The Corner

Politics & Policy

Buchanan’s History

Pat Buchanan has written a column wondering whether America’s founding creed “that all men are created equal” isn’t just a “sandpile of ideology and hope.” Where is the evidence for it, he demands. “Was not the British Empire, one of the great civilizing forces in human history, a manifestation of British racial superiority?”

For someone who fancies himself a historian, this is a puerile mistake. Jefferson’s words were not a statement of human sameness. Obviously some people are smarter, handsomer, taller, and more athletic than others. It was a philosophical and ethical commitment to the idea that all human beings are morally and politically equal — that they are entitled to respect and to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” just because they are members of the human family.

Buchanan asks for evidence, as if this were an empirical question. It’s not. It’s a moral one. A belief in human equality arose out of the Enlightenment and before that from the Judeo-Christian tradition. That tradition teaches that each human is made in the image and likeness of God. This is the foundation of equality. Jefferson, for all his personal shortcomings, understood that, which is why his words have inspired people around the world and particularly in our land for centuries. Buchanan dissents. Just underline this: He is rejecting the American idea.

 

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