Saturday, July 04, 2020

The 4th of July, Frederick Douglass, and the Neurobiology of Self-Ownership

On this 4th of July, it's good to be reminded of Frederick Douglass's speech in 1852 on "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro."  One of its most moving passages reads:
"What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?  I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.  To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parades and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy--a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.  There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour."
Would Donald Trump scorn Douglass as one of those "far-left fascists" that he warned against last night at Mount Rushmore?

NPR has produced a video with some young descendants of Douglass reading a few passages from his speech.

This speech has a bitter tone of despair and protest like that of the Black Lives Matter movement today.  But there is also grounds for hope in this speech, because Douglass rebukes white America not for denying the principles of natural liberty and equality but for failing to live by those principles as stated in their Declaration of Independence.  That's why the American defenders of slavery had to reject the Declaration of Independence.

In this speech, Douglass also affirms the fundamental principle of his Lockean liberalism--natural self-ownership.  "Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? that he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it."

In a previous post, I have argued that this principle is rooted in the Darwinian biology of human nature--in the neurobiology of self-ownership.

In 2018, I wrote a long series of posts (beginning here) on the Darwinian science of the Declaration of Independence.

By some estimates, the Black Lives Matter protests have become the largest protest movement in American history, with as many as 15 million to 25 million American people participating.  I have written (here) about non-violent resistance movements as expressions of the Lockean "executive power of the law of nature."

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