New York Times’ 1619 Project Has an Anti-Constitutional, Collectivist Political Agenda
by Thomas Krannawitter, PhD
You know as well as anyone that the idea of equal, natural, individual rights is the foundation of free society. You also know that those who advance efforts to dismiss, denigrate, or discredit the idea of equal, natural, individual rights are no friends to freedom. The New York Times’s new 1619 Project is that kind of effort. Worse, it’s well-funded and highly-visible. How far will be the reach of the 1619 Project? When will it be arriving at a school near you, for example, in the form of lesson plans and teachers’ guides? No one knows for sure. Let’s do what we can to limit that reach.
My mentor, the late Professor Harry Jaffa, used to say often: “Those with interests to which they don’t want to admit make arguments they cannot defend.” That’s a good summary of the 1619 Project. How else does one account for the sloppy thinking of otherwise sophisticated, well-educated people about matters of foundational importance?
The opening essay of the 1619 Project, written by Nikole Hannah-Jones, asserts that the American Founding “ideals were false when then were written.” Ms. Hannah-Jones goes on to identify those “ideals” as the principles of the Declaration of Independence, the first being “all men are created equal” in the sense that every human being, by nature, possesses “certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness.” The principle of universal human equality was untrue in 1776, according to the 1619 Project, in the newly-founded United States of America, because legalized slavery was present. Their premise seems to be that slavery must be abolished, first, before one can argue that slavery is wrong because “all men are created equal.”
The purpose of the 1619 Project is clear: To discredit in the mind of citizens the American Founding and all things connected to it, not least of which is the authority of the United States Constitution. The people at the 1619 Project have an anti-Constitutional, collectivist political agenda and they are presenting (and ignoring) whatever they believe advances their cause. That is the interest they don’t want to admit. What then can we examine? Their indefensible arguments.
Consider the logic of morals that flows from the premise of the 1619 Project. If the idea that “all men are created equal” was untrue in 1776, are writers at The New York Times suggesting that slavery was right in 1776? Slavery is wrong precisely because the idea of natural human equality-the idea of equal natural individual rights-is right and true. What moral principle remains for writers at The New York Times to argue the immorality and injustice of slavery after they have dismissed the idea of natural human equality as being untrue?
AN ABSTRACT TRUTH
Contrary to The New York Times and its 1619 Project, including Ms. Hannah-Jones, Abraham Lincoln demonstrated that the idea that “all men are created equal” is “an abstract truth applicable to all men and all times. Lincoln understood (as Ms. Hannah-Jones seems to not) that the idea of natural human equality-the idea that every human being possesses equal individual rights-by nature-cuts across time and space, that it is timeless, unchanging, and universal, that it includes all human beings. Everywhere. Always. Without exception. Following Lincoln’s logic of morals, which flowed directly from the premise of the Declaration of Independence, a black slave in 1776, in the newly-founded United States, had a natural right to his own person and property, to his own life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, which is why it was wrong what the slaveowner was doing to him. In some respects a black slave woman might not be his equal, Lincoln pointed out, “but in her natural right to eat the bread she earns with her own hands without asking leave of anyone else, she is my equal, and the equal of all others.”
The universal, timeless idea of equal natural rights enshrined in the Declaration of Independence is the very principle by which the human mind can know, objectively, that slavery (as well as theft, rape, and murder) was wrong 2500 years ago, 250 years ago, today, and throughout all time. The question, therefore, is not when was the idea of natural human equality untrue versus when did it become true, as Ms. Hannah-Jones assumes. The idea of natural human equality has always been true, a self-evident truth, discoverable at any time by any mind that took the time to study human nature. The question is: When did human beings begin that study? And, more importantly, when did large numbers human beings begin to understand the moral precepts that radiate from the idea of natural human equality, including the wrongness of slavery and rightness of freedom, and then take actions, and perhaps risks as well, to align public policies with those precepts?
This latter question points to and illuminates what is truly exceptional, highly unusual, and gloriously beautiful, about the United States because the Americans were the first to found a particular sovereign political regime, at a particular point in time, and a particular place, upon the universal, timeless idea of equal natural rights. The Americans of 1776 were revolutionary in their thinking no less than on the battlefield. And more: They took immediate steps, they adopted new polices and laws, and eventually fought a terrible war, to bring a swift end to the heinous and ancient institution of human slavery.
Lincoln’s personal reward, for his unique role in the elimination of slavery-which he thought was necessary because he understood the ideas of the Declaration to be true when they were written, as well as before and after-was a bullet blasted through his brain.
The story of the problem of slavery in the United States-the tragedy that made triumph possible-is a story all Americans ought to know and of which no Americans should be ashamed or embarrassed to discuss. The 1619 Project does not facilitate that discussion. Instead, it offers arguments it cannot defend because it does not want to admit its political interests and agendas, and we ought never confuse sophistry for moral clarity.
The moral credibility of the United States is rooted in the truth of the principles upon which America was founded. The best way we, members of the LPR network, can shore up the credibility of America, therefore, is to continue finding those willing to listen and to speak truth as far and wide as possible.