The Declaration of Independence: A Misogynistic Mash-up of Greek Philosophy and Roman Law

Stuart WordPress photoRegardless of political identity in America there seems to be an almost religious reverence for the Declaration of Independence (DI).  By far the most quoted sentence from it is the one that begins “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  Though it is hardly ‘self-evident,’ the history behind the words in these two clauses betrays the fact that they constitute a misogynistic mash-up of Greek philosophy and Roman law.

First, the Greek philosophy in the first clause.  Precisely because of how often this portion of the DI is quoted (perhaps most memorably by Martin Luther King), the idea that there are ‘truths’ that are ‘self-evident’ may seem–self-evident.  From the perspective of the history of Greek philosophy, however, such an idea is as problematic as it is peculiar and for that very reason can reliably be traced back to one source: Plato.  The most likely direct source is the introductory section of an ancient Platonic commentary on Greek mathematical methodology.

Though relatively obscure today, it was a much admired work in the Renaissance and for a few centuries thereafter, influencing a wide range of disciplines, including law.  As a consequence of that influence law was conceptualized more geometrico (in a geometric manner), with legal documents drafted (as they often still are today) with a list of ‘defined’ terms first followed by the propositions to which they relate.  Similarly, judicial decisions still slavishly follow a quasi-mathematical methodology, ‘applying’ law to the ‘facts’ of the case, as if plugging numbers into an equation, with everything set out in a sequence of paragraphs identified by a combination of Roman numerals and arabic letters (‘as applied’ in Hobby Lobby (see the majority’s penultimate paragraph)). Continue reading “The Declaration of Independence: A Misogynistic Mash-up of Greek Philosophy and Roman Law”

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