1.How did the different principles and ideas of classical republicanism and natural rights philosophy influence the Founder’s thoughts and views about government?
Classical republicanism focused on duties of the citizen rather than one’s rights. Citizens work together and contribute to the community because this will ultimately keep the state and one’s self away from tyranny. Small, uniform communities, citizenship and civic virtue, and moral education were the three key features of classical republicanism which greatly influenced the founding fathers. Aristotle taught THESE writers of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution that men are “political animals” as they are “not self-sufficient and are always found living in association with one another in political form.” Men do this for security and to live well. As the colonies developed and expanded, this idea of small community appealed to the founders as this was their current mode of safety which proved maintainable. The “office” of the citizen and its duties were extremely important to the Founders as this had been inherent to their way of life. They were well educated which made them exemplary leaders for crafting the new government and wanted to mirror the idea of civic virtue to motivate others to do the same.
An important influence on the Founders was the Natural Rights philosophy which include those rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. To protect natural rights, according to Locke and Hobbes, we need a social contract. If government doesn’t do what it is supposed to do, it SHOULD be replaced. Individual rights of equality are inalienable. If it doesn’t work, revolution should or will happen almost by design.
The influence of the philosophies of Locke and Hobbes were seen in the writings of Thomas Jefferson who attacked the King for abusing natural rights of citizens and demanded a break.
The idea of a social contract is critical here, too. It is about the way government is expected to protect those inalienable natural rights. If someone breaks that contract then, or acts against those natural rights, the government must deal with that person.
The concept of Classical Republicanism, in contrast to Natural Rights, focuses so much more on the good of the whole. But, I contend, if one feels secure in one’s natural rights, the good of the whole will ultimately be protected.
2.What might be the possible consequences for society if either individual rights or the common good are emphasized at the expense of the other?
In regards to the issue of over emphasizing either of these ideas, anything in excess is too much. Not enough water and you die from dehydration, too much water and you drown. This is also true of governmental philosophies. The Preamble uses the phrase “Promote the General Welfare”, because the founders understood the importance of working for the common good. However, if the ideals of classical republicanism are taken to the extreme, the people become secondary to the state. The fruits of their labor are usurped by the community, be it by taxes or by requirements for public service. Civic virtue and working for the common good are worthwhile causes, but moderation is much better in the long run, and much more sustainable.
The same can be said for the natural rights side of the argument. While the concept that there can be an over abundance of natural rights can seem contradictory on its face, when you apply it to the larger community, excess can still be a problem. If I act on every impulse I have, with the freedom to chose my own course of action at every turn, it is going to negatively affect the community at large at some point. In a desire to Form a More Perfect Union, some kind of balance must be achieved.
3.How are the principles and ideas of classical republicanism and natural rights philosophy represented in our governmental institutions and public policies today?
The principles and ideas which stemmed from classical republicanism and natural rights theories also established a lasting tension between “the common good” of our society and the protection of “individual freedoms and liberties”. Policy makers are tasked with the challenge of drafting public policies that can be broad enough to gain majority support in the legislative bodies while protecting the rights of minority interests. The latest healthcare debate is a prime example. One measure of a successful society is the wellbeing of their citizens. Over the course of our nation’s history we have seen advances in medicine and healthcare that was able to flourish because the merging of the governmental and economic principles espoused in classical republicanism and natural rights. Our government, as early as 1798, responding to health related concerns of society, established various acts and agencies to address these interests. Many of these institutions have evolved into agencies making up our Department of Health and Human Services. These agencies in conjunction with private sector industries have resulted in the US leading the way in healthcare innovation.