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A Clash of Values, Part I

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There can be no greater difference between forms of government than between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Their foundations and goals and the means they use to achieve them lie in stark contrast. The United States came about as the result of a revolution that resulted in the promulgation of its Founding Principles to ensure the freedom and guarantee the rights of the governed. The PRC is a Communist government that came about as a result of violent revolution. Its leaders then “transformed its revolutionary idealism into a conservative reactionary autocracy.” They believed “that they themselves were the embodiment of ‘the people’ or ‘the general will’ and thus had full legitimacy to use all means possible, including dictatorship and terrorist killings to achieve this goal.” [1]

This series of articles explores the contrast between the two from the perspective of the United States’ founding principles as an example of the greatness that a government can achieve as compared to a regime based on a usurpation of power and its continuance at the barrel of a gun. Part I describes America’s Founding and the principles on which it is based.


Developing the American Dream

When the Founding Fathers of the United States of America gathered together at the Constitutional Convention to consider the form of government they would create to best ensure the freedom of the governed, they had a wealth of previous Western thought to draw upon, including Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Locke, and a host of others. Their conclusions led them to create a government lauded the world over for its theoretical underpinnings. They drew on John Locke, who, in his Two Treatises of Government, argued for natural rights, that all men were by nature free and equal, that legitimate government came into existence through a social contract, that political power required consent, and that government should be constitutionally limited to protect the fundamental rights of life, liberty, and property.

They drew on Montesquieu, who, in On the Spirit of Laws articulated the theory of the separation of powers, dividing the government into three branches, the executive, legislative, and judicial. They drew on Jean-Jacques Rousseau who observed in The Social Contract, Book I, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” Since “Might can produce no Right, the only foundation left for legitimate authority is Agreement.” If it is in the “common interest that society must be governed,” then the sovereign represents the general will of the people.

The founders addressed many issues of political import in their thoughts, their communications with each other, and in their own writings.

Among the prevailing themes, they had a deep understanding of the importance of morality. George Washington, for example, observed, “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people. The general government … can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an oligarchy, an aristocracy, or any despotic or oppressive form so long as there is any virtue in the body of the people.”

Benjamin Franklin’s statement, “Laws without morals are in vain,” became the motto of the University of Pennsylvania.

On July 4, 1776, the founders adopted the Declaration of Independence, which stated,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Not only do the Americans who study the founders “praise the competence, wisdom, and motivations of those who served in the federal convention of 1787, but they declared that the formation and adoption of  [the] new system of federal government represented a political achievement unprecedented in history. They looked on it, moreover, as an event that was actually ‘influenced, guided, and governed’ by the hand of God.” [2]

The founders had a deep belief that America was established on a divine foundation. At that time, religion in general, and Christianity in particular, had a profound influence on the thoughts of the people in Europe and America. The view was that the laws of God existed prior to, outside of, and above the laws of the state. Consistently, through all of their writings, were references to God, to virtue, and to morality.

The Declaration of Independence referred to Divinity four times:

  • “… the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them…”
  • “… endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”
  • “… appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, …”
  • “… with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

The following values that were put forth are understood to apply to all people, all of the time:

  • Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of association
  • That Legitimacy is derived from the consent of the governed
  • An enduring moral character assures opportunities for all in their pursuit of abundance and in nurturing the broadmindedness and generosity that is uniquely American
  • America is a beacon for allies and friends of freedom the world over

On August 21, 1789, the newly formed House of Representatives adopted the first ten amendments to the Constitution, now called the Bill of Rights, guaranteeing freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly, and petitioning the government for redress of grievances.

Democracy, freedom, spirituality, and human rights are often referred to as universal values. Universal values and man’s rights and freedoms emanated from the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” Jefferson asked in his Notes on the State of Virginia, “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?” If endowed by the Creator, then they could not be an arbitrary gift of government.

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln, recognized as one of greatest U.S. Presidents, faced these principles and acted on them to secure the future of a government so founded. In the midst of a civil war over slavery, he delivered the Gettysburg address, which is emblematic of all that the U.S. represents: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. …

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

“…we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The United States became known for the “American Dream,” and the right to pursue that dream. As time passed and the dream grew, coming to the United States had so much meaning to so many, that the people of France gave the U.S. a gift of the Statue of Liberty, a robed female figure representing Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, and placed it in New York Harbor. It was dedicated in 1886 and emblazoned with a quote from Emma Lazarus’ famous poem:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

From the power of the principles upon which it was established, throughout its history the United States has assumed a special responsibility to defend the cause of liberty at home and abroad. This is why friends of freedom everywhere have always looked to this country to draw inspiration from its ideas, example, and actions. From the end of World War II until the end of the Cold War, the United States promoted universal values and was successful in doing so.

The U.S fought in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere at great cost to itself.

The U.S. helped its allies as well as its enemies to rebuild their homes.

The U.S. focus on freedom influenced the development of several Asian economies and their transition to democracy, including Taiwan, South Korea, and the Philippines. People have taken the United States as a model to support their aspirations for freedom and prosperity. Their economies then took off and they became democratic.

After the Korean War the phrase, “Freedom is not free,” was engraved on a wall at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The phrase makes the implicit statement that the freedoms enjoyed by many citizens in many democracies are only possible through the voluntary risks taken and the sacrifices made by those in the military. The saying is often used to convey respect, specifically to those who gave their lives in defense of freedom.

American productivity and the spread of American values also contributed to the collapse of the USSR.

The values on which the United States was founded—to insure the freedom and guarantee the rights of the governed, to prevent the usurpation of power by any one branch of government, and to be a “government of the people, by the people, for the people,”—have served as an inspiration to people all over the world.


Part II of “A Clash of Values” will explore the founding principles of the People’s Republic of China.



[1] Caijing (Magazine), September 2, 2012.
The full text can be viewed in Chinese at:;
Excerpts translated into English can be viewed at:–U/Js/.
[2] The 5000 Year Leap, “The Miracle in Philadelphia,” W. Cleon Skousen, National Center for Constitutional Studies, 1981.

100 Liberty Cards – (Science of Government)


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