Political arguments frequently invoke the “Founding Fathers” to make a point. The Supreme Court justices argue over the intent of the founding fathers in drafting the constitution. Presidential candidates wield the founding fathers as a cudgel, bashing their opponents for having the temerity to stray from the path these esteemed men set us on.
I always get a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach when I hear these types of arguments, but I hadn’t really formed an idea of why until John Siracusa mentioned (in his excellent technology podcast, Hypercritical) that he doesn’t care what the founding fathers thought.
Gasp! Not care what the esteemed and revered founding fathers thought? Yes, we have free speech, but is such a severe blaspheme allowed?
When I heard it, I realized that this was exactly the thought that would quell my anxious digestive system. After all, who were these founding fathers? Great men, to be sure. They challenged the greatest military force on the planet, created an entirely new system of government, and did it all without resorting to authoritarian rule.
But they weren’t Supermen. They weren’t big-brained aliens from another planet who’s intelligence can never be replicated. And in fact, they were solving problems that largely aren’t relevant today. We aren’t lorded over by an authoritarian regime (despite what extreme opponents to Barack Obama would have you believe). We are no longer a new nation, creating an entirely new system of government. We are the longest-running democracy on the planet.
We can come up with good ideas on our own. In fact, we could be hampered by blind adherence to the founding fathers, as they did not, and could not, predict the situations and events of today. The idea of a black president would likely be laughable to them. Thomas Jefferson wrote the line that “all men are created equal”, but also wrote in his “Notes on the State of Virginia” that blacks were, “in reason much inferior” to white people. Clearly Jefferson was a smart man in many ways, but his opinions of the mental capacities of his slaves was not one of them.
Let’s consider the current state of the world as it is, and come up with our own good ideas, irrespective of what the founding fathers thought.