The ideals of our revolutionary era were heavily influenced by the Enlightenment soldier, politician, ambassador, polemicist Algernon Sidney (1623-1683) and the philosopher John Locke (1632-1704). They wrote their best works at the height of Stuart tyranny. Sidney’s manuscript of Discourses Concerning Government cost him his head in 1683. Locke chose to keep his head down, fled to the Netherlands, and delayed release of his Two Treatises of Government until 1690. Even then, in fear of Stuart return after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, he did not acknowledge his authorship until two weeks before his death.
What is less well-known is that their respective written works that had so much influence on shaping the views of colonial America were penned in response to a book by Sir Robert Filmer (1590-1653). His posthumously published Patriarcha (1680), made a biblical argument for the divine right of kings to absolute rule. The anti-republican Filmer is responsible for lighting two fires, one each in Sidney and Locke, that a hundred years later helped burn English monarchy out of America.
As political theory, Filmer found sovereignty in the right of dominion that God gave to Adam, and that, through Adam, had been passed on to each patriarchal successor. Filmer equated paternal power with monarchal power. He viewed regal and paternal authority as identical, not merely similar or somewhat analogous. The state was the extension of the natural hierarchy of the family; political obligation was the same as the scriptural duty in the Fifth Commandment to obey fathers. Like children who must obey their fathers, the king’s subjects were to passively submit, even when the king was in error. Despite decades of Stuart oppression and the Glorious Revolution, English society at the turn of the 18th century remained hierarchal; it required a king, a father at the top.
Whereas the late 17th century writings of Sidney and Locke fell on fairly barren English soil, the ground was rich and fertile for their ideas in America. Over the next eighty years, fissures in colonial devotion to monarchal rule began to appear, which culminated in the American Revolution.
Yet, in the 240 years since the Declaration of Independence, where is the psyche of America in 2016? Is it more aligned with Sidney and Locke or with Sir Robert’s Patriarcha? What is the place of the President of the United States? Is he a temporary Constitutional Article II executive, or a father figure whose will is to be obeyed?
At the 2016 Democrat National Convention, the DNC played a video that included the line, “Government is the only thing we all belong to.” Despite the usual denials when democrats are caught exposing their beliefs, their statement reflects a decades long trend in the replacement of Enlightenment freedom and free government with an imaginary paternalistic state. Yes, Obama does think the government owns you, and like a father over his young children, has a limitless right to reclaim anything it has “given” you, and has a moral duty to take good care of you. All that is required in exchange is your obedience.
Perhaps only half tongue-in-cheek, comedian Chris Rock offered similar adulation to the national daddy: “The President and the First Lady are kind of like the mom and the dad of the country. And when your dad says something, you listen. And when you don’t, it usually bites you in the ass later on. So I’m here to support the president.”
As Herbert Schlossberg recently wrote at Godfather Politics:
The paternal state not only feeds its children, but nurtures, educates, comforts, and disciplines them, providing all they need for their security. This appears to be a mildly insulting way to treat adults, but it is really a great crime because it transforms the state from being a gift of God, given to protect us against violence, into an idol. It supplies us with all blessings, and we look to it for all our needs. Once we sink to that level, as [C.S.] Lewis says, there is no point in telling state officials to mind their own business. ‘Our whole lives are their business.’
Family patriarchs do not accept disobedience from their children. Presidential spokesman Josh Earnest blasted a recent congressional override of Father Obama’s veto of a bill to allow 911 families to sue Saudi Arabia. In his typical smarmy tone, Earnest once again dissed lawmakers with, “What’s true in elementary school is true in the United States Congress: ignorance is not an excuse.”
So, which shall it be, a republic carefully built on the truths of Sidney and Locke, or a despotism propped up on the empty promises and guaranteed misery of Filmer and Obama? As our nation increasingly recognizes the rot of corrupted institutions, the time is ripe to reassert popular sovereignty. We can turn our nationwide disaffection and malaise toward the greater good, toward the general welfare through an Article V convention.
We are the many; our oppressors are the few. Be proactive. Be a Re-Founder. Join Convention of States. Sign the COS Petition.