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Today’s struggles are the struggles of millennia. Human beings are complex and the societies they form are just as complex. Two-hundred-forty-six years ago, a statement was issued that distilled the challenge of humanity:
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.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Whoever was left out of this original formulation, it stands as a statement through which every society can be measured and judged. It stands as a reproof to slavery; it stands as a rebuke to authoritarians; it stands as an aspiration that spurs refinement in our societal norms.
And it underscores the fundamental human problem: How do we strike a balance between individuals singularly and in groups? An example of “between individuals singularly” is abortion policy: When do we recognize the humanity of the unborn and when does that humanity limit the choices of another human being? An example of “between individuals … and … groups” is gun control policy: When, and under what circumstances, can the need for public safety restrict access to the tools of self-defense?
In other words, the Declaration of Independence is no dusty old document of historical interest but irrelevant to our modern-day problems. It is as meaningful today as the day it was penned.
On each July 4, we celebrate nothing short of humanity itself.Published in