Sunday, May 05, 2013

James Wilson on Liberal Democratic Theory

That is small l liberal, small d democratic.

Hat tip to Bill Fortenberry for reminding me of this magnificent essay, done in 1774, by James Wilson which contains a passage that pithily summarizes the liberal democratic theory that undergirds the Declaration of Independence.

Wilson noted:

All men are, by nature, equal and free: no one has a right to any authority over another without his consent: all lawful government is founded on the consent of those who are subject to it: such consent was given with a view to ensure and to increase the happiness of the governed, above what they could enjoy in an independent and unconnected state of nature. The consequence is, that the happiness of the society is the first law of every government.c 
This rule is founded on the law of nature: it must control every political maxim: it must regulate the legislature itself.d The people have a right to insist that this rule be observed; and are entitled to demand a moral security that the legislature will observe it. If they have not the first, they are slaves; if they have not the second, they are, every moment, exposed to slavery. For “civil liberty is nothing else but natural liberty, devested of that part which constituted the independence of individuals, by the authority which it confers on sovereigns, attended with a right of insisting upon their making a good use of their authority, and with a moral security that this right will have its effect.”
Liberty and Equality, it should be noted, are the twin pillars of small l liberalism.

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