G.K. Chesterton:“It may have seemed something less than a compliment to compare the American Constitution to the Spanish Inquisition. But oddly enough, it does involve a truth, and still more oddly perhaps, it does involve a compliment. The American Constitution does resemble the Spanish Inquisition in this: that it is founded on a creed. America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that al men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just. It certainly does condemn anarchism, and it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from whom these equal rights are derived. Nobody expects a modern political system to proceed logically in the application of such dogmas, and in the matter of God and government it is naturally God whose claim is taken more lightly. The point is that there is a creed, if not about divine, at least about human things.”
The Creed: The Declaration of Independence: The self-evident truths appear in consciousness because of the experience of the self in the transcendence that is prayer, community life and hard work. It is fundamentally a Christian faith-experience that took place in the colonies from 1620 to 1776 in which it exploded as autonomy of self-determination that would not brook the slightest imposition by the British Crown. It was not the unrighteous revolution that took place in France, but the righteousness of the dignity of the person and the natural right to decide about the self. T o wit:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
Self-Evidence From Faith-Experience: Historically, North America passed through the experience of 150 years of Christian faith lived by mostly baptized Protestants with benefit of Scripture, prayer and work. As we have seen in previous blogs, the experience of faith as self-gift to the revealing Christ creates a consciousness of self-dignity and rights:“(I)n the beginning, America was Protestant: that point has been emphasized by every historian of the United States. Therefore we turn to the doctrines and the mentality and the social characteristics of what we call Protestantism – or rather, of certain types of Reformers. But also we need to remind ourselves that when we call early America Protestant, we mean that America was Christian. The fundamental Christian convictions… were not undone at the Reformation. Instead, certain of those beliefs received a renewed emphasis from Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and the other Reformers…. The Protestant Reformers believed that they were reasserting and reviving the teachings of the early Church of Christ….“The vast majority of people in the thirteen Colonies professed the Christian religion in one or another of its Protestant aspects – chiefly in Anglicanism, in Puritanism (an offshoot of Calvinism), or in Presbyterianism (another offshoot of Calvinism)…. This should be borne in mind: despite the ferocity of the Wars of Religion, the similarities among various Christian bodies are more important than their differences, where we have to do with questions of the order of the soul and of the commonwealth. Hideously though Catholics and Protestants often dealt with one another, still their understanding of man and of society had come from one Christian root.”
Go Forward, Not Back
John Henry Murray, S.J. wrote: "The renewal of our American public philosophy does not mean a return to the past. The movement cannot be launched under the slogan, ‘Back to the Founding Fathers!’ Even if we were to execute this maneuver of a return to the past, we would find that the philosophy of the Founding Fathers, good as it was, is not good enough for the political and social needs of todoay, any more than their Deism would be good enough for our contemporary religious needs.
“I have said that the Founding Fathers did their work within the context of an older tradition, the liberal tradition of the West. This was the basic strength of their thought – that it was traditional. But this too was its weakness: for they made contact with the older tradition at a moment when it had already been weakened from within and had begun its decline. We can see this today, both from the standpoint of our scholarship and also from the standpoint of our experience – political, social and economic. Hence, we can see what our problem is today. It is not to go back to the Founding Fathers; you would better say that it is to go forward from the Founding Fathers. Our problem is not to make vital contact with the traditions of civility as these traditions were possessed and restated by the great men of the 18th century. Our problem is to back beyond the 18th century and to make vital contact with the traditions of civility in their purer form before they had been touched oby the rationalism, voluntarism, secularism and individualism of the 18th century England and America. It is only thus that traditions are renewed – first, by a return to their original sources, and then by a restatement of their original principles and inspirations in terms of a later and much altered social reality. This is a large subject….
“Nor are the Founding Fathers themselves good enough, though we can still learn much from them. Our task is not the recapture of a particular moment in the history of the liberal tradition; it is the re-creation of the tradition itself through an understanding of its inner substance and through an adaptation of this substance to the society in which we live. This much, I think, needed to be said in order to measure the magnitude of the task that confronts.”
The Crisis Facing Us Today:
We are confronted by the alternative: a dictatorship of relativism powered by an inexorable biologistic positivism, or a voluntary spiritualization powered by the energy of creative minorities and exceptional individuals. Joseph Ratzinger presents this in the alternative between Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. He says:
“There are two opposing diagnoses on the possible future of Europe. ON the ond hand, there is the thesis of Oswald Spengler, who believed that he had identified a natural law for the great moments in cultural history: first came the birth of a culture, then its gradual rise, flourishing, slow decline, aging, and death. Spengler argues his thesis with ample documentation, culled from the history of cultures, that demonstrated the law of the natural ife cycle. His thesis was that the West would come to an end, and that it was rushing heedlessly toward its demise, despite every effort to stop it. Europe could of course bequeath its gifts to a new emerging culture – following the example set by previous cultures during their decline – but as a historical subject its life cycle had effectively ended.
“Spengler’s ‘biologistic’ thesis attracted fierce opponents during the period between the two wars, especially in Catholic circles. Arnold Toynbee reserved harsh words for it, in arguments too readily ignored today. Toynbee emphasized the difference bet5rween technological-material progress and true progress, which he defined as spiritualization,. He recognized that the Western world was indeed undergoing a crisis, which he attributed to the abandonment of religion for the cult of technology, nationalism, and militarism. For him this crisis had a name: secularism.
“If you know the cause of an illness, yo can also find a cure: the religious heritage in all its forms had to be reintroduced especially the ‘heritage of Western Christianity.’ Rather than a biologistic vision, he offers a voluntaristic one focused on the energy of creative minorities and exceptional individuals.”
Toward the end of his remarks, Ratzinger says: “The essential problem of our times, for Europe and for the world, is that although the fallacy of the communist economy has been recognized – so much so that former communists have unhesitatingly become economic liberals – the moral and religious question that it used to address has been almost totally repressed. The unresolved issue of Marxism lives on: the crumbling of man’s original uncertainties about God, himself, and the universe. The decline of a moral conscience grounded in absolute values is still our problem today. Left untreated, it could lead to the self-destruction of the European conscience, which we must begin to consider as a real danger – above and beyond the decline predicted by Spengler.”
This is our problem now in reaching the absolute of Jesus the Christ in Jesus of Nazareth, and hence the absolute value of the human person who is the ontological ground of the self-evident truths of this American Body Politic.
 John Courtney Murray, “Freedom, Responsibility and the Law,” Catholic Lawyer July 1956.
 J. Ratzinger and Marcello Pera, “Without Roots,” Basic Books (2006) 67-68.
 Ibid 73-74.