what extent has it mattered in practice?
It makes me wonder if true limited government is actually possible. Frankly, I think it’s probably not – in a pure sense. But, given the tyranny so omnipresent in world history, I have to hand it to our Founders; the American Experiment has thus far, had a great run.
Jefferson knew that the natural way of things is for government to expand over time, while liberty contracts. It’s why he advocated a new revolution for each generation. Despite the rhetoric, I don’t think Jefferson was calling for a violent uprising. I believe we can reasonably draw that conclusion, because he never sought to overthrow the U.S. government in the 38 years he lived after the Constitution was ratified. He warned, however, that it’s important for the American people to remind our leaders that we can (and will) fight back if necessary.
What country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not
warned from time to time, that their people preserve the spirit of
Despite imperfections in messaging, image and organization, I think the Tea Party movement is representative of that. I just wish entertainers would stop attempting to hijack it for their own glorification – but that’s going to happen anytime a movement gains traction. I kind of consider it collateral damage, worthy of being noted, but ultimately ignored and not catered to.
Despite all obstacles, one thing’s for sure – our Founders knew there was danger from all men; themselves included.