July 4 Special: Danielle Allen, OUR DECLARATION

In this conversation with Writer’s Voice host Francesca Rheannon, political theorist Danielle Allen talks about two core ideas at the heart of our nation’s Declaration of Independence: freedom and liberty. How are they aligned? How are they different? And can they contradict each other?

Listen to a clip on YouTube

We re-air our 2014 interview with Danielle Allen about her book, Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality

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Liberty — or Justice For All?

America, we’ve been told, was founded on the principle of liberty — a notion many like to claim as justification for doing whatever they want without restraint of law or regulation. “Don’t tread on me!,” the libertarians cry, as they oppose business regulations, push to carry guns openly, or claim their right to discriminate against fellow citizens.

But in her close reading of the Declaration of Independence in Our Declaration, political theorist Danielle Allen says the core value of the founding document of our nation is equality — and it is the value from which liberty and justice derive. Her wonderful book examines what equality meant for the Founders of our nation — and what it means for us.

The Founders had many contradictions, not least of which was the fact that some of them espoused equality despite being slave-owners. Allen doesn’t shrink from these contradictions, but she shows that the Founders transcended them by doing something we seem to have forgotten how to do. They brought together a diversity of views with a common purpose: to forge a community dedicated to the rights of all humans to seek happiness. Not private happiness exactly, but happiness as a political right.

Allen, a Princeton professor and MacArthur “Genius” grant recipient, critically examines how the Founders reconciled their diverse viewpoints to establish a community dedicated to the universal right to pursue happiness—not merely personal contentment, but happiness as a fundamental political entitlement.