The Duty to Throw off Such Government

“Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty to throw off such Government and to provide new Guards for their future Security.”
—The U. S. Declaration of Independence, 1776.

David Goldman, in a recent article in the Asia Times (June 26), was struck by the fierce loyalty that his countrymen showed to Napoleon, even after several spectacular defeats. Goldman attributed this reaction to Napoleon’s ability to break the bonds of society and to concentrate all hope and loyalty into himself. The people no longer had sufficient interior virtues and standards whereby they themselves could form judgments about what was right and wrong. That function was subsumed into dependence and confidence in the emperor’s force of personality and external mission.

Readers of Plato and Aristotle know their recurring thesis: a tyrant arises out of a democracy when the citizens have little or no inner principle of order other than what they will for themselves. The tyrant becomes the “leader of the people” and, finally, their master. He can impose on them his cure for their well-being. But he is seen as a savior because the people, no longer in contact with the rationale of their own tradition, have little else in their souls with which to judge him. Hence, the loyalty and enthusiasm follow the “leader.” What struck Goldman about both Napoleon and Hitler was not so much that they failed, but how close they came to succeeding. The wonder is whether we will always be so lucky.

When we read the powerful words of the Declaration, we are struck by the truth of its observation that mankind is disposed to suffer evils, if it can, rather than to take the effort to throw them off. Custom, for all its good contributions to stability, makes us slow to see things as they go wrong. A people are accustomed to its own political “Form,” even if they retain the capacity to “right themselves” from its abuses. A point can come where they no longer retain such a capacity or a will to exercise it.

The Declaration of Independence is mostly remembered for its ringing words of principle, the “We hold these truths.” But as a document, the greater part is a bill of particulars that recounts the abuses of the British Crown as seen by the colonists, themselves nurtured in this same English tradition. The reason why the abuses are so diligently listed is to make a rational case before mankind that a “design” was being followed to reduce the people to “absolute despotism.”

The British Crown, no doubt, would have denied that such was its real intention. It merely wanted to restore order to its hot-headed colonial subjects. And no doubt with some considerable prudence on its part, the Crown might well have prevented the Revolution. As we watch the British Empire after both the French and American Revolutions, it did learn many lessons that were more benignly applied to other colonial outposts, some of which are still in existence today.

The American founders saw that the kind of limited government that they formed was likely to be strong enough to withstand most external enemies. What some of them also recognized was that the most dangerous threats to the country’s future would come from within and not without. The American system was put together to prevent despotism. Hence, all its offices were constrained. They were to be limited, checked, and balanced so that the enthusiasm which we associate with Napoleon did not arise among us. This nation, under God, was to be a country of citizens not of masses.

What we see today, I think, is the awareness that we must form a careful list of abuses, analogous to those composed by the writers of the Declaration. This time, the abuses are not against any colonial power but against our own rulers. Who would ever have imagined that freedom of religion would come to be on the government’s agenda as an item to be restricted? We see that marriage itself is no longer understood and its supposed alternatives promoted by official policy. The list is getting longer every day.

Though the courts have often been contributors to this list, we see that the Supreme Court may still function as a check on governmental despotism. But what seems clear is that the very idea of a Constitution, of a form of order according to which we should govern ourselves, is called into question when it conflicts with what the democracy or its leader wants. The American Republic was established so that a people who could rule themselves did rule themselves also in the public order. But it was also a Republic based on the idea that such a thing as virtue of soul and order in human affairs existed. They were not simply created in any form we wanted.

Reflecting now on the Fourth of July 2012, we have to wonder about a regime now manifesting a growing list of abuses to the fundamental nature of human worth. These abuses are put into effect by elected rulers themselves. They are accepted by many citizens who themselves are “democratic” in the classic Greek sense, that in their soul they have little principle of order.

Hence, they have no reason to object to anything on any other basis than that of personal whim or want. The term “unconstitutional” is meaningless. This situation is not a far cry from that list found in the Declaration. In describing these abuses, it read: “He (the King) has made Judges dependent on his Will alone.” “He has refused to assent to Laws.” And “He has combined with others to subject us to a Jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution.”

Constitutional rule derives from a people who understand the nature and demands of the virtues and their relation to our final end. It is aware of an order transcendent to politics. Arbitrary rule arises when a leader, seeing that the people have no real order of soul, sees himself able to impose whatever form of rule that he thinks good for the people. Unless they acquiesce in this rule and its decrees, they are no longer citizens, whatever a written Constitution might say.

In 2012, when we read the Declaration of Independence and its appeal to the judgment of mankind, it seems more addressed to our own government rather than to the British Crown.

Rev. James V. Schall, S.J.


Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., taught political science at Georgetown University for many years. He is the author of The Mind That Is Catholic from Catholic University of America Press; Remembering Belloc from St. Augustine Press; and Reasonable Pleasures from Ignatius Press. His newest books include A Line Through the Human Heart: On Sinning and Being Forgiven (2016) and On the Principles of Taxing Beer and Other Brief Philosophical Essays (2017). His most recent books are Catholicism and Intelligence (Emmaus Road, 2017) and The Universe We Think In (CUA Press, 2018).

  • Tisantir

    The Founders wrote that the republic form of the Government is suitable for a virtuous people and is wholly unsuited for any other people.

    Are you sure that America now is more suited for political rule rather than despotic?

    Despotism is natural form of government over a mass of irrational people. That is how British ruled over unruly frontier tribes and also criminal tribes in the civilized districts.

    I submit that mobs of nihilists perhaps can not be and should not be ruled politically.

    • givelifeachance2

      The engineering of citizens’ dependency on government, and indoctrination to the point of stupidity are themselves more abuses to be laid at government’s door.  I would add to that the promulgation of the two-party illusion, designed to keep the real ruling class (hint – not Obama, but his (and Romney’s) controllers) in perpetual power.

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  • If the Republicans and Romney win the next election, we will have a new King-Romney the First, and his new Nobelity, the Republican Party!  The Federal Government will then be “bought” by the Super Rich, and the Middle Class and Poor will be reduced to Serfs totally and forever at the mercy of the One Percent!   Thanks to the Supreme Court and their decision that Corporations are People-the Super Rich  can buy ANY election!  So, if you choose to vote Republican, you had better have a sizable Bundle of Cash on hand!  Forget about entitelments like Medicare, Social Security, and Medicade-Rich Republicans don’t need them!  They will make sure that you and you children, and their children don’t have them! 

    • Paul

      …still drinking that Obama-Democrat-Liberal-Progressive-Socialist coolaid huh! Hey, bring your class warfare socialist redistribution talking points elsewhere. You sound like those court jesters for King-Obama ‘The Tyrant’. 
      There is no perfect candidate but I’ll take the  ‘bad’ anytime than settling for the ‘worst’. 

    • Mark Rutledge

      For the sake of argument, Richard, let’s say you are correct on entitlements.  What will you do about it?  Will you give money to charities which help the poor and underpriveleged? 

      I don’t know about you, but liberals in general have a poor record of charitable giving (OPM notwithstanding).

    • Ennead80220

       Suggest taking a weekend course to learn what your Shift key is used for.  Cleraly you have no idea.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Walter Bagehot put the case for despotism very well.

    “The best reason why Monarchy is a strong government is, that it is an intelligible government.  The mass of mankind understand it, and they hardly anywhere in the world understand any other.  It is often said that men are ruled by their imaginations; but it would be truer to say they are governed by the weakness of their imaginations.  The nature of a constitution, the action of an assembly, the play of parties, the unseen formation of a guiding opinion, are complex facts, difficult to know, and easy to mistake. But the action of a single will, the fiat of a single mind, are easy ideas: anybody can make them out, and no one can ever forget them.  When you put before the mass of mankind the question, “Will you be governed by a king, or will you be governed by a constitution?” the inquiry comes out thus — “Will you be governed in a way you understand, or will you be governed in a way you do not understand?”  The issue was put to the French people; they were asked, “Will you be governed by Louis Napoléon, or will you be governed by an assembly?”  The French people said, “We will be governed by the one man we can imagine, and not by the many people we cannot imagine.”

    • Tisantir

      Well said, but monarchy is not the same as despotism. Monarchy  is patriarchal, despotism is servile.
      A son fears his father in a different way than a slave fears his master,  

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        Bagehot is really dealing with government by “the action of a single will, the fiat of a single mind,” particularly in the context of the French Second Empire.  That is what he considers a “strong government” and he is explaining why people like it – And I think he is right

  • JP

    Last month more checks for first time disability applicants were issued than private sector jobs created (85000 vs 80000). Disability insurance runs about $1100/month, and the “disabled” can remain so indefinitely. Since 2009, disability claims are running at a record pace.

  • Alecto

    Richard M.’s post illustrates profoundly the fall of reason from our citizenry.  Blame is irrelevant.  Consequences are.  Such people are perpetual and mindless adolescents, suffering a prolonged, virulent case of civic arrested development.  They seek to make others responsible for their care and feeding, housing, education, jobs, money, credit, retirement, healthcare, fitness, transportation, utilities, communications, etc….  No republic can thrive while such people are allowed to cast a vote. 

    However, this Sunday I picked up Cardinal’s Wuerl’s Catholic voting pamphlet after mass.  It was dreck, pure confused, muddled dreck.  If the responsibilities of Catholics in the voting booth permit voting for a virulently pro-abortion Democrat because that person also represents the socialist justice positions of the USCCB, that’s a problem.  Either life is sacred and that is a moral absolute, or it isn’t.  Cardinal Wuerl clearly doesn’t believe there exist any moral absolutes.  Abortion is merely one of a number of issues with equal moral weight.  What is that man doing in red robes?  I would love an answer! 

    If the USCCB cannot comprehend why a nation of citizens cannot continue to sustain massive deficits and debts created by “Catholic friendly” entitlement philosophy, I really need to rethink Catholicism.  Is it anything other than a pretext for a bunch of 60’s relics (aka “Jesuits”) to trot out their ridiculous revolutionary tripe again and again and again. 

    I yearn to live once again in a country of true citizens; those who neither look outside themselves for their daily bread, nor blame others when it doesn’t appear. 

    • Sibyl

      Alecto: What I would answer regarding the USCCB is that these are men who spent all the formative early years of their lives in the previous world, the one you describe in your last paragraph. With such massive and rapid cultural shifts, the bishops for the most part appear to still be operating on the assumptions and intellectual categories of that old world. They mistook cultural decency for a ineradicable feature of American life, and up until very, very recently have not seen the enormously different reality.
      They seem to me to be, as a group, mostly good men who cannot quite connect the dissolution and destruction around them with the good-will political and sociological ideals that they still hold. 

      Don’t rethink Catholicism. Now is exactly when the mystical nature of the Church appears in all its truth. If it were possible for the Church to wrecked, these last leaders would have done it. Instead, they themselves are being re-catechized by the laity — it often happens this way.

      I share your discouragement, but also I pray for hope for you and all who, like us, find the current situation terribly sad. Join me in praying for our bishops, who, for better or worse, are still God’s anointed.

      Peace to you.

      • Alecto

         Bless you for your attribution of such fine qualities to people who absolutely do not deserve such kindness.  Don’t kid yourself, there’s nothing “good” about the bishops who push entitlements over true charity, or push social welfare agendas over true piety. 

    • Catholicdadof3

       Cardinal Wuerl isn’t the Church. He can err. He has the free will to cause scandal. Remember the Arian crisis? Prelates have the free will to act in such a way as to choose their own damnation. This should cause us all to fear. This should cause us all to pray.

  • Alecto

    Had to include one more observation:  perfect aspirational picture of our Dear Leader!

  • crakpot

    “Constitution… conflicts with what the democracy or its leader wants”

    This caricature of the Constitution as anti-democratic makes it easily dismissible as just a piece of paper written long ago by a handful of white slaveholders.   In truth, if the so-called democracy actually has a sufficient majority (3/4 of the States), they can change it anytime.   The Constitution IS the Consent of the Governed spoken of in the Declaration.   In elections, we just hire mechanics for a few years to do what it says using only the powers it allows.

    Allowing powers only by consensus is not enough, however.   Benjamin Franklin defined that situation aptly:  “Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.”

    The difference that made America exceptional was individual rights – from God.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

     Perhaps, we should recall Rousseau’s caution: “allow neither rich men nor beggars. These two estates, which are naturally inseparable, are equally fatal to the common good; from the one come the friends of tyranny, and from the other tyrants. It is always between them that public liberty is put up to auction; the one buys, and the other sells.”

    • crakpot

      So if we don’t “allow” people to be rich or poor, they get “liberty?”


      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        Yes, the “public liberty” of living under laws and policies that are the consummated result of their own organized wishes  and with a government that is the appointee and agent of the people

        • crakpot

          “Public liberty” to keep however much or little you or Rousseau might “allow?”   Oxymoronic.   Rights such as liberty go from God directly to the ultimate minority, the individual; They are not collective, or “public.”

          Power from “organized wishes?   That euphemism can mean a lot of things.   There’s one “organizer” in particular I wish never got near power.

    • Catholicdadof3

       Rousseau was a Deist and a heretic. Do you suggest that the faithful Catholics here should heed the caution of a man who threw of the sweet yoke of God and His Church? This man was a scoundrel and blind. And if you follow him you are in danger yourself. That is a warning out of charity.

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  • Smokescreek

    The average American is now as dumb as a bag of rocks….and is as happy as a pig in…well, you get the idea.

    • Martial_Artist


      I would humbly suggest that your assessment is grossly overoptimistic.

      Pax et bonum,
      Keith Töpfer

  • LeChat

    America is in very much the same position as Rome, circa 450 AD. The system is in serious trouble. The first step is to get Obama out of office in November,  The second step is to repair the damage that he has done, starting with the nullification of ObamaCare. There are many steps after that.

  • Please keep up with our run-a-way feral government whose un-Constitutional activities are chronicled by Mike Vanderboegh at Sipsey Street Irregulars and David Codrea at The War on Guns.

  • Catholicdadof3

    The Declaration of Independence is heresy:

    “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men,
    deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” – from The
    Declaration of Independence

    Pope Leo XIII condemned this idea in Immortale Dei.

    • crakpot

      Immortale Dei:  “It is not difficult to determine what
      would be the form and character of the State were it governed according to the
      principles of Christian philosophy….. in the
      constitution of the State … the rights of citizens [would be] assured to them”

      Preamble to the Declaration:  “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men”

      He was clearly speaking about the persecution of the Church in the Catholic nations of Europe at the time.   There it was about the liberty to do whatever you want and separation of Church from state.   It was democracy of the type Benjamin Franklin warned against, really an early form of atheistic socialism.

      What Pope Leo XIII told the American Bishops about our nation of laws at the time was this:
           “your lawgivers are certainly entitled to praise for the fact that they do nothing to restrain you in your just liberty”

      I thought Pope John Paul II made the distinction perfectly:
           “[freedom is] not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.”

      • Catholicdadof3

         Nice try, crakpot. Let’s look at Immortale Dei:

        23. But that harmful
        and deplorable passion for innovation which was aroused in the sixteenth
        century threw first of all into confusion the Christian religion, and
        next, by natural sequence, invaded the precincts of philosophy, whence
        it spread amongst all classes of society. From this source, as from a
        fountain-head, burst forth all those later tenets of unbridled license
        which, in the midst of the terrible unheavals of the last century, were
        wildly conceived and boldly proclaimed as the principles and foundation
        of that new conception of law which was not merely previously unknown,
        but was at variance on many points with not only the Christian, but even
        the natural law.

        24. Amongst these
        principles the main one lays down that as all men are alike by race and
        nature, so in like manner all are equal in the control of their life;
        that each one is so far his own master as to be in no sense under the
        rule of any other individual; that each is free to think on every
        subject just as he may choose, and to do whatever he may like to do;
        that no man has any right to rule over other men. In a society grounded upon such maxims all government is nothing more nor less than the will of the people, and the people, being under the power of itself alone, is alone its own ruler….34. Doctrines such as these, which cannot
        be approved by human reason, and most seriously affect the whole civil
        order, Our predecessors the Roman Pontiffs (well aware of what their
        apostolic office required of them) have never allowed to pass

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  • Dware4dixie

    Wonder why the south was allowed to depart the “land of the free”

  • Romney’s Bain

    You bought the Republican Party
    like you can buy everyone a yacht

    Your own record strategically not discussed

    Your garage has an elevator
    you have Grover norquiest in the mirror

    As you watched your profits grow
    and republican governors think that they’d be your partner

    They’d be your vp pick and

    Romney’s Bain
    He probably outsourced your job from you
    Romney’s Bain
    I’ll bet he stole your job from you
    Don’t you don’t you

    He came into town several years ago

    When our company was teetering

    well, he said he could make our problem go
    and in that we were quite naive
    but he took the money that we needed

    and he put it in his bank

    I had a feeling I was getting screwed out
    of money
     screwed out of money, and

    Romney’s Bain

    He probably outsourced your job from you
    Romney’s Bain
    I’ll bet he stole your job from you
    Don’t you? Don’t you?                         


    I had feeling I was getting screwed out of money

    Screwed out of money, and
    Romney’s Bain
    He probably outsourced your job from you
    Romney’s Bain
    I’ll bet he stole your job from you
    Don’t you? Don’t you?                         

     Well, I hear he has several Swiss bank
     and made millions off all of us
     then he accepted trumps birther crap

    To gain the title of republican son
     Well, the Mormons belief is with him all
    the time
     and when it’s not, it’s with
     some Nazi loving spy or greedy white
    and  greedy white supremacists

    Romney’s Bain

    You should know he is lying to you

     Romney’s Bain

     I’ll bet you he’ll sink democracy with

    Don’t you? Don’t you? Don’t you?  

     Romney’s Bain

     he probably outsourced your job from you

     Romney’s Bain

     he probably stole your job from you

     Romney’s Bain

    You know he does not care about you

    Romney’s Bain, so vain

    I’ll bet he thinks he is superior to you

     Don’t you vote for him, don’t

    • Rsmyth75

      i love how your poetic dribble covered all the dem. talking points!

  • Now with that said both parties are the same coin one on each side and we keep hoping it will land on the edge. While Republicans at the start were the party of trying to be moral and the Dems were the party of partying, those times have changed and both are guility of obstruction of justice and useing fraud within the legal and justice system to allow corruption to overtake our country at the expense of all of our rights. I also read the Consitituion lately and was struck by just how applyable it is to our day, it is our right which can never be mistaken to have a new form of government, and even now that right is questioned.

    Never in the history of the world has a government had so much unchecked power, never has there been such a move by the rich to stop others from voting by using lies and fraud to say voter fraud is a huge issue, It is more probably to see a ufo and to be abducted then to have voter fraud, never has a government had such a big and powerful army at its disposal owned and operated by the uber rich,never have the people of the world owned so many guns, seems kind of like Sherlock Homes part two, who is making the weapons and band aids is the power behind corruption,

    10 billion a week still in Afganistan, just how many can of beans, water purifcation machines, seeds for crops, books and pallets of jeans would that buy?
    If we dropped supplies instead of bombs on people, they just might say hmmm Americans are not that bad after all, but we continue to kill to prove killing is wrong,
    Chris rock said it best, you can own guns but each bullet should be one million dollars.

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  • John Switzer

    Thank you, Fr. Schall, for your words of wisdom.  Leave it to a wise Jesuit to point the way in these dark times. 

  • Tom

    What else would be on the list of abuses?
    The law of the land allows for the murder of the unborn.
    The war machine wags the dog of government.
    Government intrudes into the minutest areas of business
    We work for 5 months a year in order to pay taxes.

  • Szylowski

    Krauthammer  said it well, Citizen as Orphan Child, tying it in with the “Julia” promotion.
    As the Chick-fil-A thing has unfolded, there may be only one antedote: to give unborn children some status or right. In this way, anyone who “discriminates” against the unborn will not be able to have a business, etc. etc.

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  • Edward

    You are nuts if you think Paul Ryan is good for anything. Romney ships jobs overseas and his money to the Cayman Islands