Surfing the channels between brownouts, I chanced onto Bloomberg TV, where several historians, including Doris Kearns Goodwin, were discussing the dire rise of hate groups.

Essentially, Ms. Goodwin started making parallels of President Obama to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She then invoked the concept that there was a “covenant” of the American people with the government, and that this covenant was why the government imposed (at the time of Roosevelt) social security and (now) universal health care.

She then went on to expand this idea that those opposing these things were evil (not her word, but implied in her argument), and that President Obama, like Roosevelt, should not remain silent when they attack him, but become angry at them and start attacking them regularly, to rouse the American people behind him against his enemies.

Whatever.

Historians tend to be left of center, and not especially cognisant of the hoi polloi.

Yet one does expect historians to use words correctly.

The word “Covenant” implies an agreement between a superior and an inferior. In ancient times, the Israelis made a covenant with God that said if they did X, God would do Y for them.

But a similar concept was found in pagan towns and empires, with one difference, in that the king/ruler often was seen as taking the place of God, or as God’s chosen leader. We see this idea in  the “Mandate of Heaven” in China to the deification of the Pharaohs and  Roman Emperors, to the “Divine rights of Kings”, to the secular deification of dictators: where the leader stood in the place of God and did his work.

The point is that Americans do not have a “covenant” with their government. Using the word “covenant” implies that the government is  a thing of God, which demands obedience.

In America, we have a social contract:  a “Contract” between equals, where ordinary folks get together and agree to something, and then vote for one of ourselves to get it done.

“We the People” established the government, as the constitution insisted, and as the Declaration of Independence notes:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

The US is in peril if our leading historians and intellectuals are unable or unwilling to see the difference.

You may or may not agree with the left or the right or the “teaparty” movement, whose demonstrations have been remarkably peaceful.

In a covenant, opposing the government is disobedience to a higher power, but in America, we have a social contract, that guarantees us our God-given rights, which includes

the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She blogs at Makaipa blog.

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