Alexis de Tocqueville (1805?59), French social philosopher. Democracy in America, volume 2, part 3, chapter 1 (1840).
"I am responsible for everything . . . except for my very responsibility, for I am not the foundation of my being. Therefore everything takes place as if I were compelled to be responsible. I am abandoned in the world . . . in the sense that I find myself suddenly alone and without help, engaged in a world for which I bear the whole responsibility without being able, whatever I do, to tear myself away from this responsibility for an instant."
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905?80), French philosopher, author. Being and Nothingness, "Being and Doing: Freedom," section 3 (1943; translated 1965).
Camille Desmoulins (1760?94), French journalist, revolutionary leader. Speech, 14 July 1789, to a crowd outside Palais Royal, Paris, recalled by Desmoulins in his newspaper Le Vieux Cordelier (5 January 1794). Desmoulins was guillotined together with his friend Danton.
"Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity."
As we approach the 233rd anniversary of the founding of the United States of America, we should remember that ten days later is the 220th anniversary of the start of the French Revolution, Bastille Day, which led to the founding of our sister republic, France.
Both of our republics have stumbled at times over the last two centuries. France is up to its Fifth republican constitution, while we have had two (counting the Articles of Confederation); although that does not count the constitutions of the Confederate States of America, the Republics of Texas and California, or short term anomalies including Vermont, Utah, and Hawaii. The French had the Bonapartes, we had the Civil War. They had the Dreyfuss Affair, we had Watergate. You get the basic idea.
We also had another great commonality: Thomas Paine.
Mr. Paine, like most of the Founding Fathers, was influenced by the writings of Montesquieu, Rousseau, Voltaire, and other members of the French Enlightenment, in addition to John Locke. His works Common Sense and The Crisis were written in support of the American Revolution, just as The Rights of Man were written for the French.
In honor of the upcoming anniversaries on the Fourth and Fourteenth of July, I have prepared a short list of points in support of the Social Contract as I call it, together with the first halting steps towards my idea of a Social-as opposed to the current antisocial-capitalism.
1. We can never depend fully upon the goodwill of our fellow humans for our full slate of freedoms; therefore our freedom is a state that exists between the borders of our courage and our prudence. This unfortunately means that the only rights we can be certain of our ability to freely exercise are those which our fellow humans concede that we have.
2. The laws and customs of our fellow humans which we choose to follow, and those which we choose to ignore, define our freedom; while the consequences we are willing to accept in exchange for this self-defined freedom defines that freedom's limits for every individual.
3. The only thing worse than blind obedience to authority, is blind disobedience to authority. While we generally are our own best leaders, what we desire may not always be our best choice. Too many times we lack the scope and depth of experience and knowledge required to make the best long term decision for ourselves, as well as for others.
Worse still are those times when we make decisions that effect not only ourselves, but have serious negative consequences for those around us; which we make for arbitrary and capricious reasons, especially selfishness.
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