The Declaration of Independence - Part 2


Dr. Larry Arnn, President of Hillsdale College, and Hugh Hewitt continue their discussion of the Declaration of Independence.


HH: That music means it is time for the Hillsdale Dialogue. The last radio hour of the week is always spent with Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, or one of his colleagues at the college. All of those conversations dating back four years are collected for you at Everything Hillsdale is at, including my associate producer, Jake, who is up there examining the college at which I am encouraging him to enroll come the fall. Have you crossed paths with Jake, yet, Dr. Arnn?

LA: I had lunch with that ignorant boy yesterday.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing)

HH: I hope you gave it to him, ball barrels.

LA: Well, there were about nine or ten of us. We sat down with a table full of Hillsdale College kids and explained to him that Hillsdale College does not involve knowing your career choice before you come. It is a preparation for all life.

HH: (laughing)

LA: These are simple distinctions we hammered with.

HH: And I hope he walked away understanding that he does indeed need to get on with his education.

LA: You know, what a great kid, by the way.

HH: Yes, he’s a fine, he’s a terrific producer. He’s a terrific talent. But you do eventually, there are lots of bright people in this world who just don’t want to put up with the discipline of the real college effort.

LA: Yeah, his particular thing is he thinks if he wants to go to seminary, that’s one thing, and if he wants to go into politics, that’s another thing. And that affects his college choice. And so I asked him the simple questions, what do we mean by the expression God? And what do we mean by the expression politics?

HH: Oh, that’s not even fair.

LA: And so we, so we had fun. And there was a bunch of juniors and seniors at a table, and I know most of them, and so I sat down with them. It was kind of a ringer deal. And they were just, you know, we just had a hoot of a time with him, and what a splendid fellow. You’re right about him.

HH: Good. I hope you pummeled him into submission. I think he’s going to be up there and working for me. Just do not take him off of his assigned task to promote via every new media outlet the Hugh Hewitt Show. I can’t afford to have you sweep him up in the Hillsdale net of continual pushing out of Hillsdale content. I need him to do that for me.

LA: Yeah, yeah, no, he seems very loyal to you. I didn’t understand that part.

HH: Well that’s, we pay him to say those things. Let me take off with you if I can. Last hour, I had Ajit Pai on, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. And this was wonderfully refreshing, because he said you know, before we regulate the internet, perhaps we ought to have a statute that wasn’t passed in 1933 to guide us.

LA: (laughing)

HH: (laughing) Isn’t that wonderful?

LA: Oh, yeah. Yeah, he’s, he, I read that, I read some tech blogs, because I like gadgets, and they’re all, a lot of them are really against this guy. And what do they think? They think you know, these independent, innovative tech people think if the government doesn’t regulate it, it’s not legitimate.

HH: That’s exactly right. I read to him, by the way, I’ve discussed this with you before, my exchange with Justice Breyer from five years ago in the studio when Justice Breyer told me George Washington didn’t know the internet, nor did James Madison know about television, etc. And he promptly blew that away by doing the right thing. First principles of the Declaration of Independence, which we have begun our conversation about, tells us everything we needed to know about the internet, actually, which is trust liberty.

LA: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, you know, it, I don’t understand why the government allocating things, or requiring equal allocation among things that might not naturally achieve that, according to preferences of people in the market, I don’t see why denying that is freedom. I never have understood that. But there’s a kind of a cause. And I don’t get it.

HH: Well, I brought up to him when the FCC came into being in the 30s, it was because radio was new, and signals were stepping on each other, and the bandwidth is limited. And so there is actually a scare resource. The government has to control, or the consumer will not be able to hear Dr. Larry Arnn talk every week with me, because everyone will be talking over the same bit of spectrum. And so they regulate the spectrum, and that was a law that was debated by a Congress that was agreed to by a president, that was then assigned to a commission to enforce. So I have no problem with their regulating the radio band. I have a great deal of them regulating an unlimited resource. The internet is an unlimited resource. It cannot prosper under the control of the government.

LA: Well you know, it’s an interesting thing you bring up about the radio, because there’s a guy named James Bovard, who used to write really good books. I don’t know where he is now. But he wrote a chapter in a book about that thing of regulating the radio waves. And he starts out with a simple point. There wasn’t a problem, and the reason is radio stations have a huge interest in not interfering with each other, because neither of them can be heard when that happens. And he claims that the Hoover administration cooked all that up as a crisis and got it through the Congress.

HH: He is wrong, and I’ll tell you why he is wrong.

LA: Okay.

HH: I brought this up with Chairman Pai. To our south, along our border, are the wonderfully friendly Mexicans, except those who run radio stations. And at night, they do not cooperate, as one would say is in their self-interest. They overwhelm my signals, which we turn down at night pursuant to American law. And so many people yell at me on a daily basis about how they can’t hear my 1170 signal in San Diego, or my 660 signal in Dallas. And it’s because they’re being overwhelmed by Mexican radio stations that do not live up to their treaty obligations to cooperate as you suggest they would find it in their interest to do. They find it in their interest to actually steal our customers. That’s the market. There’s always going to be, with a limited spectrum, there’s always going to be a rogue.

LA: Okay, but the FCC, you’re saying, is not fixing that?

HH: No, they’re supposed to, and I took the chairman and asked him to please call his Mexican counterpart, just because it’s an international issue and we don’t have anyone at State, yet. Now that brings me to the 100 days. I was talking with Dickerson, John Dickerson, earlier today. He’s spending all tomorrow with the president of the United States, and talking to him about what has been good and what has been bad, and obviously, Gorsuch is very, very good. But my first question, which surprised John Dickerson, he invited me to pose a question, is where are my 20 Circuit Court judges? Where are my Republicans at the Pentagon? Where’s the State Department appointees? We are moving like a snail to staff the government, Dr. Arnn.

LA: Yeah, I think, well, I happen to know that Don McGahn, the White House Counsel, is asking and has been for months now, asking for names for Circuit judges. I’ve sent in a bunch. And so if you graduated from Hillsdale College and went to law school, there’s a chance you’re going to be a Circuit judge pretty soon.

HH: We could get him to name, you know, we’ve got the Senate, and this is my problem with the Republicans. They forget 2001 when Jim Jeffords jumped parties.

LA: Yeah.

HH: And stuff happens. You know, airplanes crash. People die. You cannot take for granted majorities. You have to use majorities.

LA: Part of the problem is the, I don’t think it’s the judge problem, but part of the problem in the appointments is they don’t really know who to trust. And the reason they don’t is because Mr. Trump fractured lots of things. And so you know, we haven’t, the Republicans have not been in power for eight years, and now, all of a sudden, a lot of the usual suspects, the places you go to find, they have to go look and see if they like Donald Trump. And so that’s been hard for them, I think. And I think they’re sorting it out some now, and I hope so.

HH: I want to read to you the first paragraph of my 100 days assessment in the Washington Post this morning, which the Post asked for, to get your agreement or disagreement. It begins simply, sea change, an enormous one. That’s the only way to understand President Trump’s first 100 days as a breaking from, and often a breaking of the Obama presidency, one every bit as turbulent as what’s encountered by a sailing ship going from calm seas into a hurricane. What say you?

LA: There is a radically different direction, especially about the reach of the regulatory state. And that this tax proposal is revolutionary. And this man you’re talking to from the FCC, right? That’s of a piece with all that.

HH: Yes.

LA: We, there’s the attitude that we should let the society work. It’s a great, free country. And that is the most aggressive thing like that that I have seen in my lifetime, and that includes Reagan, in part, because the problems are so much worse now than they were when Reagan came in. But every day, there’s something really great about that. And the disappointments that are highlighted are of course we haven’t really passed any major legislation. And you know, they’re over there making sausage in the Congress, and it’s an ugly process. And you know, today I read that, you know, it was the conservatives, you know, that these terms are thrown about promiscuously, but there’s the conservatives and the moderates in the Congress. And the conservatives didn’t like the last health care bill, and the story this morning is the moderates don’t like this one. Well, they’re going to have to make an agreement about that.

HH: They’re going to have to get to yes, and the Freedom Caucus Care that we have now, because I no longer call it Obamacare. I call it Freedom Caucus Care, because they kept it when Paul Ryan threaded the needle. They tipped the balance. They have to get to yes, Dr. Arnn.

LA: They do. You know, that’s, and see, I think that, first of all, I don’t despair. I agree with you about Trump’s 100 days. It’s amazing to me how consistently he has been in favor of the things he campaigned on. I mean, it’s very clear that he’s done a lot. But they’ve got to pass some laws, and it’s got to happen in this year.

HH: I’m coming right back with Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College. Don’t go anywhere, America. It’s the Hillsdale Dialogue. All things Hillsdale available at And all of these conversations collected at

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HH: But Dr. Arnn, we’re talking about the Declaration of Independence and my op-ed in the Washington Post this morning, and 450 leftists don’t like my article already. They hate Donald Trump so much, and they are telling me so. What is it that is driving them so crazy?

LA: Well, gosh, I mean, look what’s going on, on college campuses. I mean, everything is driving them crazy. I think they’re driving themselves crazy.

HH: I brought up college campuses with Chairman Pai of the FCC, because of course, he cares about free speech a lot. And it seems, as he said on the show, some college campuses are committed to making sure that their students are never troubled by an idea with which they disagree.

LA: It, you know, so you need two things in a college. You need civility, and you need argument. And so if you lose either one, and just think, this is a movement against both of those things.

HH: Yeah, and it’s gaining, it’s gaining momentum, sadly, and I would just expel everyone. What would you do to people who use violence at Hillsdale to shut down an opposition, a point of view with which they were in opposition?

LA: Well, you know, call the cops, right? The college property belongs to the college, and you know, there’s a board that acts for the beneficiaries, which is all of the people who will ever learn from Hillsdale College, including in the future. So in the name of that, the board controls the property of the college, and they have appointed a fellow to exercise that power for them. That would be I.

HH: (laughing)

LA: So then let’s say that the college property is devoted to the purposes of the college, which are on a 175 year old mission. And let’s say somebody blocks access to the college, which is what happened at Claremont McKenna when Heather McDonald went there ten days ago.

HH: Yes.

LA: Well then, in that case, you have a disruption. And so then you call the cops, and you ask them please to clear those people out and charge them with a crime, because it is a crime to do that, right?

HH: Yes.

LA: And it disrupts the work of the college. Kids get four years, and in any good college, they treat the time very, as precious. So like when we start a new thing, any new thing, right? Always the question is, is there time for that? Does that take away from what we’ve already got, because they’ve got four years, and they, and it’s hard. And they’ve, you know, they’ll have to keep thinking the rest of their lives. Life itself is too short. And so what we’re going to do is we’re going to stop everything until we get our way. Well, you just can’t do that, right? Once you agree to that, you’ve surrendered the mission of the college.

HH: It’s called the heckler’s veto. And it’s much, much hated in Constitutional law, because the framers understood, and they were pamphleteers. We talked about the pamphlet war last week, and we’ll come back to it in the next segment. The framers understood you had to assail each other with print, or you’d be shooting at each other with muskets.

LA: That’s right, and you know, you can, the founders tended to be very artful in their insults, which made them more palatable. But they were insults. I mean, you know, the question of the marital status of Alexander Hamilton’s mother was often brought up.

HH: Yeah.

LA: And things like that, but that, you know, but they’re just arguing, and they’re also not in each other’s face in a way that, because you know, when they were together, except in the case of Hamilton and Burr who shot each other, they were…

HH: Actually, only one of them shot the other.

LA: That’s correct, isn’t it? Yeah, it, that, you know, in other words, they, you know, the comportment, which you know, the standard for that was set by George Washington.

HH: Yes.

LA: And you know, my favorite story, Governor Morris…

HH: Yes.

LA: …was put up to slap him on the back and say Hi, George.

HH: And it did not work out well.

LA: It didn’t work.

HH: The General was not amused. I’ll be right back with Dr. Larry Arnn. We’re going to talk about the Declaration of Independence, I promise you, when we return on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

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HH: I’m wondering, Dr. Arnn, are any of Hillsdale’s college football players likely to be drafted? I believe you have two currently playing for the NFL. The draft is underway as we speak, and you’ve got a couple of large offensive linemen roaming around the fields of the NFL, do you not?

LA: Well, we have one large offensive lineman, and one very fleet wide receiver. And they are Jared Veldheer of the Arizona Cardinals, offensive left tackle, and Andre Holmes of the Oakland Raiders, wide receiver. And they’re both awesome players and awesome young men, very bright, both of them.

HH: And they had to take all of the courses that everyone has to take at Hillsdale. That’s why when I tell people Mike Pompeo as head of the CIA being number one at West Point means something, because everybody has to take the same classes at West Point, at least in part.

LA: That’s right. That’s why George Pickett was always called, you know, the Civil War general called the Scholar, because he actually managed to come last in his class (laughing).

HH: (laughing) Well, there’s a fine tradition, by the way, of being the goat at the Naval Academy, for which people try, and it doesn’t mean greatest of all time, it means goat. Let me ask you about, do you have anyone on the blocks? Do you expect to have any drafted this year? Hillsdale does produce an occasional draft choice.

LA: Well, I think maybe, but more likely, there’ll be two next year, we think. And those young men are so confident, that they have their marital plans with their fiancées on hold waiting for that, and the fiancées are putting up with it.

HH: That is, that’s remarkably astute of their fiancées (laughing)…

LA: (laughing)

HH: …because it’s a good thing to play for the NFL if you’re good.

LA: Yeah.

HH: It’s a very, very lucrative business. Let us turn to the Declaration of Independence, about which I promised. Last week, we talked about the introduction. This week, I want you to comment, if you will, on we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, what whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to affect their safety and happiness. Prudence indeed will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes. And accordingly, all experience has shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustom. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolutely despotism, it is their right, it is their duty to throw off such government and to provide new guards for their future security. That is what is known as the preamble, quite the consequential two paragraphs there, Dr. Arnn.

LA: Yeah, it accomplishes three things, what you just read. One is it identifies what a human being is, calling it a self-evident truth that all men are created equal. And all that means is if you can see a thing and call it a human being, let’s say standing next to a pig, then everything that you identify as a human being is equal in that essential sense to every other thing, and unequal to the pig. So the first step is to figure out what are we? And think how fundamental that is, you know, being in a quarrel with shooting going on with the king of England. We have an argument with the king of England about whether he was born to rule us or not. So that first point is metaphysical, and addressed to that issue. The second thing that it does is it establishes what is a government. And governments are to secure these rights, and governments operate with the consent of the governed. That means not just that it has to be for their rights, the king acknowledged that. But also, it has to do what they say. And then the third thing is how do you regulate the relations among those two discreet things, one arising from the other? And the answer is the people have a right to throw off the government when they please. They should be cautious about that.

HH: Very, yes.

LA: That’s right. Prudence indeed will dictate that governments will not be changed for light and transient causes. And you know, it’s very good, by the way, the way this thing is written. Everybody should read it. And again, read it. And so it’s interesting that it’s both a philosophic document and a piece of political reasoning. And the second half of that paragraph that you just read leads into the middle of the Declaration of Independence, which is a long piece of political reasoning, why is this justified. The Declaration begins by an appeal to the laws of nature and of nature’s God, and under those laws, acknowledging the necessity to give reasons for what they’re doing. It’s not enough that they say we’ve got an army and we’re going to hold this continent, and we’re going to chuck you out of here. They did say that, but also, we’re going to explain ourselves. We’re going to reason with you. And we invite you to reason with us. And so our reasoning points are human beings are this, governments are this, they relate in this way, and here’s how those principles apply to the situation we have right now.

HH: Now I want to make sure that we emphasize, because too often, I see the people grasping the Don’t Tread On Me flags, and talking about the right to revolution, how cautious they are and how justified they are. They emphasize a long train of abuses and usurpations. That is the predicate, and then they’re going to lay those out in detail. They’re really making an argument, Larry Arnn, that the world has to believe, they’re actually writing to France as they write this thing.

LA: That’s right, and remember, France is also ruled by a monarchy, and they’re cultivating alliance with France. And only the French hatred of the British could lead them to agree to such a thing, but it did.

HH: (laughing)

LA: And see, think of this. This is a far-seeing document, because first of all, it begins eternally and ends particularly. But it’s far-seeing in that they anticipate with the charges against the king the problem of constitution making, which in the same month they began drafting the Declaration of Independence, they immediately began drafting a constitution, too, and the Articles of Confederation. And they began, they came to think pretty soon, by the way, that they had not done a good job. But that effort is necessary to the success of the revolution, and that’s a reason for sobriety. They look at this list of things the king has done wrong, and if you mustn’t do those, then you’re going to need a Constitution like the one we eventually got.

HH: And when we begin to go through those, and this is going to take some time, and the reason I asked Dr. Arnn to engage in this is because we are at the beginning of a new era in American government about which we spoke in the first two segments. And it isn’t a Trump era. It’s an era of trying to roll back what is essentially lawlessness on the part of administrative agencies. We had the representative one on the show today, Agit Pai, who understands this. They are acting lawlessly. Now there is rhetorical excess in this paragraph, Dr. Arnn. A design to reduce them under absolute despotism. I said it wrong three times now, because despotism is, I am adverse to it.

LA: (laughing)

HH: Do you think they are overstating the case, because while there are places like Boston where people are being impressed in their homes and person, generally, the Colonies were pretty loosely run.

LA: Yeah, but that’s changing, and it depends on how you look at it, right? First of all, if you had to pick between living in Colonial America in 1775, or living in the Soviet Union or Russia, for that matter, Russia today or the Soviet Union 15 year ago, you’d pick this, of course, very much. But what is the point that they’re making? The king claims that because he is who he is, he gets to decide. And then he’s doing a series of things that are not authorized by law or constitution or nature. Once that starts, how far can it go?

HH: Can it go, yeah.

LA: And there’s a body count. And so yeah, in one way, that’s exactly what he’s doing.

HH: Absolute despotism is though that is what we have come to associate, and you taught last year in your totalitarian seminar, seminar on totalitarianism. That was not present in the Colonies.

LA: Not possible then, see…

HH: Right.

LA: …and that’s because of lots of things, including especially science or technology. Those science and technology is very powerful and very beneficial and very dangerous. And so the king of England couldn’t do, he lacked the wealth, and he lacked the mechanisms to listen to every conversation. And he was not of a mind to do that kind of thing anyway, you know, because they were very bad things here cited in the Declaration of Independence. But it’s also true nobody’s children were taken from them and converted into spies against them.

HH: Yes.

LA: And that resulted in torture and persecution, right? So that didn’t happen, and that’s right. That means that the horrors that we know today are still a long time in the future.

HH: And the government from which issued these edicts itself has reformed itself over a period of time so that there’s now a general election underway, in which our strongest ally is ably represented by Prime Minister May, and she’s going to be returned. But there were two terrorism incidents in London yesterday.

LA: Yeah.

HH: And it’s a difficult balance. They had a man approach 10 Downing with three knives. They had to assault another London townhouse in which a woman was shot, and there were six terrorists, two of those following another terrorist attack the week before. So the government against which the Americans are rebelling in 1776 has reformed itself so that it can try and draw the line between a necessary amount of force and civility, and against barbarians.

LA: And see, it was, that’s right, and it was, you know, a good, relatively speaking, relative to the world, it was a really excellent government for the time. It’s just, by the way, that they would not govern the Colonies, the American Colonies, in the same way they governed their own people. There was no, one of their points in that, in the Summary View of the Rights of British North America by Jefferson we read last week, one of his points is we don’t have any representatives in London. And you can say all day you want that we’re virtually represented, that was their expression, but virtually means not at all.

HH: Not at all. We’ll be back, (laughing)

LA: (laughing)

HH: We’ll be right back to continue the conversation on the Declaration of Indepedence with Dr. Larry Arnn. Don’t go anywhere, America.

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HH: I want to return to the first paragraph of the Preamble, which is the second paragraph of the Declaration in which it says that among these unalienable rights given to us by our Creator are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Now that’s an interesting construction, as it omits the right to property, Dr. Arnn. Why this choice? Why did Jefferson omit property?

LA: Well, Jefferson had about a week in his life where he actually pronounced himself a socialist. No, that’s not it. So those are interchangeable terms. In the, so to understand, let me back up one step and say this. There has been a dawning in our lifetime, Hugh, of interest in the founding by people who are objecting to this modern administrative state and the idea of infinite progress behind it. And I, and my teacher, and my friends at the Claremont Institute, and you all have something to do with that reviving interest. And in the early days, one of the key arguments by people who didn’t like the Declaration of Independence is it’s a relativistic document. It doesn’t say happiness. It says pursuit of happiness. And then the second thing is they left out property.

HH: Yeah.

LA: They weren’t really hardcore about property. And so if you just look around for a little bit, you’ll just go oh, the third thing, well, we’ll talk about in the next section was that the Declaration of Independence really has nothing to do with the founding. The founding is really the Constitution. And so those three claims were huge objections that were fought through academically, and in politics some, for years. Now how do you think about those things? Well, first of all, the next sentence down says that the people should adopt a government most likely to them to secure their safety and happiness, not pursuit of happiness, happiness.

HH: Right.

LA: It’s in the next sentence. But then about property, well, there are six people who voted for the Declaration of Independence who were members of the Virginia Convention that drafted the Virginia Declaration of Right, which is an interesting document, because it contains both the Declaration of Independence, an equivalent to it, and the Constitution of the United States, an equivalent to that. And the two documents are combined into one. And that was passed, I think, nine days before or after, I forget which right now, the Declaration of Independence. And there are six people who voted for both. And all of the states are busy writing constitutions right now, and declarations of rights. So, and the declaration of rights, most of them include life, liberty and property. And some of them include pursuit of happiness, because those things, you know, you can’t be happy, where do property rights come from? The bread that you eat, at the moment that you eat it, is your property. And if you don’t have it, if anybody can take it from you, they can starve you to death. And there’s no happiness if you’re starving to death. There’s no life with that. Well, is that, that follows from that, that the bread that you’re going to eat for dinner, you could store up some bread. That becomes capital, right? That’s your property, too. And all of your rights, including Madison equates the two in 1792 in a beautiful essay called Property, all of your rights are connected to each other. So what are you? You’re a thinking being with a conscience and answerable to God for your behavior, and no one can rightly take that away from you, just as, but to exercise those elevated rights that are in the 1st Amendment, for example, you have to be able to take care of yourself physically – food, land, property, shelter against the storms in the future and now. And so those rights make a unity. The human being is both a body and a soul, and the rights of the body and the rights of the soul are an integrity as the body and the soul are. So the point is they didn’t leave out property because they didn’t believe in the right to property. Thomas Jefferson is all over, his record is full of beautiful statements about that.

HH: Do you wish that they had explicitly added the word?

LA: No, and the reason is isn’t it beautiful? And you know, it’s, this thing is probably the most successful political document in human history.

HH: That’s true.

LA: And so we’re going to sit and edit it now?

HH: (laughing) Yes.

LA: (laughing)

HH: Yes, I am. These are life, liberty, property, which shall lead inevitably to the pursuit of happiness successfully. I don’t know, you’re right. You begin to pull at the threads, and it gets away. But so many on the left don’t go through the argument you just went through, and they instead say we can regulate and we can take. And the 5th Amendment comes along, you know, 13 years later, to try and stop that acquisitiveness on the part of the government always an everywhere to take what is not theirs, and it hasn’t been sufficient. It hasn’t stopped it.

LA: Yeah, and misunderstanding is bound to happen, but the enemy of misunderstanding is understanding, and so you know…

HH: We continue next week with more of the Declaration of Independence as we go through. Indeed, some of the crimes against property by George III mentioned in the indictment. Dr. Larry Arnn, thank you. All things Hillsdale at

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