A Woman's Perspective On The Times We Live In


February 23, 2012

The American Mind

     As I told you last week, I am taking part in a 10-week online course on the Constitution.  "The American Mind" was the title of the first lecture offered in the course, Constitution 101:  The Meaning and History of the Constitution, offered by Hillsdale College.  It has been a long time since I have been part of any serious endeavor to gain knowledge about the founding documents of our country... far too long.  So I am thrilled to have the opportunity to discover exactly what America is all about.
     This introductory lesson examined the long lost meaning behind the creation of the Declaration of Independence, and hence, the Constitution; the belief system that guided our Founding Fathers to their revolutionary actions.
     The instructor (Dr. Larry Arnn, President of Hillsdale) began his lecture with the simple question, "Why study the meaning and history of the Constitution?"  His answer was simple and erudite:  there are two reasons:  1) How did these men come to the conclusion that all men are created equal, and that checks and balances were a good thing?  and  2) It is URGENT that we know the meaning and history, because we are about to discard these principles and institutions and adopt others.  There is a vast difference between our founding principles and the new ones we are considering, and they are highly incompatible.  We'd better know how they are different!
     Dr. Arnn commented that knowledge of our country (and the meaning behind its founding) is rare today.  All you have to do is compare a speech given by Thomas Jefferson with a modern-day politician, and you can see how far we have wandered.  In his overview of the lesson, Dr. Arnn stated, "America's Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson said, was the product of  'the American mind.'  Our Constitution was made with the same purpose as the Declaration -- to establish a regime where the people are sovereign, and the government protects the rights granted to them by their Creator."
     So in studying the Constitution, we have to first consider what kind of thing it is.  The root or history of the word is fascinating.  The word "constitution" means "to ordain and establish something."  It also means "to set a firm thing strongly in place." It is also linked to two other words that give it meaning:  statute and statue.  "Statute" means a law; ordained and established by a government upon a people as a practice that is mandatory.  "Statue" connotes a work of art; something a human being makes, that is firmly established, intentional, and deliberate.
     The Constitution of the United States is a work of art; something lasting and beautiful.  It gives America its form.  And it matters what a work of art is made of!  Dr. Arnn used the statue of Michelangelo's David as an example.  This exquisite statue is made of marble, and it would change both the structure and the nature of the statue if it was made of bronze or wood or plastic.  He emphatically states that marble is one of the "causes" of the statue of David.
     So what is one of the "causes" of the United States?  IT IS THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE!  Consider this:  it is very unique that from one of the most advanced civilizations of the world, with all its sophisticated law, art, music and literature.... that people would leave all that to go to a wild, untamed place.  It is important to note that this experiment called America revolved around this vast, wild, and untamed land being discovered by a people who came from a highly developed and civilized place --- it had never happened before, and it is hard to imagine that it could ever happen again.  That's what makes America so unique!  They came here and had to make it work without help from the previous society or civilization; and they developed an equal society.  You want to eat?  You've got to work!
     The purpose of this first lecture was to help one comprehend that you will never understand the making of America without understanding the land and the people; and you'll never understand the people without grasping what they thought and what they believed.
     Our Republic, like the statue of David, was deliberately made; it is a work of art.  What gives America its form?  Anytime America acts as a nation, it acts through the Constitution.  We seem to have forgotten that the President holds his office through the Constitution; the Congress is established through the Constitution; and the Courts are answerable to the Constitution.  The way the United States proceeds as a nation was very deliberately designed to be influenced by the Constitution.
     To understand America, one must read that document and understand its purposes.  The Constitution gives us our form of government.  We were very purposely formed by our Founding Fathers NOT to be a monarchy and NOT to be a direct democracy.
The Signing of the Constitution by Howard Chandler Christy
     So what moved the Founding Fathers in this direction?   They believed the idea that something Divine could use something human to express a Divine concept.   They say it in the Declaration of Independence.... When in the Course of human events it become necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.  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.
     And how did they develop this belief?  They educated themselves in the philosophies and teachings of Cicero, Aristotle and John Locke.  Cicero promoted the idea there is a true law in accordance with nature; in nature there's a standard to tell if a law is good.... (the Laws of Nature and Nature's God).  Aristotle taught that things move toward good; the good calls us all and there is a natural hierarchy to man's existence.  There is a structure to the pursuit of happiness and to the activity of your soul, and it requires freedom.  We have rights in the natural law, as endowed by our Creator.  America and her early leaders were moved by things in nature (and Nature's God) not to be overrun by kings.  John Locke was a 17th-century philosopher who believed in the natural rights of man and limited government.  His influence is felt throughout the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
     Our Founding Fathers were educated men; schooled in the wisdom of history and able to discern the dangers and possibilities of losing their God-given freedoms.  It was these ideas that were part of the founding of America; these ideas make up the American people and constitute our American ideals.
     So in closing my review of this first in an amazing lecture series, I want to stress that the study of the American Constitution is to understand what makes "the American mind".  As Dr. Arnn points out, we are close to a time when we will live under a different Constitution than the one we were bequeathed.  We are going to have to make a choice, and the choice we make will have a profound effect on everyone in this country and the world.  The choice needs to be made well, and we need to understand the consequences of choosing the alternative!
  


Deuteronomy 4:6   "Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' "

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this great summary, I had seen elsewhere about this Hillsdale class but didn't want to committ to taking the whole thing!

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