By: John Blasingame, Contributor
When it came time to declare independence from Great Britain, Benjamin Franklin certainly knew the risks. He is famously quoted as saying, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” He knew the single-mindedness that success would require, and he was aware that failure would result in execution for treason.
Although it would be interesting to investigate how the Founding Fathers retained unity in the face of high stakes and discomforting odds, I am interested in a different question: what exactly was the cause for which they were willing to die? We find the answer in the second paragraph of 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 of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.
(US Declaration of Independence)
Simply put, a government’s purpose is to protect the natural rights of the people. The Founding Fathers, however, believed that Great Britain’s government was actually infringing upon their natural rights, rather than protecting them. Still, signing the Declaration of Independence was not their first resort:
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. (US Declaration of Independence)
Although the Founding Fathers would have preferred suffering through a time of hardship over declaring independence from the British Crown, they could see the writing on the wall: Great Britain sought to subject the colonies to “absolute Despotism.” The Americans, however, were not willing to live under tyranny. We, as humans, are destined for freedom. For this reason, they chose to fight, and for this cause, they were willing to die.
Upon simply hearing the word “tyranny,” I shudder. It is quite possible that we as humans have a natural disposition against such a concept. Nevertheless, in order to better understand the Founding Fathers’ motives, I propose the following question: what is essentially wrong with tyranny?
There are a number of angles from which I could tackle this question, but I would like to propose the response that makes the most sense to me. Tyranny, I argue, is the product of an equation in which the concept of essential worth is not a factor. In other words, a government becomes despotic when it forgets that human beings have inherent value. As soon as this fact is overlooked, a government can disrespect its citizens and force them to act against their wishes without restraint.
How do we derive our concept of worth? Where does an object find its value? I argue that the only thing capable of providing worth is desire: an item has value precisely because somebody wants it. Take economics, for instance. As more people come to desire a certain product, that product’s price increases. In this case, it is the will of the majority that determines the value of the product.
Does the same principle hold true for humanity? Is it the will of the majority that likewise determines my value? If this is indeed the case, then my worth is defined by the number of people who (in some way or another) desire me. Along the same lines, my life is only worth living insofar as others want me to live. As ridiculous as this may sound, many of us act as though this is true. For most, social pressure tends to dictate how we spend our time, and we show, through our actions, that we believe majority opinion plays a major role in dictating our self-worth.
However, if it is indeed the case that majority opinion determines my value, then I am not free to be myself. Instead, I must spend the entirety of my life in service of others’ opinions, constantly suppressing the parts of myself that my peers might not find attractive. I do my best to make myself desirable in the eyes of the majority, for only they can determine whether or not my life is worth living. Moreover, if this is true, then majority opinion holds absolute tyranny over who I am allowed to be.
At this point, I believe we can learn a lesson from our Founding Fathers. Facing the threat of “absolute despotism,” they preferred to die as traitors rather than live under tyranny. They considered it “their right” and “their duty” to “throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” In short, they refused to live in bondage.
While our struggle today is not nearly as overt as theirs, it is nonetheless of pressing importance. We are similarly hard-pressed in a fight against the tyranny of majority opinion, and we too are involved in a struggle for freedom – that is, the freedom to be ourselves. Where do we find the power to fight this battle? I believe that we can draw our strength from the truth.
What is the truth about me? Where do I actually find my value? As I mentioned previously, the only thing capable of providing worth is desire. Therefore, something has value precisely because someone wants it. Similarly, I believe that the only thing capable of establishing my value is the fact that God wants me – I have no desire to ground my worth elsewhere. The same God that set time itself into motion knows the number of hairs on my head (Luke 12:7), and the same voice that commands the wind and the sea says to each of us through Jesus Christ, “I love you” (Romans 5:8).
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.