Algernon Sidney famously wrote that “that which is not just, us not law; and that which is not law, ought not to be obeyed.” Continuing on in that section, he writes that Law… “must be founded upon that eternal principle of reason and truth, from whence the rule of justice is sacred and pure ought to be deduced, and not from the depraved will of man…” There is always one truth that all men know down inside their souls. This is what we should base our lives and our laws on. This is the rule we must measure all against. Men naturally falter, they can be corrupted and swayed to where what they wish will not always be the best. But what is really good always remains good in our hearts. Certain principles should govern not only our personal lives, but our political ones as well. The purpose of written law is to push us back towards virtue when we have strayed, so our laws should be as virtuous as possible. Basing them on what is true is the key to make this work. In order for this to happen we must not only redirect ourselves back into the path of truth, but convince others that this is what is best and what was meant for us. We know what is good, we just need to be reminded of it. Today, laws are made when people get upset or someone in power wants something new. We can not base our laws on what people want, or what people think is best. We must base them on what we know is true. People differ, good does not.
“A republic perishes when its citizens no longer remember their past. Without an active remembrance of those who founded and protected its institutions through good times and bad, its citizens gradually lose sight of the virtues that made their republic great. Failing to cultivate those virtues will lead them to squander their precious inheritance… Today the past is more often treated as a cautionary tale instead of a guide. Rather than emulating our forbearers’ virtues, we are urged to focus only on their sins.” -Philip A Wallach
Many things that actually have such a positive and virtuous impact, are given bad connotations today. Words or principles we know and love are changed in such a way that takes much of the value from them. We are required in school to study history, and most of the time the reason we are given for having to do so is so we can avoid the mistakes the people before us had made. While this is true, why is it that we only focus on the bad? While we revere George Washington, James Madison, and the other founding fathers as heroes, we are not told to look at their examples of virtue and to try to become like them. Instead we are told “If only there were people like that today” or people expose their weaknesses to try to take away from all the things that were good about them. Until recently, in my history classes I was never told to “learn from this experience” unless we were discussing a mistake someone or some group of people had made. We live in a world full of negativity, and because of that it is even more crucial to focus on the positive aspects of history and try to be as they were. Not just to say “I wish there were people like that today” but to become modern day James Madisons or Patrick Henrys. Those kinds of people didn’t become who they were by sitting and hoping for the best. They worked hard to educate themselves and gain knowledge. Those kinds of people didn’t just live 250 years ago, they live now. You can become that type of person. Learn from the mistakes that were made, but also follow the examples of those that have done good. Then we can all work together to emulate the virtue our ancestors once had.
“The past cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power” -Unknown
I don’t think we realize how much power we hold just by living in this time. Everything that has happened is out of our control, though we can learn from it. Everything that will happen is solely within our power. We have the ability to change the lives of hundreds of people in the future just by the small decisions we make now. This is one of the reasons pursuing virtue and liberty is so important. It can be extremely difficult to see what difference you are making by doing so, but the difference is there. Whether you’re making a difference within yourself, or within others, it is there, even if it’s small. And in years from now those small changes will grow, and someone’s life will be completely different because you chose to be virtuous now. What an amazing truth that is! You can make someone’s life so much better, someone you don’t even know, just by pursing what is right.
Thomas Jefferson said, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”
Now, what has happened in the past is so important to know and study because there is so much to learn from it, but in reality, it’s over and there is nothing we can do to change it. Thomas Jefferson knew the blessings that came from studying history, just as we should, but he also recognized that what will happen is more important than what has happened. We have no ability to change the past, nor should we want to, as it has shaped who we are today, but the future can beautiful or frightening depending on how we choose to live our lives today. I hope we can all realize that we have power. We have a wonderful gift given to us to be able to shape our own future and the future of those who will proceed us, but we must use it wisely. Seek virtue, seek liberty, and the impact you will make by doing so will shape a wonderful future.