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The Founding Fathers were forced to compromise because they had to in order to survive.

 


HISTORY RECONSIDERED



Tied in Knots by Language

COMPLEMENTARY PRINCIPLES

by Jerry Murley

Complementary: "Mutually supplying each other's lack." [1]

Principle: "A source, or origin.... A fundamental truth...from which others are derived.... A settled rule of action; a governing law of conduct...." [1]

How can one imagine that he possesses superior principles – that the principles of others are deficient or corrupt? One chemist can hardly argue that his oxygen or carbon is better than his rivals, but one's compounds and application of combined elements might well exceed that of the competition. The proof is in the outcome.

A belief is not a principle. Greed and largesse are not principles. They are subjective personal references that can nudge principles and habits toward good or ill.

One does not care to be thought to have no principles or to have subverted all others to a single principle in such a way as to pervert other essential values and diminish favorable practical outcomes. Yet like the old pointless fixation on a gold standard, we hear would-be leaders declare that they will not compromise their principles, while allowing the passionate pursuit of solutions based on a single principle to degrade most other essential principles, leaving a multitude of vital problems unaddressed and public interests unachieved.

The man who would live on a single dominant principle is a man who would live with a heart but no lungs or digestive system – to say nothing of a well-balanced mind. Democracy is a competition of solutions from people who combine many principles; it is not the game of distilling one principle from among dozens of equally good, wise, and effective guiding concepts, forsaking founding principles of equal worth.

I can believe all men are created equal (as innocent potential), but that is not a principle in and of itself. For as we well know, not all men are created with equal abilities and circumstances. It becomes a principled attitude of mind and action when combined with other functioning principles, a coherent system of thought and action, so as to assist one to act as honorably and effectively as practicable, as if all men were of equal standing, making them equal before the law, ethics, and local etiquette based on shared human needs and values and the requirements to make democracy work. For the sake of self-interest, "acting as if equal" fortifies peace of mind and serves as a hedge against one's own possible fall in the ranking of humankind.

The Founding Fathers were a veritable tangle of principles; fortunately no one of them prevailed to vanquish other equally crucial principles. Yet the Founding Fathers are often referred to as representing a clear set of principles that should guide the politics of the country today as in years and social conditions long gone by. We are no different today than those exalted men – nor than all men. We are as passionate and deluded about our correctness as they. We have to struggle to understand and blend the principles that we inherit and form anew.

No one principle won those centuries ago, therefore we all won. The Founding Fathers were forced to compromise because they had to in order to survive and build a strong country.

Our varied principles are complementary in that they complete deficiencies in each other. Were we to lose one, we would lose a piece of our reason, a tool with which to govern ourselves and lead the world, and part of our armor to protect our interests in a world of varied and competing interests.

Candidates with narrow interests, of absolutist single principles, are not leaders. Were they present to witness the political madness of today, the Founding Fathers would recognize it – and they would rally for and against it with a multitude of practical principles, not one of them used to obliterate others.

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FOOTNOTE:

1. Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language (1910). The leather cover on my copy has been slowly crumbling since I bought it in 1974 for five dollars in a downtown Memphis secondhand shop on Poplar Avenue. It has been a fount of enjoyment and enlightenment.

 

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