There was a rare, pure philosophical moment in Rep. Paul Ryan's running mate announcement speech in Norfolk, Va. Saturday that should not be overlooked. The Wisconsin congressman waxed on the natural contract between government, man and God:
"But America is more than just a place…it’s an idea. It’s the only country founded on an idea. Our rights come from nature and God, not government. We promise equal opportunity, not equal outcomes. This idea is founded on the principles of liberty, freedom, free enterprise, self-determination and government by consent of the governed."
In a 30-second sound bite media world, rich philosophical rhetoric seldom reaches the podium teleprompter. But Ryan's speech was a conduit to some of the essential founding principles of the nation. In particular, the comments are a direct conceptual channeling of English philosopher John Locke.
AmericasSurvivalGuide.com explains Locke's philosophy:
Unlike his English rival Thomas Hobbes, Locke argued that because governments were instituted to protect the unalienable rights of individuals, they had no power other than what was necessary to protect such rights. In other words, a free and just government was necessarily a limited government.
His sentiments were devoutly believed by the Founding Fathers and are reflected in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
In Locke's defining Second Treatise on Government, the he argued that "freedom of men under government is to have a standing rule to live by but as freedom of nature is, to be under no other restraint but the law of nature and God."
Locke added further weight to the argument for natural rights as he argued against the subjugation of human beings in The State of Nature:
"For men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker; all the servants of one Sovereign Master, sent into the world by his order and about his business, they are his property whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another's, pleasure. And being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us that may authorize us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another's uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for ours."
Ryan followed up his Lockean statement by adding: "This idea is founded on the principles of liberty, freedom, free enterprise, self-determination and government by consent of the governed."
Even on the point of consent of the governed, Locke can be consulted: In his writings on The Dissoloution of Government, Locke discusses the actions a society must take when a government steps outside the "limited powers" it is entitled to [emphasis added]:
"The reason why men enter into society is the preservation of their property; and the end while they choose and authorise a legislative is that there may be laws made, and rules set, as guards and fences to the properties of all the society, to limit the power and moderate the dominion of every part and member of the society. For since it can never be supposed to be the will of the society that the legislative should have a power to destroy that which every one designs to secure by entering into society, and for which the people submitted themselves to legislators of their own making: whenever the legislators endeavour to take away and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves into a state of war with the people, who are thereupon absolved from any farther obedience, and are left to the common refuge which God has provided for all men against force and violence."
In all, Ryan's philosophy on the social contract between man and government has a firm grounding in the natural rights principles of John Locke and ergo the American Founders. It will be highly interesting to see these concepts drawn up in the political discourse and debate of the next few months, leading up to November.