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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: June 2014

Introduction

Summary

In 1776, the American Declaration of Independence appealed to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God” and affirmed “these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness In 1935, John Dewey, professor emeritus of philosophy at Columbia University, declared, “Natural rights and natural liberties exist only in the kingdom of mythological social zoology….” These opposing pronouncements on natural rights represent two separate and antithetical American political traditions: natural rights individualism, the original Lockean tradition of the Founding; and Progressivism, the collectivist reaction to individualism which arose initially in the newly established universities in the decades following the Civil War. The tensions between these two manifestly disparate traditions in the country's political and legal philosophy have set the stage for most of the principal disputes in its political, constitutional, and economic history over the past century and a quarter.

The essays in this collection investigate in turn these two political traditions and their critical interactions. The first series of essays deals with the development of natural rights individualism, some examining its origins in the thought of the seminal political theorist, John Locke, and the influential constitutional theorist, Montesquieu, others the impact of their theories on intellectual leaders during the American Revolution and the Founding era, and still others the culmination of this tradition in the writings of nineteenth-century individualists such as Lysander Spooner.

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