President Obama, Declaration of Independence, and Ad Antiquitatem

Oh, that’s what you call it, ad antiquitatem. Thanks to Steve Hanke (President Obama Falls for a Fallacy | Cato @ Liberty.) for giving a name to what certainly didn’t smell, look or sound right about Obama’s second inaugural speech:

In his second inaugural address, President Obama made a series of direct and indirect references to the Declaration of Independence and other founding documents to make his case for collective (read: state) action. In doing so, he fell into the fallacy of argument ad antiquitatem – an illegitimate appeal to ages past in order to justify present and future actions.

Hanke elaborates further:

The Constitution was designed to further the cause of liberty, not democracy. To do that, the Constitution protected individuals’ rights from the government, as well as from their fellow citizens. To that end, the Constitution laid down clear, unequivocal and enforceable rules to protect individuals’ rights. In consequence, the government’s scope and scale were strictly limited. Economic liberty, which is a precondition for growth and prosperity, was enshrined in the Constitution.

The Bill of Rights establishes the rights of the people against infringements by the State. The only thing that the citizens can demand from the State, under the Bill of Rights, is for a trial by a jury. The rest of the citizens’ rights are protections from the State.

While invoking America’s founding documents and predecessors to justify collective action might appear as cleverness on the part of the President, it is a brazenly overused rhetorical instrument: an argument ad antiquitatem.

© 2013, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.

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