That's how it was written for immortal consecration on that sweltering Philadelphia day in July of 1776. We've heard that line so many times since we were children. It's been drilled into our heads. The obvious omission of course, is that women were left out. And in actual practice, blacks, Native Americans, and other ethnic minorities were also excluded. In fact, the only ones included by the Founding Fathers were propertied white males. And the more property the better.
Despite the revolutionary, egalitarian rhetoric, our liberal democracy, replete with its assumptions about individualism and private property rights, rests squarely on the assumption that people actually are not equal at all. In our competitive system, some come out on the top and some come out on the bottom. Most find a niche somewhere in-between. Those on the top, due to their wealth, undoubtedly enjoy more freedom and rights than those on the bottom. The upper classes are hardly equal with the lower.
In fact, contrary to Jefferson's proclamation that "all men are created equal," James Madison, the "Father of the Constitution" and fourth President of the United States, wrote in the Federalist Papers, no. 10: "From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property (my italics), the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results."
Different and unequal faculties? Different degrees and kinds of property? What happened to "all men created equal"? So which is it, Mr. Madison, which are we to believe? Jefferson's and Locke's "all men created equal," or your "unequal faculties of acquiring property"? Either we are created equal or we're not, you can't have it both ways!
Madison continues: "The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government."
There we have it, the truth at last: the first object of government is to protect the faculties of men, which are presumed to be unequal; as a result of this inequality, some will acquire more wealth, riches and property than others; and this property should be protected by the government.
Sound familiar? This sounds remarkably like the way our faltering system operates today! This is because, in the constitutional debate of that time period, the Madisonian viewpoint prevailed over the Jeffersonian. Henceforth, the Haves were protected by government from the Have Nots. Yet, instead of being honest about it, and calling it aristocracy, we retained the "all men are created equal" rhetoric and declared our system to be natural, right and good. And we called it democracy. But take away the bows and ribbons and it is no different than "Survival of the Fittest."
Not very distant, are we Mr. Madison, from the Law of the Jungle? Not as removed or evolved as we would like to believe about ourselves? Welcome to Western Civilization, where if you haven't succeeded it's because you don't measure up, because you have "unequal faculties of acquiring property."
Welcome to Life in the Foodchain.
The nightmare of Orwell's Animal Farm has come back to haunt us: "All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others." Animal Farm was written as a satire against the replacement of one type of tyranny for another, masking itself as freedom. Translated into the 1990's, this means all people supposedly have the same freedom, rights and liberty guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Yet in reality, some have the wealth, power, and position -- and apparently the right -- to do what they want more than others.
Witness: those people with the most "faculty" and "property" end up with the most freedom of speech and press (they own most of the television stations, printing presses, and movie studios); the most equal protection (including the best schools, the glitziest health spas, the best doctors, and the most elaborate private security systems); the most freedom from search and seizure (how often do we hear of the police jumping someone in Beverly Hills like they did to Rodney King?); they hire all the best lawyers (it helps them to loot S&L's and clear cut old growth forests, evading prosecution as they proclaim: "The best way to rob a bank is to own one"); they buy the most Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness (the biggest, most fabulous houses, swimming pools, gas-guzzling luxury cars and boats, private planes, glamorous vacations, etc.).
"All men are created equal." Yeah right. Besides being sexist, this never was the operative principle of our government or country. It was pure propaganda, right from the start. What the Founding Fathers -- not coincidentally the richest men in the new nation -- wanted was an economic and political milieu in which they and their property rights would not be interfered with by a meddlesome king or government, or by anyone more powerful than they. It was a palace coup, except now there was not to be one king but a few hundred; the divine kingship had been extended to all propertied white males, and especially the wealthiest of these, like George Washington, John Adams, John Hancock, Madison, Hamilton and their ilk.
Our society is still reeling from the inequalities that have resulted from this legacy. Our society is still dominated by a wealthy, predominantly white male elite who control our trickle-down political and economic system. The fact that it takes a billionaire like Ross Perot to inspire hope in so many voters is just one more proof of how much the political system has been bought by economics.
During our Independence Day celebrations, as we examine the wreckage around us -- wreckage that is not confined to South Central Los Angeles -- perhaps we can ask ourselves as individuals, institutions, and corporations, what more we can do to bring the promise of the American Dream to every woman, man and child in the United States of America. And perhaps we can ask ourselves if we are ready for the fundamental economic and political changes that realizing that American Dream may require.
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