May 31, 2015


In an essay I wrote last year on the subject of education, I invoked Thomas Jefferson’s immortal words, which introduce the Declaration of Independence – “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.”

I argued in this essay that this commitment compels us to provide to the limit of our practical ability, the support for health and education, which will enable every child to pursue his or her “Unalienable Rights.”

I recently found a profoundly meaningful articulation of this thinking in an essay written by Marilynne Robinson, “The Human Spirit and the Good Society.”  She observes that “without knowing the nature of Jefferson’s religious beliefs, or doubts, or disbeliefs we do know he had recourse to the language and assumptions of Judeo/Christianity to articulate the vision of human nature.  Each person is divinely created and given rights as a gift from God.  And since these rights are given to him by God, he can never be deprived of them without defying divine intent.”

Ms. Robinson goes on to make a point which I have become increasingly convinced of and that is “lacking the terms of religion” it is very difficult for us to assert this right of human equality.  “Every civilization, including this one,” Robinson writes, “has always been able to reason its way to ignoring or denying the most minimal claims to justice in any form that deserves the name.  The temptation is always present and powerful because the rationalizations are always ready to hand.  One group is congenitally inferior, another is alien or shiftless, or they are enemies of the people or of the state.  Yet others are carriers of intellectual or spiritual contagion.”

Robinson finally asserts, and I agree:  “Jefferson makes the human person sacred, once by creation and again by endowment, and thereby sets individual rights outside the reach of rationalization.”

To be sure, I will acknowledge that religion is not a cure all. Like every ideology, it poses the risk of fueling and giving dimension to the invidious and I believe inescapable human tendency to elevate ourselves and gain a sense of worth by comparing ourselves so some “other” that we consider inferior and unworthy.   All too often religious beliefs have become highly exclusive and not inclusive. They have morphed to a mind-set if you don’t believe in my religion you are not entitled to basic Rights, even sometimes the Right of Life.  We only need to recall the Crusades and, today, witness the deadly conflict between Shiite and Sunni to be confirmed in this saddest of realities. 

However, to acknowledge that religious beliefs can be misused to deny the essential human equality of all people in terms of the Rights Jefferson prescribes does not negate for me the belief that it is the essential teaching of all religions—“to love God and to treat our neighbor as ourselves” – which represents our best and perhaps only hope to live in peace and support one another in our imperfect world.

Looking back over the span of the almost 240 years since Jefferson wrote that brilliant introduction to the Declaration o independence, there has been a vital expansion in many if not all parts of the world of what we believe constitute the Rights of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.  Examples include the outlawing of the institution of slavery, the conferral of the right to vote to women, and the increasing, though still far from universal, recognition of the right of people to marry another person of the same gender. Our minds must be open to how this list of Rights will properly expand in the future if the dignity and right to Freedom for all people are to be respected. 

All and all, it is clear that the precision of Jefferson’s words combined with their openness, is what has allowed us to progress -- albeit unevenly, incompletely, and especially in hindsight at all too often a haltingly and frustratingly slow pace.

I agree with Marilynne Robinson that “if Jefferson could see our world, he would surely feel confirmed in the intuition that led him to couch his anthropology in such open language.  Granting the evils of our time, we must also grant the evils of his and the cultural constraints that so notoriously limited his vision.  Yet, brilliantly, he factors the sense of historical and human limitation into a compressed, essential statement of human circumstance, making a strength and a principle of liberation of his and our radically imperfect understanding.”

We must carry on, living in truth as we best see that truth. 




  1. Dear Mr. Pepper:
    I am 89 and have written a well reviewed book, “The Puritan Gift” (with my brother, Will) based on my experiences with P&G and other US, UK, Continental European and Japanese companies. It describes what made US companies different. The title, “The Puritan Gift” indicates the book’s content is in line with the themes you express. (I will send you a copy of the “The Puritan Gift” or of chapters, if you wish.)
    See: "The Puritan Gift” by Ken and Will Hopper. I.B. Tauris. www.puritangift.com
    “The Puritan Gift traces the origins and the characteristics of American managerial culture which, in the course of three centuries, would turn a group of small colonies into the greatest economic and political power on earth.”
    An interesting circumstance has arisen. While the reception of TPG in English has been excellent it was republished in Mandarin two years ago by, of all publishers, Oriental (the Peoples Press!) and has become a kind of best seller. The last time I checked, they were out of paperbacks. Among other matters, I tell how the US created its “Great Engines of Prosperity” over the centuries and then proceeded to share its best methods with the world. (I have had high level responses from China, “this is not what we were taught in school!”)
    I joined P&G in 1948 and was Section Engineer on the startups of the Trafford Park High Pressure Hydrolyser and then of P&G’s first Standard Tower Unit (STU) outside the US. I had worked in two good UK companies but moving to P&G was extraordinary. The way everyone worked together made everything so simple and the lack of class barriers gave me a superb team that I could not have had in a British owned factory. In 1957, I lead the introduction of Arthur Spinanger’s Participation Program to the UK (started in 1946!). It went well.
    In 1957, I joined the Bedaux company (AIC) and worked with Irish industry, then being wakened by “the Irishman of the Century” T.K. Whitaker (see Wiki) from the sleep expected in British dependencies. (When I left Ireland in 1952 to work in Europe, I was honored by an Irish offer to set up a Dublin Institute where I could teach what I had learned in P&G!)
    Tavistock Press offered to publish a book and I spent a pleasant year writing. The result was so boring I could not read it. I realized I needed actual experience in the US, applied and was accepted by the Harvard, International Teachers’ Program, where I did research on College Grads working as Foremen, worked as a Factory Magazine Editor and resumed contact with Peter Drucker.
    Late in 1968, Drucker introduced me to Mitsubishi executive, Takeo Kato, who started to tell me about me about General MacArthur's Occupation Civil Communications Section (CCS) when a tall American, Frank Polkinghorn appeared and Kato said, “no man has done more for Japanese industry”. The Japanese were then wiping the floor with US electronics and I met Polkinghorn’s CCS colleagues, Charles Protzman and Homer Sarasohn. In 1979, my wife Claire and I toured Japanese industry as near royalty, as guests of Sumitomo and Matsushita, “because we knew the great CCS Engineers”. I learned the trio) had been responsible for setting up Japanese electronics to be able to compete with American electronics. For further details of CCS let me refer you to major writing of mine including Chapter 10 of The Puritan Gift, “Three Wise Men from the West Go to Japan”.
    While my CCS account is now universally accepted in industrial and management circles, there is no mention of CCS by Economic writers! As a result, we did not provide the support to the nations of the Arab Spring that CCS gave Japan in the latter 1940s!
    See: Drucker Institute Hopper papers/MacArthur Civil Communications Section archive http://goo.gl/jpY6iH
    “A lesson learned and a lesson forgotten”, FORBES, by Robert Chapman Wood. http://goo.gl/01aurs
    For extract: The Puritan Gift: Chapter 10: “Three Wise Men from the West Go to Japan”, see: http://goo.gl/chQ13n

    1. Dear Ken, Thank you very much for sharing this fascinating and important story. All the best, John