According to the American creed, all human beings are obliged, by an endowment from their Creator, to do all that is required to safeguard and perpetuate human life, according to the form and intention prescribed in His will. They must, therefore, care for themselves according to its provisions. This is, in some respects, a self-interested obligation. But since it requires the preservation of individual existence in human form, it also involves an obligation to humanity. However, individuals comprise humanity. Therefore, the obligation to humanity extends to other individuals as well as to ourselves. Thus, for the sake of God’s will for humanity as a whole, we must care for others as we care for ourselves (“as”= by the same token, but also at the same time).
Anyone even a little bit familiar with the underlying concepts that inform America’s common sense of justice will recognize that this conclusion corresponds, in effect, to what is called the “Golden Rule.” But it takes explicit account of the fact that we cannot appreciate what preservers us or others unless we recognize and respect what makes each and all of us what we distinctly are. Simply put, to avoid treating human beings like dogs, we must first distinguish one from the other. Only then will we care for each as we are obliged to do.
The “Golden Rule” thus assumes a degree of self-interest, even though it also requires that we take enough interest in others to know both what distinguishes them from us, and what we have in common. When the latter gives rise to self-recognition (as in Adam when he says of Eve- “She is flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone”), that commonality extends self-interest to include those in whom we see an image or likeness of ourselves.
This perception informs our sense of justice as we deal with them. We know better than to treat human beings like dogs because we see ourselves in their experience. We resent being treated like dogs. We, therefore, feel resentment if others, in whom we see ourselves, are treated like dogs. We move to repel their maltreatment, as we would be moved to repel it from ourselves. This impulse to defend others, on account of common humanity, is the proximate cause that unites people against maltreatment. As a group, they are moved to repel actions justly resented. Thus, the just power required to oppose injustice is derived from the consent of those governed by right, according to God’s endowment.
God’s will calls upon all human beings to do right. America’s involvement in international affairs took account of this, even before we could be sure we had sufficient power to succeed. The Monroe Doctrine signaled our intent to support the aspirations of other nations in our hemisphere who were moved to follow our example and assert their right of self-government. Once we discarded the practice of slavery, which belied our commitment to the premises of God-endowed, unalienable, human right, we reasserted those premises with exuberant confidence. It expressed itself in the war against Spain’s colonial empire. Some self-serving special interests helped precipitate that war, but to appeal for the support of the American people they framed its cause in terms of Spain’s unjust suppression of the rightful liberty of people subjected to its autocratic rule.
This mélange of right principle and self-interest would drive America’s involvement in international affairs throughout the 20th Century. As long as we continue to exist as a free people, it will continue to do so. How could it be otherwise? The success of our form of government depends on the common sense of individuals who are determined to take responsibility for themselves. For, according to our national creed, our self-government depends on each individual’s commitment to follow the righteous disposition informed by God’s endowment of right. Such personally righteous individuals are aptly called “the governed”—because they consent to be governed by God. According to the American Declaration of Independence, they are the proximate cause for the institution of just government in the nation they comprise.
The defense of self-government presumes, therefore, a community of self-interested individuals informed by God’s endowment of right. Thus, in the context of America’s creed, the public interest in self-government is, in a way, a selfish interest. But it is not unjust on that account. For justice (i.e., the implementation of right according to God’s rule for humanity) is the ground of our self-government as a people. It is the essential core that defines us as a people. Without it, our nation would not recognize itself.
In accord with that imperative, the enemies of just self-government are the enemies of our very existence. For us to survive as a people, the pursuit of justice must inform the goals and intention of the wars we wage against our enemies. It is not enough to defeat them in battle. The peace that ensues must respect and perpetuate the just premises of our existence.
So America’s wars have always been an aspect of the statecraft required to preserve the just self-government of our people. This may be the reason it has endured longer than any other government of, by and for the people. But since our self-government takes root in a common sense of what is just for all humanity, we cannot preserve it unless we uphold justice for humanity, to the best of our ability. In Federalist 51 James Madison observed that “Justice is the end [i.e., aim] of government… It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.” But where justice is thus imperatively pursued, stubborn injustice often leads to war.
However, we have observed that Americans are a people subject to the existential imperative to do right, according to God’s endowment of right for all humanity. Hostilities that end without regard to justice may, for a moment, secure our physical safety. Yet they imply the dissolution of our body politic. America’s war policies must always keep in view the positive strategic purpose of our involvement in human affairs. We seek victory, and with victory peace. But we understand that for us, as Americans and as human beings, true victory and lasting peace can only be erected on grounds that respect God’s endowment of right. “Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh, but in vain.”(Psalm 127:1)
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.