American freedom: Plato or Hegel?


Multumesc pentru comentarii. Mai jos este un eseu scris de mine mai demult care prezinta mai clar punctul meu de vedere. Cu scuzele de rigoare adresate pentru folosirea limbii engleze pe site.


Beholding the desk used by Thomas Jefferson to draft the Declaration of Independence at the Smithsonian, the bill of sale of one of his girl-slaves being on display next to it, calls to mind Kierkegaard’s definition of paradox as dangerous understanding. The not-so-dangerous common understanding of the American paradox, inspired by Edmund Morgan, who also coin-phrased the ideograph, is that of a logical conflict between the Declaration of Independence and slavery, explained, if not excused, by historical circumstances. I will argue (more dangerously) that the true conflict is that between the revolutionary aims of the Declaration of Independence and the alleged timelessness of its moral axioms, easily turned into an argument for the status quo.

The Declaration is a revolutionary manifesto framed in Platonic language: “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”. The argument begs the question of “why are these truths self-evident” and the answer is “because they looked self-evident to the Founding Fathers”. Then the question arises “what else looked self-evident to them”? The answer would be: “that the Rights women, children and non-Europeans are not as ‘unalienable’ as those of ‘all men’”.

The revolutionary shows up in the next paragraph: “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government”. The hidden core of the American paradox is the tension between perceiving the Founding Fathers as the philosophers of Plato’s Republic, leading by their ability to discern timeless Truth from the shadows of history, and the Founding Fathers as Hegelian heroes, leading in change by their ability to discern the Zeitgeist and seize historical momentum. The broad common ground of liberty and slavery in American history is the tragic result of this ambivalence.

Two examples, one from the civil war, the other from the civil-rights movement, will illuminate the statement above. “Reverend Devereux Jarrati, an Anglican priest, represented the widespread view that slaves… were born to a certain station and role in life by God’s design”1. Devereux’ God was the God of the Declaration of Independence, because he was “the God of nature”2 who gave all men the Right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Slavery was the natural state of blacks, just as liberty was the natural state of “all men”. It was their own way in the pursuit of happiness.

Moreover, as the “God of nature” was the watchmaker of Newton and Paley, and nature itself was understood as an intricately perfect mechanism, any change in the natural order, slavery included, was harmful to humanity and rebellious toward the Creator.

Lincoln, however, issued the Proclamation of Emancipation with a note at the God of history. “God has decided this question in favor of the slave”3. He did not infer timeless truth from the unchanging ways of nature. His was the argument of the prophets in Israel: God speaks through war. History was to Lincoln what nature had been to Jefferson: the milieu of truth. Yet this time truth was not self-evident unless brought home by canons and blood.

It is noteworthy that Charles Darwin published his findings about the same time. He put an end not only to the concept of timeless nature, but also to that of timeless truth. “Read monkey for preexistence” was his answer to Plato. Lincoln did not probably have time to read the Origins of Species, but he certainly captured the Zeitgeist.

The conflicting views will persist through the civil rights movement, one century later. Reverend Jerry Falwell brought the constitutional separation of Church and State as an argument against the clergy being involved in the civil rights movement4. His entering the political fray in the post Roe era was not a matter of inconsistency. In both cases, Falwell abode by the letter of the Constitution, which he deemed as inerrant and timeless as that of the King James Bible. On the other hand, Martin Luther King, who followed Hegel and Gandhi rather than the Bible, turned to the “God (read the dialectics) of history”5 for new truths and rights, not embedded in the old letter. There was no self-evident truth about voting rights to the Founding Fathers. Moreover, there’s no Platonic truth about minimum wage. Yet King’s universe was no longer the perfect clock of the pre-Darwinian era. He felt compelled to change the world.

The American paradox continues to subsist as a conflict between the promise of unalienable rights, in the Declaration, and things as they are, grounded in a Platonic understanding of rights. Such status quo implies “those political and economic forces that indirectly contribute to inequality”..6 The worst of them is a new inner city culture where being “street smart” or participating in underground economies become surviving adaptations7. A civil right activist, for instance, could raise the issue of police profiling minority teenagers for stopping and frisking. Nevertheless, the true issue is not profiling, but rather a culture of permanent danger and mistrust in authority, shaping the teens into reasonable suspects.

Yet the typical liberal will defend that very culture, and challenge profiling, in a way that is basically not different from the one used by reverend Devereux to defend slavery, when they turn race, culture and tribal identity into “self-evident” rights. History is blind to Platonic absolutes.

1Mecham 124

2ibid. 74

3ibid. 117

4 ibid. 199

5ibid. 203

6Wilson 5

7ibid. 15-23

Works cited

“The Declaration of Independence”. The Charters of Freedom. Apr 10, 2013. Web.

Mechan, John. American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers and the making of a nation. New York: Random House, 2007. Print.

Mechan, John. American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers and the making of a nation. New York: Random House, 2007. Print.

Morgan, Edmund. American Slavery, American Freedom. New York: Norton, 1975. Print.

Wilson, William Julius. More than a race: being black and poor in the inner city. New York: Norton, 2010. Print.

5 Responses to American freedom: Plato or Hegel?

  1. Frate Edi. Va urmaresc de mai mult timp. As dori sa va intreb ceva dar care nu are legatura cu tema discutiei din aceasta postare.Sper sa nu deranjez. Ati prezentat acum mai mult timp tot intr-o postare o afirmatie a sorei White care spunea ca nu toate viziunile ei au fost inspirate sau cam asa ceva. Daca nu va deranjez imi puteti da referinta fie ea si in limba engleza? Va multumesc.

  2. ge2oana says:


    Auzi,tu, vecina, ce-ntamplare….

    Da´ de ce vrei ,mai Cipri tu , referinta aia de la madam White, ai !?

    Nu cumva si tu…..ehehehe, ai inceput sa gusti DIN pomul oprit al interogatiei !?

    E periculos, dar e frumos….vorba cantecului…sa vedem, sa vedem ce-o sa iasa….

    Mai, mai, ce de baieti , dar si ce de fete !!

    Salutare, Cipri, atat tie cat si sotiei ! Pe bune, bune !!!!!

    Cine citeste, sa perceapa !

    GOODEVNINGTOOANA, adica eu, ge2oana

    Adventist, adventist, adventist…..da mama cu paru-n mine ca n-am ascultat de tine….

    Dar, sa fie parul de plop ,sa nu ma omori de tot….

    Maria Tanase, saraca…..

    Hei, Ciprian & comp…

    Men, sper ca nu te-ai botosit de ce ti-am scris.

    Ma bucur pt. voi doi cum putin poti sa-ti inchipui, dar sa ai grija cu ….volumul, cu IMC-ul, pt. ca vad ca esti pus pe trai bun !! 🙂

    auzi, Edi,

    Care frica si de ce ne face ca sa nu mai fim noi insine !?

    Mi-e frica ca….

    Adica , daca am gandit si( am mai ) si zis ceva, adica cica , ma ia dracu´.

    pai cum dracu´ sa nu-are dreptate mister dawkins !?

    zona minata….

    coicu mic si ochii roata….

  3. ge2oana says:

    banii sunt bani….

    as fi mqai mult decat…..

    cihne stie si cu ce bani , aia mai sfinti si inspirati , slujitori, isi fac vacantele prin frantele, caii si 0flintele haiducilor….

    pe la izvoare, nu mai aparaaare, umbra haiducilor…..

    auziti, voi , mai de-o varsta cu mine …..cenaclul ……flacara…. a facut mai mult decat ….popa, bidiuc, bagabontiii astai azs, ~!@#$% de surori…

    si praduitori la seScuritate…..

  4. Cred ca este vorba despre urmatorul citat:

    The Bible is written by inspired men, but it is not God’s mode of thought and expression. It is that of humanity. God, as a writer, is not represented. Men will often say such an expression is not like God. But God has not put Himself in words, in logic, in rhetoric, on trial in the Bible. The writers of the Bible were God’s penmen, not His pen. Look at the different writers.

    It is not the words of the Bible that are inspired, but the men that were inspired. Inspiration acts not on the man’s words or his expressions but on the man himself, who, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, is imbued with thoughts. But the words receive the impress of the individual mind. The divine mind is diffused. The divine mind and will is combined with the human mind and will; thus the utterances of the man are the word of God. (Manuscript 24, 1886; written in Europe in 1886.)

  5. ge2oana says:

    Da, citatul asta-i….

    Edi, tu ai idee cam ce se face cu banu´ de la fundatia lu´ tanti White!?

    Tot citesc mereu ca este cea mai tradusa autoare americana, ca este ,,,, in fine , multe.

    Nu auzim nimic de urmasii cuplului (sfant !!) White.

    Nici un nepot-stranepot care sa iasa la interval cu ceva din mostenirea familiei pe linie de bunica. Nimic.

    E un secretism ermetic-total in ce priveste fundatia si administrarea ei.
    E tabu-ul, Meca adventista, e ceva bine pazit de organizatia centrala si nu numai.

    Se tot scot carti pe banda-rulanta cu autor EGW, se produc bani din dreptul de autor ( ce-i drept, si mamaia White a facut mare tam-tam pe chestia asta cu dreptul de autor, deh, banul…), se mentine o diabolica atitudine de mitizare a istoriei sda ca fiind , vai mama, derect de la Isus din sanctuar , se vorbeste de reforme si inviorari la 7 am sau 7 pm, de posturi totale sau partiale, mai multi bani de dat, 2 sau mai multe zecimi, mai multa umilinta fara intrebari-intrebatoare fata de organizatie si orice tine de ea, se fac de de toate ca sa nu mai scartaie carul evanghelie adventist.

    Bun, si care-i rezultatul pana la urma !?

    Oameni de care nimanui nu-i pasa, nevroze si nevrotici cu vinovatii niciodata rezolvate, dispret ( in numele lui isus, desigur ) fata de cine vrea sa inteleaga ce se intampla, privilegii sfinte pt. aia de-si zic ministrii lui Dumnezeu, cine poate ,poate , cine nu , aleluia si-un praz verde… cate mai ale-alea ce le traim irosindu-ne viata cu gandul la ne-murire si rasplati in ….ceruri.

    Mishto prosteala, halal smecheri sfinti ce-si iau banu´ de la fraieri care muncesc si tot n-au…

    Dumnezeu !?

    Hai, dom´le, ce dracu´, chiar nu percepi ca-i doar dialectica, adica iluzii vandute (scump!!!!) la fraieri !?

    Remediu !?

    Pai, nici Dumenezu cat e El de Dumnezeu, nu mai poa´ sa faca nemeca, n-are cum !!

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