Perspectives: Self-evident truths have no expiration date, not beholden to powers of law or kings

OPINION – Why is doing the right thing such a test of personal character? It’s because, more often than not, doing the right thing means having to stand against the crowd.

No one wants to be unpopular. No one relishes the sadistic pleasure others get out of questioning their motives or trying to smear their character.

Yet the most pivotal moments in human history tend to be rooted in one person, or a very small minority of people standing for what is right. By contrast, the biggest sorrows in human history were enabled by enough people failing to do the right thing.

One reason people fail to stand for what’s right is that they lose sight of basic truths that do not change. Such truths are an effective benchmark by which to measure the rightness or wrongness of a given proposition.

For instance, when the American Colonies chose to withdraw their consent from the government of King George II, Thomas Jefferson wrote of self-evident truths that supported their decision.

In the Declaration of Independence, we learn that those truths included all men being created equal – that their Creator endowed them with unalienable rights – and that government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed.

These truths provided the foundational stance by which the colonists declared their independence, fought for it, and won it from England. They provided the legal underpinning for the U.S. Constitution that called the federal government into existence and gave it carefully limited powers

The Founders were disparaged and accused of illegal, treasonous activity by those who claimed the right to rule them. But they were perfectly justified to secure self-rule rather than continue to obey King George.

Their commitment to those self-evident truths required treating them as something more than mere slogans. It required a willingness to make a stand, at great personal risk and cost, for what they felt was right.

That’s something that few Americans are capable of understanding in our day. Where the founders were more concerned with the forms, or principles, that were at stake, we’re much more focused on issues.

We’ve allowed ourselves to become hyper-focused on technicalities while ignoring the basic truths involved. It is a common trait of human nature when people have a bit of learning; they suppose themselves to be wise.

Jefferson explained this tendency in a letter to his friend Peter Carr in 1787:

State a moral case to a plowman and a professor. The former will decide it as well, and often better than the latter, because he has not been led astray by artificial rules.

This is not a condemnation of education; it is the recognition that the words “knowledge” and “wisdom” don’t mean quite the same thing.

Credentialism has taught us from our childhood to defer to experts to explain the world to us. But Claire Wolfe warns against reflexive submissiveness to experts:

Never presume anyone is right — or has more rights than you do — just because he or she is standing in front of a classroom, wearing a uniform, talking legalese, shouting from a pulpit, appearing in the media, or carrying a government badge.

We have a personal duty to examine and vet truth for ourselves. That means we must be capable of studying and reasoning beyond what we are told. This type of understanding does not require credentials. It requires a willingness to study until we understand. That’s a price that few are willing to pay.

A huge question before us today, is whether Jefferson’s self-evident truths upon which our system of government was founded are still valid. How we answer this question determines whether government, at any level, serves us or rules us.

There are ‘experts’ who think that time has rendered Jefferson’s observations obsolete. Joseph Sobran explains why this is wishful thinking:

Today it’s fashionable to condescend to Jefferson by saying his philosophy is a bit old-fashioned — plausible in an agrarian society, maybe, but hopelessly out of date now. Jefferson would reply that self-evident truths are never “old”: A proposition is either true or false. If his truths were true in 1776, they were always true, and will always remain true.

If our government is no longer bound by these truths, then we all have some difficult decisions to make regarding standing for what’s right.

If legitimate government is supposed to exist, by our consent, for the purpose of protecting our inalienable rights, then the government we have is no longer the one described in the Constitution.

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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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  • Bub April 3, 2014 at 10:59 am

    Except that Hyde is no different from anyone in that he cherry picks the “truths” that suit his wants and needs and petty opinions. LOL’d at the whole article…

  • Roy J April 3, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    I agree, Bub. Mushy logic is right! A self evident principle is posited; a proposition is demonstrated.

    • Bub April 3, 2014 at 6:05 pm

      What’s frightening is that Hyde may have some “fans” that actually take his crap seriously.

  • Roy J April 3, 2014 at 6:29 pm

    And for all Christians who think that Jefferson’s ‘self evident principles’ should be allowed to stand without comment or scrutiny upon his natural and metaphysical pretentions to philosophy, consider the following bit from Wikipedia:

    “The Jefferson Bible, or The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth as it is formally titled, was a book constructed by Thomas Jefferson in the latter years of his life by cutting and pasting with a razor and glue numerous sections from the New Testament as extractions of the doctrine of Jesus. Jefferson’s condensed composition is especially notable for its exclusion of all miracles by Jesus and most mentions of the supernatural, including sections of the four gospels which contain the Resurrection and most other miracles, and passages indicating Jesus was divine…Jefferson accomplished a more limited goal in 1804 with The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth, the predecessor to The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.[6] He described it in a letter to John Adams dated October 13, 1813:

    In extracting the pure principles which he taught, we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to themselves. We must dismiss the Platonists and Plotinists, the Stagyrites and Gamalielites, the Eclectics, the Gnostics and Scholastics, their essences and emanations, their logos and demiurges, aeons and daemons, male and female, with a long train of … or, shall I say at once, of nonsense. We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphibologisms into which they have been led, by forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill. The result is an octavo of forty-six pages, of pure and unsophisticated doctrines.”

    • Ryan April 4, 2014 at 7:43 am

      The reason Jefferson cut down the Bible to a condensed version was to get the teachings of Jesus to a wider audience. He wanted to persuade the Indians to read the Bible in an effort to “move them towards civilization” so the U.S wouldn’t have to fight them. David Barton has a copy of the Jefferson Bible, I think he is a better source then Wikipedia.

  • joanna April 3, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    Uh oh. I saw the photo of the forefathers and knew we were in trouble. So I decided not to actually read the article this time, because the articles by this communist… (errr columnist – autocorrect typo that I couldn’t resist leaving) up to this point have never proven worthwhile. I’m just reading the comments from now on, because the last few times they were much more insightful, educational, and even provided some much needed comic relief. “Roy”, where are you, and could you apply for a job at stgnews?

  • skippy April 4, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    Once again, more smug self-righteous twaddle masquerading as wisdom. And, true to form, the wise consist of a few select individuals chosen (no surprise!) by the few select individuals!
    “Yet the most pivotal moments in human history tend to be rooted in one person, or a very small minority of people standing for what is right.”
    [Hyde, as usual, tacitly includes himself as a voice for these select voices in the wilderness]
    “The words “knowledge” and “wisdom” don’t mean quite the same thing.”
    [Pray, do tell. I’m all ears. But I fear we’re off to a shaky start with things not meaning quite the same thing!]
    “Credentialism has taught us from our childhood to defer to experts to explain the world to us.”
    [Is this why Hyde cites Thomas Jefferson as a prime example of one of the “few select individuals”]
    “This type of understanding does not require credentials. It requires a willingness to study until we understand. That’s a price that few are willing to pay.”
    [Cringe! Does Hyde register how statements like this undermine his credibility, such as it was to begin with? So it’s now the snooty “select few”?! Talk about condescending!]
    “Standing for what’s right.”
    [Here’s the hitch. Self-evident truths are understood by only the (at the present moment) select few, and coming to realize these truths requires one to submit to the truths that are self-evident to those who are right. Is this Hyde’s Proposition? If so, we need to put it to the test of logic!
    “A proposition is either true or false.” (Sobran, a popular if not rigorous libertarian-ish journalist)
    [Since Mr. Hyde quotes Sobran with seeming approval, I challenge him to a duel regarding the definitions and uses of logical propositions. He’ll want to review contingent propositions in order to be fairly prepared.]
    *Note: I do not engage with Mr. Hyde because of his evident Christian-Libertarian-ish perspective. I respect this. What I quibble with is the “I know better than you know but instead of lodging a strong argument I simply toss out a few approving quotes as I caste myself as one of the knowing but meek servants of the better knowing.” And the “mushy logic” noted previously.

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