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Would George Washington Wear a Face Mask?

Would George Washington Wear a Face Mask?

(Joe Sohm/Dreamstime)

By    |   Thursday, 28 May 2020 12:29 PM EDT

The principal problem of our time is whether our nation's Founding notions still make sense. The left in America, for many decades, has been actively seeking to replace the Founders’ creed that there can be no order without law, no law without morality, and no morality without religion with a secular society ostensibly promoting equality, but which actually results in stifling conformity and bleak political correctness.

Put slightly differently, as Michael Anton, one of our wisest conservative political philosophers did, approximately one year ago, we are faced with a situation where, in our formerly free country, we are now subject to a dominant ethos in our universities, mainstream media, and in our governmental bureaucracy; one which "punishes excellence and publicly denies all difference while at the same time elevating and enriching a decadent, incompetent, and corrupt elite."

For many of us the choice between Donald Trump and Joe Biden is a choice between freedom and the pursuit of excellence ("Making America Great Again") and the corruption and stifling conformity which Joe Biden seems to represent both in his family’s accumulation of wealth through ties to the Ukraine and China and his virtue-signaling in wearing a funereal black facemask at a Memorial Day observance this past weekend.

Is it too much to suggest that the wearing of a facemask — a likely ineffective precaution designed to slow the spread of what is wrongly perceived as a fatal danger to all — is an oppressive, malignant, and soul-crushing form of social control symbolizing the worst of what we've become?

Would George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, or Thomas Jefferson wear facemasks?

Would they have closed down American society, abrogating all constitutional rights and freedoms out of fear of a pandemic?

We are, thank heavens, in the process of reopening America.

Yet, there are still those cringing in fear.

There are also too many of our oppressive leaders feeding that fear — because they seek to keep Americans from pursuing happiness in the manner in which Jefferson’s Declaration sought to secure in the first place.

If there is anything good to come out of this miserable pandemic episode, it's the manner in which it has revealed the importance of the fundamental divide in our political parties over how it is we should live our lives, and the importance of freedom in that pursuit.

The left believes that is governed by "science." Some, like Harvard’s Steven Pinker have accused the right of being blinded by a religious faith, and, in particular, belief in an afterlife, that for Pinker is a dangerous and harmful delusion.

Pinker’s atheism or agnosticism, of course, stands in stark contrast to the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776’s fundamental requirement that those governing us needed to subscribe to a belief that there was a just God who rewarded the good and punished the wicked.

This also stands in stark contrast to President Trump’s recent declaration that religious services were "essential." This line of reasoning also starkly contrasts with our Constitution’s First Amendment, which marks out a special place for the importance of religious belief and practice.

That religious belief was, for the Framers, and for many Americans today, coupled with an understanding that our fates were best left in our hands; that establishing our own governments was done to enable Americans to make our own choices over how to live our own lives.

Is it, then, irrational to believe that not social distancing, not the mandated wearing of facemasks, but our own individual prudence and common sense are the best means of securing our health and happiness?

One other characteristic of the Framers, like Jefferson, was that they had a profound appreciation of beauty and individual character, which, of course a facemask obscures.

To eliminate, in social settings, the myriad of subtleties in facial expressions, and the sublime delight of social communication is dispiriting, anti-social, and inhumane.

It's genuinely tragic that 100,000 Americans have apparently perished in the pandemic, but there is no way of knowing whether many if not all of them would have long survived in any event, and what religion and common sense actually remind us is that human life is precious and fleeting; it cannot be infinitely maintained at any cost.

Our current struggle to preserve self-government — a struggle which we are fighting not only in the exposure of the last administration’s attempt to subvert that of its successor, but also in our state and federal bureaucracies’ ongoing efforts to regulate all of our social transactions and even our very social appearance — must end in a reaffirmation of the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Not facemasks, but liberty and our faith and traditions will preserve us.

Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, the Legal Affairs Editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and a contributor to The University Bookman. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and has taught at Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, and University College, London. He has often testified on constitutional issues before committees of the United States Congress, and is the author of "Recapturing the Constitution: Race, Religion, and Abortion Reconsidered" (Regnery, 1994) and "Law Professsors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law" (West Academic, 2017). Presser was a Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado's Boulder Campus for 2018-2019. Read Stephen B. Presser's Reports — More Here.

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To eliminate, in social settings, the myriad of subtleties in facial expressions, and the sublime delight of social communication is dispiriting, anti-social, and inhumane. Not facemasks, but liberty and our faith and traditions will preserve us.
left, right, founders, framers
Thursday, 28 May 2020 12:29 PM
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