The Corner

Ponnuru V. Schramm

Alas, I was in London for the exchange between Ramesh and Peter Schramm over David Brooks’ reading of the Declaration. See here and here.

Maybe I should let sleeping dogs lie (Cosmo: I’ve killed a billion squirrels on five continents!).

But it seems to me that they’re both sort of right. Ramesh’s objection that the Declaration most certainly does not say that we can all function as citizens in a democratic society seems absolutely correct to me. I don’t think the founders believed that the tribes in Borneo were ready for a constitutional republic quite yet (and if they did, they were wrong). Meanwhile, I think Schramm is correct to say that the founders believed we were all endowed with the right to self-government by the Creator.

Now both of these guys know this stuff far better than me, but it seems to me that being endowed by your creator with a right to something does not mean that you’re automatically capable of exercising that right responsibly. We may be endowed from birth with the right to self government but we do not allow babies and children to vote (similarly, I could swear reading something by Jefferson where he said that Indians and blacks might someday be able to vote). We may be born with the right to own property but we recognize — to varying degrees — the community’s interest in assuring that such property will be used responsibly. I cannot run my own uranium enrichment facility in my basement. So if the right is universal but its application and exercise is contingent upon other variables, I think one can close the chasm between Schramm and Ponnuru.

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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