Thursday, September 1, 2016

Debunking Princeton Idiocy

Sometimes I wonder about leftists. They are not very bright at all. Check this out. There is a college professorette who wants to reinterpret the Declaration of Independence by claiming it contains a typo. She thinks this means we need to rethink how the Founders viewed the government. Good grief.

The brainiac in question is Danielle Allen, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, though I think the word “Advanced” is misplaced here. She argues that there is a “missing” comma in the Declaration of Independence which changes its meaning.

Here’s what the Declaration says now:
“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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...”
According to Allen, the period after “Happiness” shouldn’t be there. She thinks Jefferson meant this to be a comma. Then she argues that since it should be a comma, what Jefferson (a noted slave holder the left sometimes hates) meant was that it is a self-evident truth that government is instituted to secure the above rights. Ergo, he meant that government was the key to freedom. Ergo, he meant we should worship government!

Allow me to respond.

(1) First and foremost, even if we accept that this should be a comma, her argument still fails. What the Declaration says without the comma is: “We create a government to secure these inalienable rights.” What it says with the comma is, “It’s obvious that men create governments to secure these inalienable rights.” The meanings are slightly different, but the substance is not. In both cases, the inalienable rights are the goal, and the government is the tool. Neither statement suggests that the rights are subordinate to or spring from the government.

(2) Even if she’s right, Allen doesn’t seem to get that the Declaration of Independence is not an establishing document. It has no legal effect; you can’t cite it in court. Don’t forget, it was written before the United States existed and, not only that, we had another form of government after the Declaration and before the constitution. Remember the Articles of Confederation? Allen apparently doesn’t.

(3) Even putting aside number two, her interpretation is not one that anyone has ever adopted. Just as “Born in the USA” is now seen as a patriotic song, the public made up its mind on the meaning of the Declaration regardless of what hyper-technical spins can be invented, and it has a meaning apart from its words now.

(4) From a technical standpoint, her interpretation is flawed. First, you don’t just need to change the period into a comma, you also need to lose the now-meaningless dash and eliminate the now-wrongly-capitalized “That” for her interpretation to work. Needing three changes to fix the "mistake" suggests the "mistake" was intentional.

Moreover, her interpretation changes this from being two grammatically correct sentences into one grammatically nonsensical sentence. Any interpretation that introduces nonsense or errors is automatically suspect.

(5) If this really was a mistake, then why did no one mention it at the time? There is not one article, interview or paper written by anyone at the time saying, “Wow, there’s a fricken typo in this thing! We didn’t mean there to be a comma!” No one mentions the missing comma. No one corrected the supposed misinterpretation. That's huge evidence.

With such spirited debate at the time, shouldn’t someone have said something if this was true? It would seem to be a rather fundamental mistake if Allen is to be believed, changing the meaning from being worshipful of government to making government a slave of individual rights. Yet, no one spoke up. That tells us no one saw it as a mistake.

(6) Finally, her proposed change flies in the face of history. At the time the Declaration was written, there had never been a democracy created for that purpose before. So believing this should be a comma means believing that an accurate statement – “we will form a government to do this” – should be replaced with an historically wrong statement – “yeah, dude, this is what democracies always do, duh!” Why would Jefferson have meant to include an obviously historically wrong statement?

This is what passes for scholarship on the left. Sad.



LL said...

I don't know how she'll be able to squeeze a dissertation out of that one, but $.50 says that she will try.

AndrewPrice said...

You know it. She'll try really hard is my guess.

Anthony said...

The discussion is purely academic and has no real world implications, but the questioning of the existence of the period seems reasonable because it wasn't present in some older and official versions of the document.

he version of the Declaration that most are familiar with comes from the 1823 copperplate created over three years by engraver William Stone. He based it on the original 1776 document - and included a period after 'Happiness.'
This version, believed by many to be the most precise copy of the document, is the basis for most modern reprints - including the one featured in The New York Times each Independence Day.
But other copies, created in 1776 with Congressional oversight, do not feature the period.
Neither does the version ordered from a printer in Philadelphia on July 4 that year, nor Jefferson's 'rough draft' in the Library of Congress, or the version copied into Congress's records - its 'corrected journal' - in mid-July 1776.
And the original document, which is kept in the Library of Congress, is so faded that it's hard to make out whether there ought to be a period there - there is a mark, but some argue it's indistinguishable from commas elsewhere in the document.
One of those poeple is Heather Wolfe, curator of manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library, who says that with other periods 'you can tell the quill was held down and more ink came out.
'That’s not happening after the word "happiness."'
Allen, who analyzed more than 70 versions of the Declaration of Independence made from 1776-1823, also argues that the document was already badly faded when Stone got to work on his engraving in 1823.

BevfromNYC said...

It's the "The panda eats shoots and leaves." vs. "The panda eats, shoots and leaves." theory of puncuation. That extra comma turns that panda from a cuddly vegetarian into stone-cold killer!

I am not quite sure how the DOI can be misinterpreted for lack of proper puncuation. It is pretty clear the stated intent and content. The citizens have the God-given right to create a government by people of their choosing, and thereby declaring that a government ruled by whims of an unelected/appointed monarchy and those who are annointed by same is invalid.

Anyway, I just had a discussion with a dear friend of mine who pretty much stated that the Constitution should be rendered invalid because a the time it became the governing document, women did not have the right to vote and slavery and stuff.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, Ideas always have real world implications, especially when they are meant to give aid and comfort to leftists.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Exactly, only it takes a lot more than a comma to make this change. Also, unlike the panda example, the meaning doesn't actually change the way she's claiming. She's looking for a magic bullet that invents reverence for government among the Founders, but her idea doesn't get us there.

When it comes to the Constitution, the left isn't worth debating with. Either it's a "living document" which means it has whatever meaning we want (i.e. it means nothing) or it's a racist, sexist too-old document we should ignore, or when it suits them it's a sacred text we can't violate. Once again, the left fits the facts to their desires.

tryanmax said...

So in addition to needing to make not just one but three "corrections" to turn two clear statements into one somewhat more confusing statement, one must also "read into" the text to divine how the words chosen in various, inconsistent cases actually mean their opposites. Why not simplify things and argue that the framers were just being ironic?

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That's the beauty of the left. You throw this out there. You claim it's proven. You offer the new interpretation -- "The Founders worshiped government!" ("Jesus was a socialist!") Then it becomes "conventional wisdom" no matter how flimsy or wrong it is.

You get movies based on it. Reporters treat it as a settled fact. Other professors come along and build a house of cards upon it. And then the rank and file believe it even though it's wrong.

Anthony said...

Very few people care about Founder's intent. Reactions to interpretations of the law tend to be driven by facts on the ground and whose ox is getting gored. That is why this discussion means nothing outside the halls of academia.

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