A giant painting hangs in the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla. titled The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.

The canvas measures over 14 feet tall and spans more than nine feet in width. It depicts Columbus landing in America in symbolic fashion. The painting features an intricate hodgepodge of colors, shapes and figures, swirling in a way that almost overwhelms the senses. From a distance, it blends together in almost chaotic fashion. But get up close, and you will notice amazing details impossible to see from further away. For instance, Dali painted himself into the scene. He depicted himself as a kneeling monk clutching a crucifix. Spears on the right side of the painting hide the image of the crucified Christ. And on the bottom left, you will notice flies, a symbolic nod to a Catalan folk legend about St. Narciso’s crypt.

The further one stands away from the painting, the more difficult it becomes to see these amazing details. Individual elements crucial to the story fade away at a distance.

In a similar fashion, political bodies remote from the people they govern lose focus on individuals. Centralized governments respond to groups not people. The significance and relevance of the individual disappears when the government gets too big and too far away from the people.

Proponents of centralized power in the U.S. argue that minorities need a strong federal government to protect them. But statists define minorities as groups – blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, gays, etc. They ignore the most vulnerable minority – the individual.

In fact, identity politics homogenizes people and sticks them in silos. It strips people of their individual characteristics, their differing opinions and their divergent world views, and pits them against each other based on meaningless criteria such as skin color, or how they have sex or how they worship (or don’t). Do we really believe every black person thinks and believes the same things, or that they all behave in like fashion?

Rep. Ron Paul made this case in forum addressing issues of race.

“Racism is simply an ugly form of collectivism, the mindset that views humans strictly as members of groups rather than individuals. Racists believe that all individuals who share superficial physical characteristics are alike: as collectivists, racists think only in terms of groups. By encouraging Americans to adopt a group mentality, the advocates of so-called ‘diversity’ actually perpetuate racism. Their obsession with racial group identity is inherently racist. The true antidote to racism is liberty. Liberty means having a limited, constitutional government devoted to the protection of individual rights rather than group claims. Liberty means free-market capitalism, which rewards individual achievement and competence, not skin color, gender, or ethnicity.”

Our work at the Tenth Amendment Center flows from our belief in the dignity of the individual.

David writes in Psalm 139

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

Judeo-Christian thought elevates the individual, teaching that the creator of the universe knows each person individually and deals with us on a personal level.

God spoke to the prophet Jeremiah saying, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born, I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

Each of us matters. Each of us counts. Each of us has purpose. Not merely as part of some group, but as unique individuals. We each matter, whether gay or straight, Christian or Muslim, Republican or Democrat, black or white – regardless of our position or station in life. We count because we exist.

Philosopher Emmanuel Kant argued that we should never treat humanity as a means, but as an ends unto itself. In other words, he believed in the dignity of every person, and this fosters the idea of respect for persons.

In the kingdom of ends everything has either a price or a dignity. What has a price can be replaced by something else as its equivalent; what on the other hand is above all price and therefore admits of no equivalent has a dignity.

What is related to general human inclinations and needs has a market price; that which, even without presupposing a need, conforms with a certain taste, that is, with a delight in the mere purposeless play of our mental powers, has a fancy price; but that which constitutes the condition under which alone something can be an end in itself has not merely a relative worth, that is, a price, but an inner worth, that is, dignity.

We are each endowed with dignity – in other words each individual possesses a natural, innate right to respect and ethical treatment. We don’t come into the world marked with some arbitrary value. Babies don’t have $9.99 stamped on their forehead. Each human soul comes into the world with immeasurable worth.

Aloof, centralized government loses the ability to treat individuals with dignity. In the same way that we miss important details when we stand at a distance from Dali’s masterpiece, remote government bureaucrats and functionaries cannot see persons. They deal with groups and policies and procedures, ultimately trampling the inalienable rights of the individual like a herd of cattle crushing blades of grass to get to the bale of hay. In advocating for one group, government brushes the dignity of other individuals aside like chaff on the threshing floor.

All governments, at every level, pose danger to individual liberty. But we the people can better control and influence our local and state governments. These bodies operate “closer” to the people, and as a result, state and local lawmakers are more likely to recognize the needs and dignity of the individual. I know my state representative personally. He knows me by name. We shop in the same stores. On many days, I can show up at his office unannounced and he will sit and chat with me. As a result, I have some influence over him. He knows me as a person. I once babysat my state senator’s kids.  My city councilwoman lives in my general neighborhood. And they all know the nuances of life in this part of the world. They live here and experience life as I do.

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But to the president, I represent nothing but a colored dot in a swirling mass of humanity. He doesn’t recognize my individual worth. He couldn’t care less what happens to me. And how can some elected official from Hawaii have any clue what we deal with as residents in central Kentucky? Yet these far-flung lawmakers exert tremendous influence over my life – down to the toilet bowl in my bathroom.

And this makes sense how?

Dignity and liberty walk hand-in-hand. Ultimately,  we aim to protect both.

The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government. –Thomas Jefferson

Mike Maharrey

The 10th Amendment

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