Saturday, March 27, 2010


~~ "The principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of a free society." --Abraham Lincoln ~~

Of which principles do we speak?

First Principles. Our First Principles.

We can start with a definition of what we mean by "first principles." Looking around, you'll find many ways to say it, but the gist is: "those principles from which all others are derived."

A quick and unfortunate note about our First Principles... or, for that matter, about principles in general: they are often misunderstood, misrepresented, and otherwise perverted.

~~ "Almost anything that can be praised or advocated has been put to some disgusting use. There is no principle, however immaculate, that has not had its compromising manipulator." --Percy Wyndham Lewis ~~

With your indulgence (and my apologies), I will now take a slight turn into the realm of logical philosophy. Trust me, it makes my brain hurt, too!

Let's look at the famous logical syllogistic example: "Man is mortal. Socrates is a man. Socrates is mortal." In this, "man is mortal" would be a premise-- as would be "Socrates is a man." From them, we deduce that poor Socrates is mortal (although we knew that from the unfortunate hemlock affair).

As with the above premises, so it is with first principles. They are really not negotiable. They are, in fact, set right there for us to see (if only we would look). Let's try this: "Each person is created by God with certain rights. America's Constitution creates a government to secure those rights for each American. Each American has those rights."

~~ "Every science has for its basis a system of principles as fixed and unalterable as those by which the universe is regulated and governed. Man cannot make principles; he can only discover them." --Thomas Paine ~~

Not to disagree with Mr. Paine-- but man can do much more with principles than discover them. He can live by them. He can avoid them. He can pervert them. He can even argue that they don't really exist.

~~ "There is no arguing with one who denies first principles." --Latin Proverb ~~

You've seen many times examples of the famous school of thought that says that there is no universal truth, only relative truth. "Hey, don't box me in with your truth, man!" This school of thought would argue that if the weather appears cold to you but hot to me... well, knowledge is nothing but perception, so then we must both be correct. This is known as a Protagorean argument-- one that supposes that what we perceive is all that exists.

Fortunately, we have Aristotle (and many others) to battle this. His famous Law of Non-Contradiction says that "The firmest belief is that opposite assertions are not true at the same time... it is impossible to hold (suppose) the same thing to be and not to be."

Relating this to our First Principles, we must say that all men are either created equal, and therefore have perfectly equal individual rights... or they are not and so they do not. So, state your case for either and then live with your decision-- if you can.

Aristotle explains that we can make comparative judgments (as in how the weather feels to us), even if we do not make absolute judgments (that there really is only one weather condition at the time), but that these comparative judgments themselves presuppose some absolute standard. In short, it doesn't matter if you think it's cold, the fact is the temperature is whatever it is, your "feelings" notwithstanding. Not everything can be relative to perception, as Aristotle explains-- there is something beyond perception that causes the perception and is prior to it.

By the way, Aristotle extends this discussion to opinions, arguing that not all opinions are equally authoritative. He points out that when it comes to questions about our future health, for example, the opinion of the physician is not the same as that of a lay person.

So, hold onto that thought and let's get back to our nation's First Principles. They are proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence, and relentlessly repeated and extolled in writings and speeches by our Founders and their posterity.

Summation of the big ones-- Unalienable rights: Life - Liberty - Pursuit of Happiness. Government is instituted among men only to secure these rights.

~~ "The best principles of our republic secure to all its citizens a perfect equality of rights." --Thomas Jefferson ~~

Now that is worthy of some discussion, don't you think? "All" citizens have a perfect equality of rights. "All"...? "All" meaning "each", which means "person" and not "people". Our country's founders are virtually obsessed with the power and rights of the individual.

Are we living up to this mandate for the individual? Well, to Aristotle's weather-feeling interlocutor, we might be. However, to any elementary student of rationality and logic, we are most certainly not. In fact, to most Americans, it is intuitive that we have lost many of our individual rights. Even those who are not dedicated students of our history just plain get it.

~~ "We've gone astray from first principles. We've lost sight of the rule that individual freedom and ingenuity are at the very core of everything that we've accomplished. Government's first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives." --Ronald Reagan ~~

The modern Progressive/Statist (hereafter known as PS) will take the bait and argue this point... and we should welcome that. This is the battle over whether the modern progressive movement is seeking to rescind individual rights in favor of the collective. This is the battle we should relish-- because it is the battle which, if we wage it properly, can have only one outcome: truth.

The PS will present the captious argument that helping "the people" is the only way to really secure individual rights. Progressive logic 101: false conclusion derived from a true principle. He will also tell us that we have to make sure that "oppressed" classes of people have the same privileges as everyone else. He will, by the way, tell us this in grandest straw-man form-- with anecdotes designed to tug and pull on the strings of our black Conservative hearts. He will sell the masses on the privileges of "spreading the wealth" until there is no more wealth to spread... and then he will sell the idea of "mutual suffering."

~~ "A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both." -- Dwight Eisenhower ~~

It's easy to let the PS win the small ones. So hard to fight the incremental "adjustments" to our First Principles. Many of these "adjustments" are imperceptible, unless we are hyper-vigilant. Are we? Maybe now that the PS has gotten greedy and began to overreach... but we most certainly have not been for the past fifty or more years. We forgot so much...

~~ "Important principles may and must be inflexible." --Abraham Lincoln ~~


~~ "The spread of evil is the symptom of a vacuum. Whenever evil wins, it is only by default: by the moral failure of those who evade the fact that there can be no compromise on basic principles." --Ayn Rand ~~

No compromise.

No compromise on First Principles. None.

Easy to say... very, very tough to do.

In a nutshell, that is what gives the PS the basis for his relentless straw-man arguments. To wit: If we won't compromise to save the life of a starving orphan... then what kind of monsters are we? If we won't compromise to demonstrate a little charity to share with our neighbor... then how cold are we? If we would not compromise and thus begrudge that single mother her subsistence... then how can we live with ourselves?

See how they play? So... we give in. We say:

~~ "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others." --Groucho Marx ~~

...and then we find that:

~~ "He that always gives way to others will end in having no principles of his own." --Aesop ~~

That's what we've been doing-- giving way. It has been far easier to just let the incremental tide wash over us, rather than make the effort to strengthen the dike. Also, truth be told, it does hurt to always be called a monster and a baby killer.

So... we relaxed a bit and compromised. We sought the alchemical magic of consensus instead of confirming what our hearts and minds knew to be true. Ah, sweet consensus: the seductive siren that is bringing us "climate change cap and trade" and "sweeping immigration reform."

~~ "To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects." --Margaret Thatcher ~~

Well said, Lady Thatcher! That should help snap us all out of this malaise of "compromise" that we have awoken to find ourselves mired in.

What now? We draw a line in the sand and we drive the tent stakes of our principles deeply into the earth to strengthen our resolve. That is step one.

~~ "In matters of principle, stand like a rock." --Thomas Jefferson ~~

Then, we challenge all PS comers to battle over America's First Principles. We do that by first reminding our fellow citizens of the true definitions of the Principles, so that we have many allies.

Next, we use our God-given rational minds to defeat the PS in open debate.

Stop laughing. I was serious.

~~ "'Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death." --Thomas Paine ~~

We don't need to go to death just yet... but keep that option as we may need it in the future. For now, let's steel ourselves to do rhetorical and intellectual battle. The fight has been on their terms for too long. It is our turn now to define the battlefield.

~~ "An army of principles can penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot." --Thomas Paine ~~

Remember Aristotle's Law of Non-Contradiction from above? Time to put it in play. The PS fights on the grounds that he is actually on the side of individual rights and liberty. He fights on the grounds that he is actually the one who cares for the little guy. Mostly, he fights on the grounds that only an inhuman monster would begrudge the "less fortunate" some crumbs from the table of "the richest country in the world." The PS frames all of his arguments with these false premises.

We must learn to address them logically. Here are some of the biggies.

1. "Charity." Don't be too harsh on all the liberals in this area. Some of them are just responding to the vacuum left when they lost their personal moral compass and replaced it with a government one. PS Premise and Message: Charity begins with the government righting the social wrongs. We could argue the finer points of why this is, but I believe it is because they are bereft of the individual religiously or morally charitable heart. The mantra is "Don't be a selfish, greedy capitalist." Logical fallacy: Who should decide which cause (if any) my money goes toward helping? Is it not a violation of my own individual rights to take money from me and give it to a cause that I do not support? Conservative Battle Point: America is the most generous nation that has ever existed. Average Americans give 'til it hurts to every sort of charity imaginable. By the way, polls show that Conservatives give much more to charity than do liberals. This is not remotely surprising and proves that the liberal feels far more charitable with other people's money than he does his own.

2. "Equality." A better example of a perversion of a principle cannot be found. PS Premise & Message: Equality is achieved not by the lifting up of some, but by the dragging down of many. Also, greedy Conservatives need to share with the "less fortunate". Logical fallacy: Equality to them means, in the immortal words of our First Lady, that in order for some people to get some pie, "others will have to give up some of theirs"-- thereby infringing on the rights of the "others". This is a worldview issue. Conservative Battle Point: Our goal is to get the PS to state what he really thinks (as the First Lady did). Only this way can average Americans finally start to see these people for who they are-- then we can have an honest and open debate on the merits of their way and our way.

3. "Rights vs. Responsibilities." This one is almost too easy, right? PS Premise & Message: The PS will create a "right" (progressive-speak for entitlement program) out of whole cloth. He will then proceed to tell us that this new "right" will be given to some at the expense of others. Again, greedy Conservatives need to share with the "less fortunate". We are seeing this one play out with the new health care legislation (aka the Liberty Extinction Act of 2010.) Logical fallacy: To create a right for one American citizen at the expense of another American citizen is to admit that citizens do not and should not enjoy equal rights. This is a logically bankrupt case that can only be made with emotion (which, by the way, is how the PS makes virtually all of his points). Conservative Battle Point: Shout from the rooftops when we uncover the giveaways. Call the PS out on each and every handout of tax dollars-- and, most importantly, we must not flinch in the face of the inevitable cries of "monster" and "selfish pig" and all the other things they will say. We know the truth about our generosity vs. our refusal to let the government be "generous" with our money.

4. "Richest Country..." I hear this one more than almost any other. PS Premise & Message: The PS loves to remind us that we are the "richest country" in the world. Oh, he is not in any way bragging about it. No, no, no. Instead, it goes a little something like this: "Why can't we, the richest country in the world, find it in our hearts to provide {insert entitlement here} to those in need?" Logical fallacy: We became the "richest country" in the world through rugged individualism and HARD WORK, not through socialism. Conservative Battle Point: Our salvo against this nitwittery is to remind any and all listening that there is a very good reason why we are the "richest country" in the world (hint: it isn't by punishing success and creating historic debt).

5. "Fortunate/Less fortunate." One of my personal favorites. PS Premise & Message: You will often hear this from the PS who is rich/well to do. "I'm so lucky to have what I have... must give to the government programs for the less fortunate." If you have anything at all, you didn't really earn it and so the government should divide it up equally for all others. The rich are only rich by pure luck, and thus they owe the rest of the world something. Logical fallacy: Assertion that success is an accident (yes, I know it is for some, but that is the exception that proves the rule) and poverty is just dumb luck. The fact is that most well-off people in America got that way through years of hard work. Conservative Battle Point: For starters, we must stop using their language-- when we refer to ourselves as "lucky" and "fortunate", we are falling into the trap. Much better to praise our own hard work, and our blessings from God (after all, does He not help those who help themselves?), and then turn the discussion to private charity.

The key for us is that we must talk about principles, First Principles, as often as we can. We must explain them and how utterly important they are to the survival of our country. We must make sure the PS is no longer allowed to confuse people about them. We must be crystal clear in what they are and what they are not. For example, they are not "values"-- they are far more than that.

~~ "Everyone has values; even criminal gangs have values. Values govern people's behavior but principles govern the consequences of those behaviors." --Stephen Covey ~~

I think we've made a pretty good case for the importance of our principles-- our First Principles. Now it becomes a matter of living them and taking on the swarming tide of progressive statism that seeks to dilute and even eliminate them.

All it really requires for us to successfully battle this is our brains. We have to keep the intellectual high ground and beat back the emotions and histrionics that are the weapons of choice for the progressive tyrant. Remember Descartes' famous proclamation (improved upon here):

~~ I think, therefore I am (a Conservative). ~~

We close with two giants of virtue who each knew a thing or two about principles.

~~ "Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost." --John Quincy Adams ~~

~~ "Some men change their party for the sake of their principles; others their principles for the sake of their party." --Winston Churchill ~~


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