• Sharebar

One of the main things I never understood about the US (along with amish people, lacrosse and the drinking age being set at 21) was the idea that the founding fathers provided some sort of guiding light towards economic prosperity, social justice etc.

Ron Paul talks a lot of sense, but he seems to back up a lot of stuff with 'what the founding fathers intended'*. And he's not alone; all of them Tea Party gobshites are at it, too.*

What qualifications or real experience did the founding fathers have? They were just a bunch of guys who came together and wrote an idealised version of what an 18th century country could be..

Its true they had some good ideas which have stood the test of time, but that doesn't make all of their principles perfect. Why are people trying to apply their principles to the 21st fucking century and expecting them to work?!

(*Glenn Beck and Michael Moore do it too, but they're ruh-tards).

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Comments (34)

  • Kassad's picture

    Not sure why you caught MS so quickly, but my take is that there's always a crowd who entertains fundamentalist thinking in its most pure form. In the case of the US, that would likely be what the Founding Fathers suggested. Indeed, their principles and morals may not fit much of the modern political or economic atmosphere, but the ideas they engendered were the basis of this country's success; that's what drives people to ask, "should we revert to these principles in times of hardship?"

    It is very difficult to change a country's identity; China has held on to its cultural roots even through the 70's, when the government literally said, "the old culture is blasphemy." It took complete military destruction and economic reconstruction to shift the German national identity post-WWII. It is unlikely that any of what defines America today will change within our lifetime, and the ideas harbored by the Fathers, right or wrong, will likely continue to be accepted as what is "good" for the nation.

    Equities are for chumps.

  • Virginia Tech 4ever's picture

    Let me preface this comment by stating that I detest the Ron Paul movement, mostly because the movement attempts to rigidly apply ONE 18th century governing domestic and international philosophy to 21st century America without so much as acknowledging that 1) the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were all compromise documents, that 2) the founding fathers were far from ideological agreement with one another and 3) the incredible nuance and complexity of some issues and the fact that the America of today is a far, far cry from the relatively homogeneous, agrarian 18th century America that took 3 months by boat to communicate with Europe.

    That said, the founding fathers of the United States were clearly among the wisest--if not THE wisest--founders of a nation in the history of the human race. They bitterly debated issues with one another and resolved their conflicts largely peacefully; the founders were almost all wealthy Englishmen who were literally gambling on snake eyes when they rebelled against the most powerful military force on the planet at the time; and when the opportunity to seize absolute power was presented to them they turned it down, agreeing instead to limit their own power and submit themselves to a national compact--the rule of law. Where the American Revolution resulted in increased liberty and the rule of law, the French Revolution--a contemporary revolution partly inspired by the American Revolution--resulted in mass murder and unmitigated despotism.

    To go further, the founding fathers observed history and actually learned from it. They observed the failings of human beings and of past governments and they peacefully but forcefully debated their points, negotiated and hammered out a great compromise based on fundamental principles of human liberty and constitutionally limited government that endure today. These principles have allowed the United States to emerge as the most powerful nation in the history of the world, and while our European contemporaries prosecute people for free speech "violations", for example, our Supreme Court maintains nearly unlimited free speech rights, demonstrating the enduring nature of our culture set forth by our wise founders.

  • In reply to Virginia Tech 4ever
    Kassad's picture

    Virginia Tech 4ever:
    Let me preface this comment by stating that I detest the Ron Paul movement, mostly because the movement attempts to rigidly apply ONE 18th century governing domestic and international philosophy to 21st century America without so much as acknowledging that 1) the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were all compromise documents, that 2) the founding fathers were far from ideological agreement with one another and 3) the incredible nuance and complexity of some issues and the fact that the America of today is a far, far cry from the relatively homogeneous, agrarian 18th century America that took 3 months by boat to communicate with Europe.

    That said, the founding fathers of the United States were clearly among the wisest--if not THE wisest--founders of a nation in the history of the human race. They bitterly debated issues with one another and resolved their conflicts largely peacefully; the founders were almost all wealthy Englishmen who were literally gambling on snake eyes when they rebelled against the most powerful military force on the planet at the time; and when the opportunity to seize absolute power was presented to them they turned it down, agreeing instead to limit their own power and submit themselves to a national compact--the rule of law. Where the American Revolution resulted in increased liberty and the rule of law, the French Revolution--a contemporary revolution partly inspired by the American Revolution--resulted in mass murder and unmitigated despotism.

    To go further, the founding fathers observed history and actually learned from it. They observed the failings of human beings and of past governments and they peacefully but forcefully debated their points, negotiated and hammered out a great compromise based on fundamental principles of human liberty and constitutionally limited government that endure today. These principles have allowed the United States to emerge as the most powerful nation in the history of the world, and while our European contemporaries prosecute people for free speech "violations", for example, our Supreme Court maintains nearly unlimited free speech rights, demonstrating the enduring nature of our culture set forth by our wise founders.

    Holy shit. +1

    Equities are for chumps.

  • West Coast rainmaker's picture

    I hate the idea of a "living constitution"...it seems inherently corruptible. But we cannot expect a historical document to conform with the realities of modernity.

    We must recognize that the founding father's could not have foreseen the changes of the past 250 years. Rather than live by the letter of the law, we must live by its spirit. As VT4Ever said, our founders clearly intended that we have nearly unlimited free speech. We must respect, and hopefully protect, that tradition.

    Nothing is unchangeable. Even the constitution allows for itself to be rewritten via a constitutional convention. But we haven't done so. Brushing aside the practical reasons for not calling a constitutional convention, we like our identity. We choose to live under the constitution, and the freedom it promises. Immigrants have chosen to come to the US for hundreds of years for that very promise.

    No matter how close we drift to the nanny state, it is my belief that most Americans value the freedom to fail and to succeed. We would rather try and fail than live in a society of guaranteed mediocrity.

  • In reply to Virginia Tech 4ever
    Abdel's picture

    Virginia Tech 4ever:
    Let me preface this comment by stating that I detest the Ron Paul movement, mostly because the movement attempts to rigidly apply ONE 18th century governing domestic and international philosophy

    You mean the philosophy that allowed the USA to become the wealthiest nation in human history? That philosophy? The one that generated the huge wealth that was squandered during the 20th century via social programs?

    You and the people who think like you REALLY deserve what's coming, i.e. economic armageddon.

  • In reply to Virginia Tech 4ever
    qnx688's picture

    Virginia Tech 4ever:
    Let me preface this comment by stating that I detest the Ron Paul movement, mostly because the movement attempts to rigidly apply ONE 18th century governing domestic and international philosophy to 21st century America without so much as acknowledging that 1) the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were all compromise documents, that 2) the founding fathers were far from ideological agreement with one another and 3) the incredible nuance and complexity of some issues and the fact that the America of today is a far, far cry from the relatively homogeneous, agrarian 18th century America that took 3 months by boat to communicate with Europe.

    That said, the founding fathers of the United States were clearly among the wisest--if not THE wisest--founders of a nation in the history of the human race. They bitterly debated issues with one another and resolved their conflicts largely peacefully; the founders were almost all wealthy Englishmen who were literally gambling on snake eyes when they rebelled against the most powerful military force on the planet at the time; and when the opportunity to seize absolute power was presented to them they turned it down, agreeing instead to limit their own power and submit themselves to a national compact--the rule of law. Where the American Revolution resulted in increased liberty and the rule of law, the French Revolution--a contemporary revolution partly inspired by the American Revolution--resulted in mass murder and unmitigated despotism.

    To go further, the founding fathers observed history and actually learned from it. They observed the failings of human beings and of past governments and they peacefully but forcefully debated their points, negotiated and hammered out a great compromise based on fundamental principles of human liberty and constitutionally limited government that endure today. These principles have allowed the United States to emerge as the most powerful nation in the history of the world, and while our European contemporaries prosecute people for free speech "violations", for example, our Supreme Court maintains nearly unlimited free speech rights, demonstrating the enduring nature of our culture set forth by our wise founders.


    Great Post. I would again emphasize how important the rule of law is. I believe our founding fathers understood the need to limit the power of governmental authority through the rule of law. Whether it is the 18th century or the 21st century, the rule of law is one of the most important factors of economic growth in any nation in its ability to reward/punish profit motive and risk. The vagueness of some of the laws passed by the federal government over the last two administrations make me cringe. Firms will rise and fall with passage of new laws and regulations, but vague laws that are passed without any forethought on implementation(which eventually turn the judiciary into legislators) make it difficult for any firm to succeed and predict the business environment.
  • Ovechkin08's picture

    Here in the UK we have no written codified constitution and the laws of Parliament are not bound on future Parliaments. Today's Parliament can simply change the constitution by passing new Acts of Parliament. As a result of this, in my opinion, you end up with rule by the uneducated masses and laws are passed to pander to ideas/special interests that may sound good in theory but have many unintended consequences. Since moving here I can see the effects of this; a society that has gradually become a police state with CCTV camera's watching your every move, phone conversations tapped, successive governments proposing to introduce national ID card schemes, an errosion of civil liberties and a clamp down on free speech......but oh well, I can still get a cheap pint and watch the footy on TV!

  • In reply to Virginia Tech 4ever
    Anomanderis's picture

    Virginia Tech 4ever:
    Where the American Revolution resulted in increased liberty and the rule of law, the French Revolution--a contemporary revolution partly inspired by the American Revolution--resulted in mass murder and unmitigated despotism.

    This paragraph, In my opinion, is almost entirely false. Unmitigated despotism? Mass Murder?? There was just the one "despot" - Napoleon, and he came into power as a result of a military coup. Mass Murder - I'm not sure there was more bloodshed in France than there was in the US during the war for independence.

    You spin a good and patriotic tale here V-tech, but the reality is much less glamorous - there's a huge element of luck in the success of the USA, a fortunate toss of the die.

    I'll leave the discussion about free speech for someone else to handle - does the US really have freer speech than the western European nations?

    Question - Are you sure they were all Englishmen? I was of the opinion that you had a mixed bag of Europeans, and though they were probably dominated by the English in numbers, I believe there was French and Dutch representation as well.

    But Rhaegar fought valiantly, Rhaegar fought nobly, Rhaegar fought bravely.

    And Rhaegar died.

  • In reply to low_key
    bfin's picture

    low_key:
    ^^^ great post

    Who is in your picture and why is she there?

    Teenage love interest?

    The answer to your question is 1) network 2) get involved 3) beef up your resume 4) repeat -happypantsmcgee

    WSO is not your personal search function.

  • miermier's picture

    I think that such an emphasis on the founding fathers and their feats is foolish. The constitution should be a "living document", because times change and society changes.

    While the founding fathers were very wise and brace men, relying on them is an extreme form of banality. Jesus was a great guy, but you don't seriously go around saying to yourself "what would jesus do?"

  • In reply to miermier
    Anomanderis's picture

    miermier:
    I think that such an emphasis on the founding fathers and their feats is foolish. The constitution should be a "living document", because times change and society changes.

    While the founding fathers were very wise and brace men, relying on them is an extreme form of banality. Jesus was a great guy, but you don't seriously go around saying to yourself "what would jesus do?"

    Actually, "what would Jesus do?" may be adequate. "What did Jesus do?", on the other hand, would very likely fall flat on it's face.

    But Rhaegar fought valiantly, Rhaegar fought nobly, Rhaegar fought bravely.

    And Rhaegar died.

  • In reply to Anomanderis
    seabird's picture

    Anomanderis:

    This paragraph, In my opinion, is almost entirely false. Unmitigated despotism? Mass Murder?? There was just the one "despot" - Napoleon, and he came into power as a result of a military coup. Mass Murder - I'm not sure there was more bloodshed in France than there was in the US during the war for independence.

    Robespierre dude. Between 16 and 40k people were killed during it.

    "...all truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."

    - Schopenhauer

  • In reply to miermier
    seabird's picture

    miermier:
    I think that such an emphasis on the founding fathers and their feats is foolish. The constitution should be a "living document", because times change and society changes.

    While the founding fathers were very wise and brace men, relying on them is an extreme form of banality. Jesus was a great guy, but you don't seriously go around saying to yourself "what would jesus do?"

    Are you aware of the argument of the "living constitution?" See here for an argument not in favor of a laws that must be changed only by legislatures as opposed to courts.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imYlSD-2mrk

    "...all truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."

    - Schopenhauer

  • In reply to Virginia Tech 4ever
    seabird's picture

    Virginia Tech 4ever:
    Let me preface this comment by stating that I detest the Ron Paul movement, mostly because the movement attempts to rigidly apply ONE 18th century governing domestic and international philosophy to 21st century America without so much as acknowledging that 1) the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were all compromise documents, that 2) the founding fathers were far from ideological agreement with one another and 3) the incredible nuance and complexity of some issues and the fact that the America of today is a far, far cry from the relatively homogeneous, agrarian 18th century America that took 3 months by boat to communicate with Europe.

    A few points. The southern US and northern US were not homogenous. Large cultural divides existed between the largely southern/western welsh, scots and irish that immigrated to the american south and the dutch, english and others that came to the NE. There were riots that happened in places like Boston and Philadelphia that prevented immigrants from Ireland/Scotland/Wales when people from there tried to immigrate, and when they did, they were often forced in to the backwaters/unsettled territories.

    The founders didn't appeal so much to the complex issues in the bill of rights. They moreso just made rights that prevented the federal government from doing things that would allow for the rising of a new dictator, such as disallowing the federal governments ability to court troops in homes, disallowing the federal govt from making laws respecting religions and free speech given that these were institutions and practices that were at the center of civil life etc. They left the complex issues largely to the states to decide on their own, and for the coming congresses.

    "...all truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."

    - Schopenhauer

  • In reply to Anomanderis
    miermier's picture

    Anomanderis:
    miermier:
    I think that such an emphasis on the founding fathers and their feats is foolish. The constitution should be a "living document", because times change and society changes.

    While the founding fathers were very wise and brace men, relying on them is an extreme form of banality. Jesus was a great guy, but you don't seriously go around saying to yourself "what would jesus do?"

    Actually, "what would Jesus do?" may be adequate. "What did Jesus do?", on the other hand, would very likely fall flat on it's face.

    Not really. Asking that question (or realistically "what would the founding fathers do?") resolves nothing. You would not get a clear answer for almost any issue, such as monetary policy, healthcare laws, campaign funding by corporations, etc, just because these issues were not present in the 18th century and because the problems faced by the nation then are much different than what the nation faces today. In the end trying to mimic someone's mentality from 250 years ago is completely pointless, ineffective and constitutes a form a self-delusion.

  • In reply to seabird
    Virginia Tech 4ever's picture

    seabird:
    Virginia Tech 4ever:
    Let me preface this comment by stating that I detest the Ron Paul movement, mostly because the movement attempts to rigidly apply ONE 18th century governing domestic and international philosophy to 21st century America without so much as acknowledging that 1) the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were all compromise documents, that 2) the founding fathers were far from ideological agreement with one another and 3) the incredible nuance and complexity of some issues and the fact that the America of today is a far, far cry from the relatively homogeneous, agrarian 18th century America that took 3 months by boat to communicate with Europe.

    A few points. The southern US and northern US were not homogenous. Large cultural divides existed between the largely southern/western welsh, scots and irish that immigrated to the american south and the dutch, english and others that came to the NE. There were riots that happened in places like Boston and Philadelphia that prevented immigrants from Ireland/Scotland/Wales when people from there tried to immigrate, and when they did, they were often forced in to the backwaters/unsettled territories.

    The founders didn't appeal so much to the complex issues in the bill of rights. They moreso just made rights that prevented the federal government from doing things that would allow for the rising of a new dictator, such as disallowing the federal governments ability to court troops in homes, disallowing the federal govt from making laws respecting religions and free speech given that these were institutions and practices that were at the center of civil life etc. They left the complex issues largely to the states to decide on their own, and for the coming congresses.

    Homoegeneity is relative. You had a nation that was white, Christian, and largely agrarian. If you consider Welch, Irish, and German heterogeneous that's fine--but we're comparing the heterogeneity of 18th century America and 21st century America--it's not even close. That's the point. By any modern scale America circa 1781 would be little different than Switzerland today.

  • In reply to Anomanderis
    Virginia Tech 4ever's picture

    Anomanderis:
    Virginia Tech 4ever:
    Where the American Revolution resulted in increased liberty and the rule of law, the French Revolution--a contemporary revolution partly inspired by the American Revolution--resulted in mass murder and unmitigated despotism.

    This paragraph, In my opinion, is almost entirely false. Unmitigated despotism? Mass Murder?? There was just the one "despot" - Napoleon, and he came into power as a result of a military coup. Mass Murder - I'm not sure there was more bloodshed in France than there was in the US during the war for independence.

    You spin a good and patriotic tale here V-tech, but the reality is much less glamorous - there's a huge element of luck in the success of the USA, a fortunate toss of the die.

    I'll leave the discussion about free speech for someone else to handle - does the US really have freer speech than the western European nations?

    Question - Are you sure they were all Englishmen? I was of the opinion that you had a mixed bag of Europeans, and though they were probably dominated by the English in numbers, I believe there was French and Dutch representation as well.

    This is what we call a butchering of history. Ever heard of the Reign of Terror, the Committee on Public Safety, or Robes Pierre? Do you recall reading about the mass persecution of the Catholic Church during the French Revolution? The French Revolution morphed into the very core of what despotism is.

    The American founding fathers aren't one in the same as the revolutionaries--they were the politicians and leaders who led the revolution, debated and signed the Declaration of Independence and debated and ratified the US Constitution, as well as the generals of the army--these are the people who are colloquially referred to as the founding fathers. The signers of the Declaration of Independence, for example, were all English subjects, hence there were Englishmen in the same way that an Asian-American is equally an American.

  • In reply to Virginia Tech 4ever
    seabird's picture

    Virginia Tech 4ever:

    Homoegeneity is relative. You had a nation that was white, Christian, and largely agrarian. If you consider Welch, Irish, and German heterogeneous that's fine--but we're comparing the heterogeneity of 18th century America and 21st century America--it's not even close. That's the point. By any modern scale America circa 1781 would be little different than Switzerland today.

    It is relative, I agree. The thing is that you may be taking for granted how subtle the distinctions could be in a "homogenous" society by which they could still be factitious about. Look at the Civil war - not that much of an ethnic/religious shift by then but just a subtle distinction on what states rights were, taxation and what the definition of a human life was. Not issues related to any specific ethnic background or religion.

    The issues described by the founding fathers regard things true to all human life, not just the lives of the people back then. Keep in mind that people rioted and forced ships to re route from Boston and Philadelphia to the south to keep people from Scotland/Ireland/Wales from immigrating there, so they obviously didnt consider each other to be totally homogeneous.

    "...all truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."

    - Schopenhauer

  • In reply to Virginia Tech 4ever
    Anomanderis's picture

    Virginia Tech 4ever:
    Anomanderis:
    Virginia Tech 4ever:
    Where the American Revolution resulted in increased liberty and the rule of law, the French Revolution--a contemporary revolution partly inspired by the American Revolution--resulted in mass murder and unmitigated despotism.

    This paragraph, In my opinion, is almost entirely false. Unmitigated despotism? Mass Murder?? There was just the one "despot" - Napoleon, and he came into power as a result of a military coup. Mass Murder - I'm not sure there was more bloodshed in France than there was in the US during the war for independence.

    You spin a good and patriotic tale here V-tech, but the reality is much less glamorous - there's a huge element of luck in the success of the USA, a fortunate toss of the die.

    I'll leave the discussion about free speech for someone else to handle - does the US really have freer speech than the western European nations?

    Question - Are you sure they were all Englishmen? I was of the opinion that you had a mixed bag of Europeans, and though they were probably dominated by the English in numbers, I believe there was French and Dutch representation as well.

    This is what we call a butchering of history. Ever heard of the Reign of Terror, the Committee on Public Safety, or Robes Pierre? Do you recall reading about the mass persecution of the Catholic Church during the French Revolution? The French Revolution morphed into the very core of what despotism is.

    The American founding fathers aren't one in the same as the revolutionaries--they were the politicians and leaders who led the revolution, debated and signed the Declaration of Independence and debated and ratified the US Constitution, as well as the generals of the army--these are the people who are colloquially referred to as the founding fathers. The signers of the Declaration of Independence, for example, were all English subjects, hence there were Englishmen in the same way that an Asian-American is equally an American.

    Oh come on, butchering of history? Prosecution of catholics? Obviously the minorities in this country fared much better. Oh wait....

    The history of both nations is splattered quite healthily with blood in my opinion, and while I may give some merit to the idea of "some" of the founding fathers being ahead of their time, I still insist that there was a strong element of luck in the path that the US trod. Even the geographical location of the US offered protections that the fledgling french revolution didn't have.

    You're comparing oranges and apples my friend, and mixing in a healthy dose of "american exceptionalism" if you truly believe that the US is where it is strictly because of the genius of the founding fathers.

    But Rhaegar fought valiantly, Rhaegar fought nobly, Rhaegar fought bravely.

    And Rhaegar died.

  • Michael Scarn's picture

    I completely agree with this. As humans we have learned an absurd amount about science, math, communications, and technology, among other things, since the 18th century. If the Founding Fathers lived in our world today it is quite safe to say they would not view things the exact same as they did previously. Additionally, the Founding Fathers, while prescient, were just 46 men, and they did not have access to the type of advanced statistical methods needed to accuarately conduct social science, political, and economic analysis. With how much the human race has learned in the last 225+ years, it seems absurd to me that we still follow the writings of 46 men from the 18th century so closely.

  • Michael Scarn's picture

    Although I will add that the Founding Fathers are rolling in their graves over what a police state we've become, and rightfully so.

  • Ace Rothstein's picture

    Pardon me if this is naive, but to me, the genius of the founding fathers was their key insight that the federal government should have extremely limited powers. Forget about, for a minute, their ideas about the bicameral system - our Congress is purposely gridlocked to the point where it's a bit ridiculous. They set a precedent of economic and social liberty that allowed our nation to become what it is today.

    This thread is full of people talking about how the founding fathers lived too long ago to know what's good for us, but nobody's pointed out any specific examples. Limited federal power? Fine by me. Freedom of speech, assembly, press, etc.? Perfect. China doesn't have that. I can't currently think of an issue that has become too obsolete, so to speak, for the founding fathers to have covered.

    I will comment that, given our advanced statistical methods to conduct economic analysis, we sure as hell still don't understand the economy.

  • powerwso's picture

    This thread is one of the best I have read on this site. I love the insightful, well supported points and counter points made. (Of course there are the usual exceptions to this). I just wanted to say well done.

    I, too, never fully understood this subject very well. These are my speculations on why people believe the 21st century should defer to the 18th.
    1. Laziness: People just don't want to put the level of effort it requires to debate the issues like the founding fathers did and arrive at their own, 21st century relevant, conclusions.
    2. Stupidity: People just don't have the mental power required to engage in the type of discourse that leads to documents like the Constitution or Bill of Rights.
    3. Lack of confidence in their ability because of (2). So they sort of defer to the documents that they know where written by people who were more intelligent than them. They also believe the Founding Fathers could foresee and do a better job of assessing the future than they can do with their own present.

    And it's that lack of confidence that really gets me. In theory, we have more resources available to us today to make more informed judgments about human nature, more recorded history for learning from the past, more predictive capability about our future and perhaps more security in our abilities [of survival, among other things]. The founding fathers didn't have CIA advising them about the world's every move when they pondered foreign policy yet they managed to tackle it somehow. So why this lack of confidence in thinking for ourselves as a [new] nation, I don't know. And I am afraid the country will keep getting pulled back and never reinvent itself if that trend continues.

  • In reply to Ace Rothstein
    miermier's picture

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  • TonyPerkis's picture

    I eat success for breakfast...with skim milk