The Doctrine of Natural Equality and Contemporary American Politics

Reading Lothrop Stoddard’s The Revolt Against Civilization (1922), I came across an interesting passage. He says:

“The doctrine of natural equality was brilliantly formulated by Rousseau, and was explicitly stated both in the American Declaration of Independence and in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man. The doctrine, in its most uncompromising form, held its ground until well past the middle of the nineteenth century.” (p. 38)

This is an interesting claim – I had assumed that the United States’ Declaration of Independence’s line:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal[.]”

was a reference to a moral equivalence, similar to the Christian belief that God created all men’s souls in some sense equal. A little more searching around suggests that Stoddard is correct, and this was meant in a physical (or natural) sense. If so, then the evidence we now have suggests that the claim implicit in the subordinate clause is false if understood as it was intended.

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