Government's Role of Securing Unalienable Rights
verses Promoting the Common Good

The Declaration of Independence says that government has one primary purpose; that of protecting the unalienable, God-given rights that all human beings posses. The Declaration states:

In this way the Declaration of Independence makes is crystal clear that government has one overarching purpose; that of protecting the inherent human rights of life, liberty and property (pursuit of happiness).

Not all governments recognize this all-important principle. The Constitution of Cuba, for example, says: "Citizens have freedom of speech in keeping with the goals of the socialist society." The "good [goals] of society" will always be defined by government, of course. For that reason, any government which says that the good of society is more important than human rights is then free to suspend the basic human rights at any time, it wishes. Human rights cease to be genuine "rights" if they can be suspended by the government for any reason.

Societies which recognize that the inherent human rights have higher standing than government policies are free societies. Those countries, however, which hold that governmental policies have priority over human rights, are subject to becoming totalitarian.

Take, for example, the right to vote. If a government eliminates the right to vote on the grounds that the good of society requires it, (the only grounds ever used), that society ceases to be free. Similarly, if a government eliminates freedom of speech it has then positioned itself to eliminate all other rights (see Nazi Germany), and, once again, that society is no longer free.

This principle -- that the primary purpose of government is the protection of the basic human rights - was recognized by our founding fathers as being so important that the Declaration of Independence added the following clarification:

Our founding fathers knew what it meant to be free, and they were willing to clarify what freedom meant in no uncertain terms.

The Historical Revisionism of the New Civics.

Our Declaration of Independence and our founders were both clear and emphatic that the first purpose of government is to protect the basic human rights. In spite of this fact, however, the New Federal Curriculum takes a different, and radical, position. The National Standards for Civics and Government say:

Now government supposedly has two primary purposes, not just one. Now the common good has been elevated to a position equal to that of protection of the basic rights (often described as the internationalist position).

Placing the common good and protection of the basic rights on the same level is like mixing oil and water. One or the other must rise to the top. Government cannot have two primary purposes. It can only have one. Government can, of course, have many secondary functions, but it can only have one primary function and guiding principle. As the Declaration of Independence so clearly states, that one guiding principle in the United States must be protection of our unalienable rights.

How does the National Standards for Civics and Government attempt to defend its false position? It does so by saying that, yes, protecting the basic human rights is stated in the Declaration of Independence, but promoting the common good is stated in the Preamble to the Constitution. This supposedly makes the two purposes equal.

This argument, however, has no merit. The Declaration is speaking of the overall purpose of government. The Preamble to the Constitution, in contrast, is speaking only of the reasons for adopting this Constitution. The purpose of a particular constitution is a lesser question than the purpose of government. A nation can have a government without having a constitution. It would not be wise, of course; but it can be done.

Specifically the Preamble to our Constitution mentions six reasons for supporting the Constitution. Those six reasons are:

It is obvious from this list that the reasons given are those in favor of adopting this Constitution as opposed to a continuation of the Articles of Confederation. The preamble does not presume to be a statement of the overall purpose of government.

It should also be observed that if the Preamble to the Constitution actually did elevate the common good to the same level as protection of the unalienable rights, then it also elevates national defense and the other goals to the same level. No one seems to want to make that case, however, further illustrating the error in the position of the national standards.

What, then, is the actual relationship between the purpose of government as stated in the Constitution and the objectives stated in the Preamble to the Constitution? The relationship is this: Ask the question, how will we be successful in securing the God-given human rights described in the Declaration? The Preamble's answer is that we will do so (1.) by forming a more perfect union, (2.) by establishing justice, (3.) by insuring domestic tranquility, (4.) by providing for the common defense, and (5.) by promoting the general welfare. All these objectives, if accomplished, will then (6.) "secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."

Why, then, does the National Standards for Civics and Government promote a position that is so clearly fallacious (and anti-American)? There are two possibilities. The first is that the writers of the standards (The Center for Civic Education - CCE) have been misled about the nature of our government. The second is that they wish to change our form of government, not teach it. (For a thorough description of these standards, see the author's book, Fed Ed: The New Federal Curriculum and How it's Enforced, available at , or

How can Government Promote the Common Good?

In the same year that the Declaration of Independence was adopted, Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations. Smith argued that if business was allowed to be free ("free enterprise"), the result would be far greater prosperity. History has proven Smith to be correct. Free enterprise leads to prosperity; socialism, in contrast, leads to poverty.

This means that if the God-given right to be free in business is respected, the consequence is that the common good is advanced as well. The same principle holds true for all the human rights. When government's highest calling is protection of its people's right to life, liberty and property, the result will be that the common good is significantly advanced.

It doesn't work in the reverse. When governments view the common good as being more important than individual rights, as does any totalitarian state, then both the basic human rights and the common good will suffer. The common good will suffer to the degree that the basic human rights are denied.

Limits on the Exercise of the God-given Rights.

Our nation has always recognized that the exercise of our inherent rights is limited by the fact that all other persons have the same inherent rights that we have. For that reason, the Declaration of Independence prefaces its statement about unalienable rights by asserting that, "all men are created equal." The Founders knew that equality means that no one has the right to infringe on the rights of others. Does one citizen have the right to infringe upon the right to life, liberty and property of another? Of course not. Our nation has always understood that "My rights end where your rights begin." Government, in turn, must treat the rights of all its citizens equally.

No one has the right to harm another human being. In addition, paragraph one of the Declaration of Independence recognizes Natural Law - the universal principles of right and wrong - as being one of our foundational principles. Our Founders knew that no one has the right to do wrong. Understanding these basic principles prevents liberty from becoming license.

Suspending Human Rights in Time of National Emergency.

Watch out for this argument. Did, for example, the national emergency of World War II justify the imprisonment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps? No, it did not. This argument that national security or emergency requires the suspension of basic human rights should be viewed with considerable suspicion.

At the same time, however, the military draft, for example, is not necessarily in conflict with our foundational principles. The draft can only be justified, however, by being necessary to protect national sovereignty (the first stated principle in the Declaration of Independence), and in being necessary to protect the inherent human rights of life, liberty and property which are, in turn, protected in part by our national sovereignty.

It is difficult to imagine any other legitimate grounds for a military draft. It would be difficult to imagine a legitimate draft for the Peace Corp, for example. On a lesser level, serious questions should be raised about the compulsory volunteerism now required by so many of our schools. Is it wise, for students under compulsory education laws, for schools to require its students to participate in "volunteerism" activities? Is this an example of placing the common good of society above the liberty of the students? At the same time, however, schools do have a function in teaching its students to be "good Samaritans." Perhaps it's time for a serious debate of this issue.

Margaret Stimmann Branson's Description of the three Differing Views of Human Rights.

In summary, the analysis of Margaret Stimmann Branson is helpful. She said (in "RIGHTS: AN INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVE, An address to the first Plenary Session of the Center for Civic Education, Marina del Rey, California, June 21, 1991):

These are the three different views on the relationship between government's role in protecting the God-given rights versus promoting the common good. Stimmann Branson provided further clarification of each of the three views by saying:


Our [American] rights, however, derive from a source which antedates the Constitution. That source [is] identified clearly in the Declaration of Independence which opens with these well-known words:

Americans have taken the reasoning embodied in the Declaration and confirmed by their constitutional compact to mean that each of them has rights which accrue to them simply because they are human beings. Those rights are individual...natural...inherent. They cannot be taken away or even suspended. Those rights are not a gift. They are not concessions wrung from a king or a parliament. Rather they are fundamental freedoms which supercede and are superior to governments. They do not derive from any constitution, they antecede all constitutions.


Turning from the American conception of rights to that of the communist world...Marx also rejected the doctrine of natural rights on a variety of grounds...Marx identified individualism with egoism; the tendency to think in communal or collectivist terms he equated with altruism. Socialist society, therefore, should be altruistic, based on a philosophy of fulfilling human needs...

[For example] the operant constitution of the Soviet Union...provides (Article 41):

The importance of the concept of duties and responsibilities is such that lengthy sections are commonplace. These are some of the most frequently used labels for these: "Basic Rights and Duties of Citizens", "The Basic Rights, Freedoms and Obligations of Citizens," and "Fundamental Rights and Duties of Citizens."...


As you know, concern about rights is in the American tradition and at the core of the American creed. The government of the United States was founded on the assertion that the primary purpose of its government is to secure and protect the rights of individuals...Speaking for the United States government in an address to the United Nations [on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights], a ranking state department official [said]:

The official continued,

In other words, Stimmann Branson points out that the federal government, under Presidents Reagan and Bush Sr., has rejected the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because it is at odds with the American understanding of human rights as stated in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. In the United States, government has one primary purpose: protecting the God-given, inherent human rights of all its people.


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