Principles and Ideals

Have you ever fired a weapon or tried to hit something with a rock? How do you measure how accurate you are? You measure it by how close you come to hitting your target. But what if you do not pick a target? How do you measure how effective you are at shooting or throwing without a target? The answer is: you can’t. It is impossible to measure how effective you are at shooting or throwing if you do not designate a target first. Well, society is no different. If a society has any hope of measuring ‘progress,’ it has to have a target. But how can a society pick a target when so many of its citizens think that you can’t judge others? Or the leaders of that society have different sets of rules depending on what group a citizen happens to belong? Once again, it is impossible to judge ‘progress’ in such a society because there is no clear, set target. This is why it is so important to understand the relationship between principles and ideals, not to mention what the words actually mean.

As usual, I want to start by asking you to read the definition of these words:

: an idea or standard of perfection or excellence
: someone or something that is believed to be perfect : someone or something that you admire and want to imitate

noun \ˈprin(t)-s(ə-)pəl, -sə-bəl\
: a moral rule or belief that helps you know what is right and wrong and that influences your actions
: a basic truth or theory : an idea that forms the basis of something
: a law or fact of nature that explains how something works or why something happens

If you’ll notice, I put ideal before principle. There is a reason for that, and it is implied by their definitions. An ideal is the model of perfection. It is the ultimate goal for which we strive. By definition, it cannot be achieved, but this should never – ever – be used as an excuse to stop shooting for the ideal. For, once you start accepting a lesser goal, then you have started down the slippery slope that leads to social decay. What is accepted as reachable will soon be though unreachable – just like the original ideal. And before you know it, you give up on trying all together. This is how we arrive at the notion that, since our kids are going to have sex anyway, we shouldn’t try to teach them to wait until they are old enough to better handle the emotional aspects of sexual relations, not to mention the possible consequences.

So an ideal is the model of perfection for which every individual in a society should strive, all the while knowing that it is not obtainable. Still, we have to do our best. This is where principles come into the equation. Principles are a pre-determined set of rules that help us get as close to our ideal as possible while – at the same time — guard us against starting down that slippery slope to social decay. In essence, principles are a set of rules designed to guide our decision making process. We develop our principles as we grow, and they are largely shaped by our families and the society in which we live. To be effective, they must be respected. They are not areas where we should ever compromise because, to compromise on a principle designed to help us get as close to an ideal as possible is the same as compromising on that ideal. The relationship is that close. Where we compromise is in how we comply with our ideals. Slavery is an excellent example.

A good number of our founding fathers were against slavery, but they knew that they would never get the Southern States to ratify the Constitution if they abolished slavery in the Constitution. Now, we are taught today that the 3/5 clause is about our founders’ belief that blacks were only worth 3/5 of a white person. We are also told that this clause is evidence that our founders compromised on their ideals. Both notions are wrong, and it was none other than Frederick Douglas, a former slave and early civil rights leader, who made this point clear. When Douglas actually read the Constitution for himself – instead of just listening to what others told him it said – he discovered that the 3/5 clause actually guaranteed that the issue of slavery in the Southern States would come up again. You see, the clause guaranteed that, in time, the Northern States would have the representation necessary to abolish slavery whether the South liked it or not. This is because our founders never compromised on their goal – their ideal. Where they compromised was on how best to achieve it given the reality of their circumstances. And, if you will research it, you will find that the quote on the Jefferson Memorial is about the issue of slavery. Jefferson knew the Civil War was coming, and that it would be over the issue of slavery. He knew because the founders made sure it would happen, and they did this by sticking to their principles and ideals.

This is the key to understanding the connection between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  The Declaration asserts our founding principles and ideals.  It defines the standards this nation was supposed to strive to achieve.  The Constitution contains the principles that were intended to help us come as close to those ideals as possible and to keep us from starting down the path of social decay.

Sadly, too many Americans have no idea that this relationship between the Declaration and Constitution exists.  They don’t even know what what principles and ideals are, let alone why they are so crucial to sustaining a free and self-governing society. They have accepted the lie that no one has the ‘right’ to judge others, or that, if people are going to do it anyway, you might as well just try to manage the activity instead of preventing it. All of this is a clear indication that the last several generations have taken us far down the path toward social decay. Sadder still is the lesson of history. Before this trend can be corrected, the will have to be a great deal of suffering and, in all likelihood, a great deal of blood will have to be spilled…


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