A First Principle is a basic proposition or assumption that is no a growth from any other proposition or assumption. If Principles were a building, First Principles would be their stone foundation.
Virtually every opinion you have is based on a First Principle. Your wedding vows. Saying grace over dinner. Even wishing someone would shut Nancy Pelosi up.
But most importantly, we need to remember that both Good and Evil beliefs and actions have First Principles. This is why the Seven Cardinal Virtues measure up with their counterparts, the Seven Deadly Sins. So even any foundation stone beneath those principles asks, “Which First Principle came first: The Good or the Evil?” I delved into that question at Unwashed Philosophy in two parts last November and December, “Which Came First, the Good or the Bad in World Civilization?” and “The Nature of Good Pre-Civilization” and as is my preference, since quoting Scripture is an automatic turn-off to a whole generation of younger people I left Eden, and Original Sin out of the equation, and attempted to prove my thesis by certain laws of Nature, which operate according to their own First Principles.
(That Nature is part of God’s domain, not Satan’s, is a point that does not need to be argued here.)
It was one of those First Principles “of Nature” that Thomas Jefferson used to justify the complete flip-flop of world history, when he invoked the “self-evident clause” in composing a justification for 2.5 million people to completely overturn a system of top-down government, at that time known as the “Divine Right of Kings”. In Europe it had been around for about 1000 years, and in world history, closer to 5000 years, and its original foundation stone, “raw power”. Europe never entirely embraced this new model coming from America, but still, just 60 years after Thomas Jefferson wrote those words Europe had begun to slowly strip away the “divine right” justifications for their “king-idea”. But they took more than a century to undo it, needing to buy time so a reasonable facsimile of the power of the king-over-people could be transferred to “committees-over-people”, groups of men, leaving it to the written details, (where the devil is always found) to decide just how power those masses actually have.
But the status, and place, of “the people”, the masses, the 80%, largely remained unchanged, in that people still had no say, or power, in what sort of house they could live in, ranges of food they could eat, wealth and property they could accumulate or social ranks they could climb. All those matters would still be determined by an upper-class, a government class, an administrative class, who would decide how much of the things they desired would be meted out to them.
For their own good mind you.
But even those cosmetic changes, which first happened in Europe, then spread around the world, was all a result of the establishment of those sets of First Principles in America, for somehow (an interesting story in itself) the fact that there was even a nation like that “out there” was made known to European peasants, even east Asian rice farmers, and their governments wanted to get out in front of this dangerous sentiment called “individual liberty”, before it got out of hand. But to prevent violent up-risings, which even no king could long abide, they needed to give the appearance of having governments designed more or less like the Americans had designed, as being from the bottom up. They threw words like “democratik”, “republik”, “liberty” around like confetti, shearing many of them of any real meaning, to be debated in open forums, but decided behind closed doors.
By this yardstick, the Europeans, while feigning exaggerated obsequiousness about the virtues of popular democracy, have never truly conceded even half the powers and rights “of the People”, the 80%, that are clearly reserved to them in their compact with one another in creating the Constitution of the United States. But in all cases they have shown that those rights are theirs to give, not the peoples’ to demand.
But through it all, you can plainly see people all act according to their nature, and the First Principle of virtually every emigre who ever came to America was to notice how he or she had the liberty to “pursue life and happiness” mostly in terms of growing their wealth. I’ve shared overnighters on sleeper cars, shared with Palestinians who worked the Intifada in the summers and Soviet schools in the winter, a and, once assured I wasn’t a Jew, told me how much they’d like to go to New York. “I could be so rich!”. Countless Soviets told me the same thing, and more than a few letting the cat out of the bag that their ideas of gaining wealth had nothing to do with hard work and law-abiding citizenship. They saw America and our institutions as “easy marks”.
So even in America the contest between competing First Principles began very early.
In follows that from time to time we all need to pause and re-examine our personal First Principles since we invoke them, sometimes unwittingly, at least dozens of times a day, just in our ordinary affairs, not to mention the invasion of out senses of political things right now, which incidentally, are about our national survival as a free people, a major First Principle.
And most of those First Principles were taught, each appealing to various parts of our Nature, defined generally as prudence, justice, temperance, and courage (or fortitude) and three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, versus the deadly vices that stand opposite them, pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, gluttony, lust.
(I used to like to throw “reciprocity” into this list, since, as when Christ taught “Love thy neighbor”, with such an admixture of cultures as America possessed that invocation was virtually impossible to achieve in a first generation of immigrants, so was culturally amended to “Reciprocate with thy neighbor as you would have him reciprocate with you”. And it worked. In fact it’s a key principle of “American Exceptionalism.” But it is not a First Principle but rather a derivative of others.)
The Natural Law of Survival has it’s own First Principles, such as at some point a person must make the assumption is that every encounter, EVERY encounter, with a local, state or federal official or bureaucracy, no matter how routine…at its heart lay a corrupt purpose, a corrupt principle arising from these simple, ancient lists.
No matter how benevolent that agency’s creation was based, it eventually evolves into something sinister, corrupt, or indifferent, in accordance with laws of nature going back to the Fall of Man in which Man’s vices were first allowed to contest his virtues on equal ground. The mere existence of government, all government, is to secure a more unequal ground to build upon. That is one of the Dark Sides First Principles, also called the Laws of Bureaucracy, which is a kind of self-destruction pact, only those involved never know.
This competition is eternal, never ending, but only in America and by the compact we made with government, which we created, do we have the upper hand over that more ancient form of government and control.
Just by remaining free do we continue to give Mankind hope.
Think about it: Every man and woman in these world possess these basic first principles. Still 90% of them are denied their use and over generations have surrendered them without really thinking about them any longer.
As you can guess, the Dark Side, however you wish to define it (or him), has its own sets of competing First Principles. And that’s the rub isn’t it?
God put us here for a purpose. So, pause and reflect.