Friday, August 13, 2004

The Self-obedience of the People

The following is from the writings of James Wilson (1742-1798), who signed both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution for Pennsylvania, and served as one of the first Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. His most famous opinion was in Chisolm v. Georgia (which is worth reading, if only to contrast its philosophical astuteness with the gobbledy-gook that passes for Supreme Court opinions these days). Additional writings can be found here.

"The question, which has been proposed--the question, in the negative answer to which, tyranny has triumphed so long and so generally--the question, concerning which philosophers and patriots have indulged, and been pleased with indulging, a contrary sentiment--the question, which, in the United States, is now put upon an experiment--this all-important question is--not merely nor chiefly--are men capable of governing? Of this, even tyrants will admit the affirmative; and will point to themselves as living proofs of its truth. But the question is--are men capable of governing themselves? In other words; are they qualified--and are they disposed to be their own masters? For a moral as well as an intellectual capability is involved in the question. In still other words; are they qualified--and are they disposed to obey themselves? For to government, the correlative inseparable is obedience. To think, to speak, or to act, as if the former may be exercised, and, at the same time, the latter may not be performed, is to think, to speak, or to act, in a manner the most contradictory and absurd."

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