This Independence Day, America Must Remember Its Social Contract

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My family's passport, when we emigrated from Mexico to California.

My family’s passport, when we emigrated from Mexico to California.

As my family and I celebrate the Fourth of July each year, I look at the rich and varied experiences of my life. It was not easy growing up; the American dream eluded my father and mother. Divorce, economic issues and separation made our lives difficult, but our problems were not insurmountable. Like many other immigrants, in spite of our family’s initial economic issues, my life and my sibling’s lives turned out remarkably like my parents had envisioned.

The Fourth of July brands us as Americans. In spite of the failing of our founders with regard to slavery, I recognize the ideals of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence have contributed to my success. And though these ideals at times feel utopian in nature, it is our country’s celebration of individuality, justice and liberty that inspires me. But it is in this inspiration I also see the deficiency of the law as well. As an idealist, I always strived for the fair administration of justice in my community. But, in my career I saw the evolution of the rule of law as its focus became more concerned with simply proscribing punishment.

“It is our country’s celebration of individuality, justice and liberty that inspires me. But it is in this inspiration I also see the deficiency of the law as well.”

In The Republic, Plato made the assertion that virtue and reason must be used in order to establish a good state. Through virtue and reason, the law “rightly constituted” is the legitimate sovereign authority providing the greatest good for us all.

I argue the modern-day “rule of law” is no longer rightly constituted but is more interested in the administrative qualities of the law.

“It seems odd that a country that rejoices in limiting the power of the state should give so many draconian powers to its government, yet for the past 40 years American lawmakers have generally regarded selling to voters the idea of locking up fewer people as political suicide.” – The Economist, “Rough Justice

It is this usurpation of justice that frightens me. It has turned my vision of what American jurisprudence should look like upside down, moving the law in a direction our founding fathers would rebel against today.

Our most important documents, which include the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Federalist Papers, are all based on John Locke’s concept of the social contract, which recognizes the authority of government is derived from the people. The theory behind our new form of governance was revolutionary as it was designed based on philosophy, science and law during a period of enlightenment centered on Locke’s vision of the inherent rights of man. These rights were radical in nature and were influential in the birth of our nation.

My mother, a Mexican immigrant who came to the United States for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

My grandmother, a Mexican immigrant who came to the United States for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It was Locke’s theory of social contract that reflected the purpose of government is to better protect the rights people already naturally possess– those of life, liberty and property. His view as an egalitarian, his use of morality and reason established the mutual obligations between a citizen and its government that should continue to define America today.

But, it is our government that has abdicated its responsibility towards its citizens in many ways. America’s Drug War is just one of many symptoms of the over criminalization of our modern-day statues which result in marginalizing millions of Americans needlessly.

Yet,  in spite of the flaws of our justice system I believe there is still a place for “the rule of law” in society. As an immigrant, I see the beauty of the law having come from a country that is still grasping for a true justice system where the laws are not applied equally to all.

So, on this Fourth of July, I am reminded that freedom, liberty and justice comes at a cost. That cost is our participation as citizens in our democracy where we must demand our laws return to the philosophical link between man, society and the purpose of the law. We must define and understand what the rule of law means and the parameters of its proper exercise of authority and power by the state. In modern-day society, laws will continue to hold a significant place as they address the rules that we accept as citizens. These societal and governmental obligations continue to evolve, but are necessary in order for modern man to live ethically and morally without a religion in a multicultural society.