Founding Thought: Rights and Responsibilities
The John Adams Center aims to burst the bubble of dogmatic secularism and enable people of faith and traditional morality to defend their views in the public sphere.
-Ralph Hancock, President of The John Adams Center
Political issues necessarily involve the ultimate questions of philosophy and religion because politics cannot escape basic questions of morality and the common good. We are reminded of this when proponents of an issue speak in terms of human rights.
Few dispute the idea that human beings have rights, but the language of rights is inevitably controversial and risks becoming meaningless unless it is connected to a definite understanding of who we are as human beings and who or what is the source and foundation of these rights. While we might be able temporarily to avoid difficult moral arguments by assenting to the virtually limitless expansion of certain “rights” (inevitably to the detriment of the other “rights”), responsible and far-sighted thinking requires us to ask hard questions concerning the requirements and purposes of our natures. In particular, today it is more vital than ever to examine carefully the many ways in which human well-being depends upon the basic institution of the family.
The best way to nourish such responsible thinking and thus to see beyond the narrow ideology of open-ended “rights” is by re-engaging the philosophical and religious traditions of the West and the core arguments of the American Founding. When explored seriously in connection with the best contemporary scholarship and reflection on human nature and the common good, these traditions can yet shed indispensable light on the most challenging problems we face today as individuals, families and communities.
The John Adams Center for The Studyof Faith, Philosophy and Public Affairs is dedicated to re-opening American political thought to the breadths and depths of our philosophical and religious traditions. Such a re-opening cannot avoid challenging the contemporary narrowing of “reason”to the blind expansion of certain “rights,”a narrowing that thoughtlessly separates political claims from nature and morality.While it requires bold and original thinking for our times, such truly open intellectual exploration honors the tradition of the American Founding by contributing to the moral self-government of individuals who are then better able, in turn, to sustain a societybased, in John Adams’ words, on “reason,conscience, truth and virtue.”
To be ignorant and simple now–not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground — would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.
– C.S. Lewis, “Learning in War-Time,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses