We are not God. We cannot become God, make God, or speak with the authority of God. This is axiomatic and the beginning of wisdom and prosperity.
Because we are not God, we cannot know the full nature of God, or even for certainty whether God exists at all. As a result, we cannot know any purpose, including ultimate purpose, each of our lives may have. Because we cannot know the full nature of God, should He exist, nor any purpose our lives may have in His sight, we lack the authority to compel the beliefs of others, lest we lead them into ultimate error. In particular, we therefore lack the authority to alienate anyone, self or other, from the possibility of fulfilling that purpose. In short, lacking the authority of God, we lack justification for the compulsion of our fellow man.
In that we all lack the authority of God and thus any justification for the compulsion of our fellow man, all men are created politically equal. Nothing in the world, which is also not God, justifies an intrinsically limited human being to hold political or social authority over another without the consent of both parties to that relationship. Any authority we can hold over any other person must therefore be earned, provisional, temporary, and voluntarily given and accepted.
Men, by their morally limited nature, which is sometimes called “fallen,” often seek to compel the belief, speech, and action of other men, both for good reasons and bad. The primary mechanisms by which a man can successfully compel another man to belief, speech, or action are through credible threats to his life, liberty, and livelihood, generally recognized in the last case as his property. Further, because of the nature of the ultimate privacy of conscience, which men may have any number of good reasons to keep private from other men, undue violation of the privacy of man and the contents of his mind can coerce him. Any who can destroy another’s life, liberty, or livelihood, or sufficiently violate his privacy, can compel his belief, speech, and activity and thus alienate him through destruction or compulsion from any potential ultimate purpose he may have. Only God could possibly hold such authority, and we are not God. No man can justify claiming such authority.
Thus, we hold these truths to be self-evident: that we are not God, and by virtue of that, we have been endowed by that which led to our existence, our Creator, whether the Laws of Nature or Nature’s God, with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are his life, liberty, and property, including the property of the private contents of our minds, and the ability to make use of these to pursue our happiness, fortunes, and whatever purposes, ultimate or otherwise, there may be within and of our lives.
These rights and the privacy necessary to maintain them shall be set aside and therefore, in light of the original meaning of the word, regarded as holy.
Because men must nevertheless live among one another in as much peace and in pursuit of as much prosperity as we may attain, some political system—a just government—needs to be instituted among them not for their rule but for the securing of these holy and unalienable rights. The primary purpose of a just government is therefore to secure these rights and to facilitate the peaceful resolution of conflicts and disputes that arise between men as a result of them and their individual differences.
What must such a government abide by, then, so that it can achieve this sacred task without itself alienating man from that which is unalienable? Government, too, is not God, no matter in what way it is instituted among men. It cannot become God, neither can it make God, nor can it speak or act with the authority of God. It must abide by limitations of nearly every imaginable sort and must secure the inalienable rights of man from itself and others.
Because a government lacks the authority of God, a just government has no intrinsic political authority over the men among whom it is constituted. That is, a just government cannot rule, and it cannot govern except with the consent of those whom it governs. Since government cannot usurp the authority to rule, law must rule in its place, subject to mechanisms of production and amendment that guarantee the participation and consent of those over whom it rules. In that none possesses any special political authority, none can be exempt from the law that is instituted among men for their own just governance.
All governments, including a just government, must possess and wield political authority, however, including to produce and enforce the law, which rules in its stead. That authority in a just government is of the people, by the people, and for the people, and as such it is all loaned political authority ultimately answerable at any time to the people it governs, is provisional, and subject to limits of time, scope, and checks and balances on its power.
A just government must be democratic in nature to obtain the consent of those it governs, but it cannot secure the rights of the few against the many unless the democracy is republican in application. Servants must be consented to by the people they represent. Fair and impartial elections must be held at intervals to loan political authority to public servants and to pass it to others at want or need, or else it usurps an authority greater than itself to which it can claim no right. The greater must be given a say and the lesser must be granted enough representation to counter the tide of opinion held prejudicially or negligently against it.
A just government must secure the rights of speech, press, protest, and petition or it cannot be held to account and the consent with which it governs cannot be duly informed. Its powers must be limited, divided, and placed into a system of checks and balances to prevent it from any illegitimate claim to rule with political authority it cannot have. Government is not God because we are not God. Just governments understand this and keep it. Unjust governments reject this and run afoul of it and the men they are meant to serve.
A just government cannot compel the beliefs, speech, or actions of men because it lacks any such authority, which cannot even be given on loan, and consequently it cannot deprive men of their lives, liberties, or properties, or a reasonable expectation of privacy, without the due process of law pursuant to its solitary sacred objective: to secure the inalienable rights of those whom it serves and protects. It therefore must secure the right to believe, speak, and worship as well as the rights to defend oneself against any and all attempts to alienate men from those fundamental rights which he retains inalienably. It cannot punish cruelly or unusually, torture, or compel any man to profess his own guilt.
Because individual belief and conscience is self-evidently inviolate, just government consequently must also secure a right to privacy without interference in private spaces and a reasonable expectation of limited privacy even in public spaces. In that governments are not God, because we are not God and they are instituted amongst us, they have no authority to violate the inner sanctity of the human mind in any person, neither to torture, nor to surveil persons without justified suspicion or manipulate their beliefs, actions, or environments so as to coerce them against their self-determined will. Instead, as with our other unalienable rights, just governments have a duty to secure a reasonable right to privacy between citizens and hold no right to violate that right themselves. Because we also are not God, none of us individually has any such authority over one another either.
As with just governments, just individuals must obtain any social or political authority they hold over another man by obtaining his consent. Because none possess intrinsic authority over others, consent to hold political authority must not be absolute and should be given freely and under contract according to merits and on terms determined by both relevant parties to be acceptable to each. Political authority between adults is therefore extended by virtue of demonstrated competence that is compelling to those in the relationship. Just governments should secure these arrangements and establish courts of justice to facilitate the resolution of conflicts between parties. The courts must adjudicate the law with impartiality, favoring neither the greater nor the lesser, and only under such judicial restraint should just men submit to the court. Arbitrary power must be resisted, and any doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind. Courts must therefore be impartial in carrying out the law.
Because belief cannot be compelled, likewise, none possess the authority to compel another to believe in any idea, right or wrong, true or false. Therefore, no proposition is to be regarded as true or good by virtue of he who made it. Every proposition earns its authority through processes of validation that demand it survive challenge by competing ideas that ultimately must be brought to bear against our best assessment of the laws of nature of objective reality or of God’s Creation, which by definition cannot be wrong or false and rest outside of but are accessible to each and every man. Men can establish themselves as authorities, to which others can consent or not, based upon their demonstrated capacities to determine that which is right and true through the successful applications of their talents and perceptions. In that every man is not God, which is to say he is limited and finite, no man obtains special or final authority on any of his proclamations of rightness or truth and must consent to seeing his own ideas challenged by those of others.
Because our right to our own property is inalienable, so is our right to do with our property what we will so long as it doesn’t violate the inalienable rights of others. In other words, we have the right not only to hold our property but to engage in commerce with it according to the principles of free enterprise under the law. Property can be exchanged by any two parties who mutually consent to the terms of the contract of exchange without undue interference by third parties, and a just government should secure this right to engage in commerce under its duty to secure the rights of each citizen’s property.
In summary, we are not God. The consequences of this self-evident proposition are vast. None of us possesses the authority to compel another or his belief because we lack in our limitation understanding of the significance of any error against his intrinsic value and potential purpose made in that way. We therefore self-evidently start the project of organizing our society from a position of political equality with certain rights that are inalienable, among these life, liberty, property, capacity for their use toward our happiness and purposes, and a reasonable expectation of privacy in which we can maintain their sanctity. Lacking authority to rule over one another, we are ruled instead by law and merit and lend social and political authority in limited ways as such through processes that are open in their nature and that may best determine these as objectively as we may. Individual belief is sacrosanct not because any man is God but because every man is not. The individual is politically inviolate because he is the vessel of his own sacrosanct individual belief.
Together, these provocative and humbling ideas and the social and political project they define have a name. These are classical liberalism.