Common Sense

The roots of this conflict stretch back through the 17th century, and are integrally bound up in the transition from monarchy to democracy. It is this conflict which gave rise to the most militaristic and forceful versions of radicalism and conservatism: communism and fascism. Leading historians maintain the origins of totalitarianism can be traced to the French revolution. Political and philosophical aspects of the relation between common sense and leadership help explain this contention.

American revolutionary radicalism upheld the tradition of British philosophical realism. Francis Bacon laid the foundations of modern scientific method by insisting that the tendency to conflate faith and reason within European study of philosophy and nature had produced little benefit for mankind and should be rejected in favour of a clear separation of these areas of thought. Science should instead study the methods of practical experimentation developed principally in the mechanical trades and armaments industry. These insights informed theorists such as John Locke in advocating deference to common sense, not scholastic doctrine, in political philosophy, and in supporting freedom of worship. This is the meaning behind Bertrand Russell's jest that Locke invented common sense and ever since the English have been the only nation to possess it.

Thomas Reid defined the method of common sense realist analysis which informed American radicalism. He maintained science must proceed from truths which are self evident to common sense and require no empirical investigation to verify them. They are not necessarily obvious but can be discerned by any person willing to use their common sense to reason through a problem to its least imperfect conclusion. Further truths can thereafter be derived from these self evident truths.

Thomas Jefferson employed these insights in drafting the American Declaration of Independence which states: 'We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal with certain, inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' They also informed the drafting of the American Bill of Rights, and in particular those of freedom of speech, trial by jury and self defence. These rights complement each other and were present in the earliest form of democracy in Athens. Jefferson regarded these rights as derived directly from the self evident truths of common sense as it has always existed, clarified or not, in human society. He rejected both the divine right of kings and also the view that politics is governed by purely relativist considerations such as those concerning national circumstances. His view of the existence of these truths is borne out by its coherence when matched to the facts of history. The first step towards democracy taken in Athens was the right to trial by a randomly selected assembly of citizens voting by secret ballot as the court of last appeal. Athenian citizens had the right to possess arms. Though Athens eventually succumbed to foreign rule these rights, upheld by the Roman republic but abolished for plebeians by the emperors, were revived in the Anglo-Saxon period. In England the right to bear arms dates from 837. As a result the Welsh longbow became the weapon of British choice. The role of sortition and common sense in English law in essence replicates Athenian democracy. Since Magna Carta ultimate de jure power has rested with the right of a jury to judge both the facts and legal integrity of a case. The development of modern democracy is very much a history of how aristocratic violations of this principle were eventually overcome. Sometimes entitled 'jury nullification' this right, alongside its similarly fundamental companion right to bear arms, was reaffirmed in the 17
th century English revolutions both de jure, with the 1688 Bill of Rights, and de facto, in the civil wars and in the trial of William Penn. Despite the orders of a judge to find him guilty for preaching an outlawed religion, the jury refused to convict him. The judge jailed them, but a higher court released them. From this precedent colonial radical leaders could resist arrest for sedition, and so eventually could organize the American revolution to defend these rights in their most unconditional form. Without rights to jury trial and arms the American revolution could not have succeeded and modern democracy may never have been established.

In short the American Bill of Rights incorporates rights which are ancient, basic, fundamental and necessary to a democracy. The right to trial by jury, as Jefferson made clear, is ultimately the only means by which a government can be held accountable to the people. Trials without juries may be conducted by the government, for the government, but not necessarily for the people. John Jay, the first chief justice and founding father of the United States, reaffirmed the principle of jury nullification. In this way fugitive slave laws were effectively annulled by juries. Despite modern obfuscation such jury rights are fundamental to the US constitution.

The right to bear arms is also necessary to preserve democratic freedoms. Its chief purpose is to oppose tyranny, both with regard to foreign invasion, but more especially in regard to the influence of insidious, creeping forms of tyranny within the institutions of government itself, such as those concerning collusion with terrorism. Such practices are commonplace in autocratic states, and even British and American governments have employed them. When governments collude with terrorism the right to bear arms is the only means by which the right to free speech can be securely exercised. That is the essence of this right, and for those who seriously wish to preserve democratic freedoms there is no viable substitute for it. Of note here is the NRA discovery that the recently defeated referendum campaign against the right to bear arms in Brazil was funded by both leftists and gangsters. It can therefore be seen that the American Bill of Rights incorporates practical safeguards which ensure government remains accountable to common sense understanding because they serve to prevent limitation of free speech either directly, by the creation of unjust laws, or indirectly, by the unlawful use of force.

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