Jefferson on the Republic

“A republic is the only form of government which is not eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind.” –Thomas Jefferson

Comments

  1. Jefferson’s quote seems to assume the existence of human rights. He references “the rights of mankind”. It would be interesting to explore if human rights exist from an Orthodox point of view and whether Jefferson’s notion of human rights is really Orthodox.

    The salvation of Christ is certainly a right given to all of humanity. What else would the Church affirm as a human right?

  2. How about a right to life (thou shalt not kill), a right to private property (thou shalt not steal), etc. The convergence of the thought of the American founding fathers and Christianity is that both see moral virtue as as the bedrock of liberty. Rights, in other words, are never removed from individual responsibility in the American fathers just as in Christianity. Solzhenitsyn touched on this in the “Harvard Address” although obliquely.

  3. Father Johann,

    Thank you, this is interesting to think about. Yes, the right to not kill, the right to not steal, the right to honor our father and mother, etc… and even the right to love one’s neighbor more than oneself … all of these are revelations of Christ and of our right to salvation within the Church. But, I have to wonder if that is what Jefferson was referring to here.

    Certainly Jefferson would pay homage to these, as any good politician would, but it would seem to me that he probably had something else in mind. Jefferson was not a Christian. He was a student of the French philosophes, a product of the “age of reason”, the renaissance, and the reformation. Though he may have recognized that virtue was the source of freedom, as did also the anarchist Pierre Joseph Proudhon, I would suspect that Jefferson understood human rights differently than what is revealed to us in Orthodox Christianity . Perhaps Jefferson is more interested in personal autonomy as a human right? I’m not sure. That would be interesting to explore.

    As imperfect as it may be, I am thankful for the government which God has established in this country. However, I’m not convinced that Jefferson’s quote isn’t delusional. The tryanny of the self is what is eternally at open and/or secret war with the rights of mankind. I don’t see how the decentralization of power within a republic changes that tyranny.