“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.”
These words from the Declaration of Independence are familiar and oft quoted. While the meaning of this self-evident truth may have been well understood by earlier generations of Americans, its meaning today is contested.
Missouri State University’s public affairs theme for the 2016-17 academic year, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness: Perspectives on Self-Government, is rich with opportunities to engage the campus community in discussions exploring both our rights and our responsibilities as citizens in a modern democracy.
American society in the twenty-first century has little in common with the era when the founding fathers crafted plans for the foundling republic. Ever changing demographics, cultural mores, values, technologies, and understanding raise important questions for our nation… Are our rights endowments from the Creator, as the founders believed? Or are they best understood as positive rights, as bestowed upon us by government? What are the costs and benefits of the freedom our democracy affords? How do we balance majority rule with individual rights? What are the limits of free speech, of religious liberty, and of other rights we enjoy? What are the causes of political and social apathy? How have partisan politics impacted the conduct of our government? To what extent does government promote, or impede, economic equality? How does technology influence our understanding of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Should the United States seek to export democracy to foreign nations? Is the way America practices democracy the best way, or can we learn lessons from other democracies around the world? Is access to healthcare an unalienable right?
These questions, and more, will be explored as we consider life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the twenty-first century.