Yesterday on NPR’s radio show “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross interviewed Michael Farris, president of the fundamentalist Christian school Patrick Henry College. This regrettably named institution seeks to train home-schooled Christians to be tomorrow’s leaders, “ready to reclaim the biblical principles upon which our land was founded.” The interview with Farris, who also teaches Constitutional Law at the school, shows the dangerous results of two misunderstandings regarding the nature of our government.
Gross questioned Farris about a passage from his book, The Joshua Generation, in which he proclaims his desire that Christian students “engage wholeheartedly in the battle to take the land.” His reply:
Everyone who engages in politics, everyone who engages in public discussions wants their philosophy to succeed, that’s the nature of democracy. People who believe the kinds of things that I describe in that book, and that we teach at Patrick Henry College, we want to be successful, just like everybody else. And in a democracy, people listen, and they decide which candidates, which ideas are the better ideas. And if they like the ideas of one, they vote for them. That’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about winning the war of ideas by having a better way of articulating our principles than the principles of people who are on the other philosophical camp.
This is indeed the nature of democracy, and being “successful” or “taking the land” in this context means that you’ve convinced a majority to vote to advance your philosophy with government force. With a legion of college students trained to spread Christian ideology in the public sector Farris hopes to use the democratic process to one day force his agenda on America—including restrictions on abortion, extramarital sex, and homosexual activity.
Democracy places an individual’s life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness at the mercy of his countrymen, which is why the Founding Fathers were opposed to it, along with monarchy, theocracy, and all other forms of tyranny. The Founders instead established a republic, the laws of which are constitutionally limited to the protection of individual rights. In this revolutionary system of government, the democratic process was intended to play a bit part in the popular election of individuals to administer the government’s powers of protection.
Today, the essential nature of our government is misunderstood to be exactly what the Founding Fathers tried to avoid: a system in which a majority of citizens can enact laws that violate the rights of the minority. Liberals and conservatives agree on this point—they only argue over the types of violations to enact and over which gang gets to hold the gun. A shift away from the idea of majority rule and back to the Founders’ view of government as a protector of rights is needed to defend our liberty from would-be theocrats like Michael Farris.
However, misunderstanding the nature of rights presents another deadly hazard to freedom, as Farris makes clear elsewhere in the interview:
…as Thomas Jefferson said, “we’re endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights” and unless you believe that rights come from a source above man, you can’t really believe in inalienable rights. If men create rights, men can take away rights. Unless God creates rights, as Thomas Jefferson said, you can’t get there intellectually.
The alternative as Farris presents it, and as it is commonly understood, is that rights are either granted by society or granted by God. If rights are granted by society they are indeed meaningless; the result of this viewpoint is simply democracy, where individuals have rights only until they’re voted out of existence. If rights are granted by God, one can surmise that He didn’t grant rights to abortion, gay marriage, working on the Sabbath, and so forth. If this is our alternative, what good are rights?
Fortunately, Ayn Rand did “get there intellectually,” and showed that this is a false alternative, that rights are neither granted by other men nor granted by God. From Atlas Shrugged:
The source of man’s rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A—and Man is Man. Rights are conditions of existence required by man’s nature for his proper survival. If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work. If life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being: nature forbids him the irrational. Any group, any gang, any nation that attempts to negate man’s rights, is wrong, which means: is evil, which means: is anti-life.
Only the abandonment of democracy as it is practiced today and a return to respecting individual rights—properly derived from man’s nature—can protect us from Michael Farris and his anti-life followers.