Friday, April 16, 2010

Political Evil This Way Comes

The so-called Tea Party continues to make the news, recently as object of the mainstream media's vilification as just so many white, upper-income racists. Others focus on the vast government spending and corresponding public debt that provoked these ordinary people into active political involvement. I argue today on ("Tyrants Among Us") that while runaway government spending is a big part of what is driving Tea Partiers to revolt, underlying that is a more fundamental fear in the face of runaway government size and power and lawless intrusion. They see tyranny hatching out of Washington like a scaly thing, bigger and more sure footed than ever seen before, and they are fighting for the survival of liberty.

Here is the little more rambling, less politically restrained version of the published article:

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What angers Americans in the Tea Party movement is tyranny. And well it should. It is spreading in Washington even more than usual.

Our Declaration of Independence still speaks for us where it says:

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

Lawless government is an unmistakable sign of tyranny, i.e., government that exercises power not under law or according to the authority given to it by consent of the governed, but on an authority it claims to have in itself.
The Democratic Party's health care reform legislation is an example of governing tyrannically. The law requires people to purchase health insurance who, perhaps because they are young and healthy, presently do not carry it. This is not a tax. It is the government just telling you to do something because they believe it to be good for the country. It is not conditional upon any other behavior. It says, "You will do this or we will punish you with a fine."

I have not heard a credible argument from any elected officeholder justifying this provision constitutionally. Even the president, who has taught constitutional law, made only a vague reference to the state requirement that people buy car insurance, which of course is different in that it is a condition of owning a car for use on public roads. If people take the bus or walk, they can decline the purchase. But this is government exercising authority beyond what the Constitution allows, authority the people did not entrust to it. This is power exercised tyrannically, and on a grand scale.

At a constituent meeting, Rep. Phil Hare, a Democratic congressman from Illinois, stated with unguarded candor (as though it were no big deal) his disregard for the constitutional limits of congressional power when it comes to providing for what he thinks is the public good.

When asked to locate in the Constitution where Congress gets the authority to require everyone to buy health insurance, his response was, "I don't worry about the Constitution on this...I care more about the people dying every day who don't have health care." In a half-hearted attempt to find a constitutional hook on which to hang the law after the fact, he cited the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, thinking that he was quoting the Constitution. When someone pointed out that these words are found in the Declaration of Independence, he expressed indifference to the distinction. "Doesn't matter to me. Either one."

In other words, when it comes to doing good, constitutional restraints are irrelevant. They don't apply. The legal constraints of the Constitution are, in the eyes of Democrats like Phil Hare and, apparently, the president, only for bad people. The goodness of the obviously good things that good hearted people do with government power is the ultimate foundation of public authority, transcending even the Constitution. Another way of stating this view is that moral progress is the fundamental law of the land. It is the unwritten constitution behind the written constitution. That is to say, the politically progressive use of power is self-authorizing. Every other exercise of civil authority must be subject to constitutional limitations because that is what a constitution is for.

This lawlessly self-flattering attitude seems to draw, but unfaithfully, from Cicero's maxim in De Legibus (3.3.8) that has echoed loudly through the centuries, Salus populi suprema lex esto, "the welfare of the people is the highest law." By salus, or welfare, he meant the well-being or safety of the people. The sense of the statement is that because the individual depends on the community for the enjoyment of his private goods, and even for his very life, his individual good must yield to the public good in general when the two come into conflict. No law needs to state this. It is in the nature of the political relationship. In that sense it is the supreme law that transcends even the most fundamental written laws.

Francis Bacon reiterated the thought in #56 of the Essays, "Of Judicature." Uttered by Cicero, the words are taken in their natural law context. But Bacon's view of justice is more conventional and mundane. He explicitly cautions his readers against laws that claim divine origin, saying, "laws, except they be in order to that end, are but things captious [misleading], and oracles not well inspired." In other words, judges should pay no attention to divine law and philosophic consideration of natural law. These only distract from civil business. John Locke used it as the epigraph for his Two Treatises of Government. Both of these men used a surface piety and respect for traditional views to direct people to a radically popular foundation of political justice. But they both advocated the rule of law, even of a fundamental law in a liberal, constitutional republic. What we see in Congressman Hare's words, and in the aggressive expansion of government by his party without regard to the enumerated powers of the Constitution is something that is neither Ciceronian nor Lockean, but rather Jacobin. Yes, Jacobin.

Cicero's maxim is one for emergencies. The Democrats in Congress, along with the president, are governing as though it were the ordinary basis for legislative activity, or, to speak more cautiously, as though the fullest and immediate expansion of the welfare state were a matter of national emergency.

But in the face of such tyrannical usurpation of authority, such an obvious design to reduce us under the absolute despotism of benevolent technocracy does not justify violence. It does, however, justify vigilance. Every patriot should exercise that vigilance at the ballot box in November, asking him or herself the question, "Does this candidate govern or promise to govern under the laws, or regardless of the laws as a law himself?" Will this candidate govern as a benevolent despot, or as a public servant under law?

Let me hasten to add in conclusion that Christians are substantially to blame for this state of affairs. The constitution for the Kingdom of God is the Bible. In the late nineteenth century, Christians started debunking and dismissing its authority, and substituting enlightened progressive morality and the latest developments of scientific thinking in its place. Today, even Protestant Evangelicals, who supposedly have a high view of Scripture, treat the details of its teachings with careless disregard, following instead all too often the fashions of Evangelical subculture.

Christians can be salt and light by conforming their convictions more conscientiously to the Word of God, and voting their convictions more faithfully on election days.

1 comment:

David C. Innes said...

Over at the posting, a frequent contributor to the comments there, "Joel Mark," wrote this:

In his ‘Notes on the State of Virginia’, Thomas Jefferson asked,

* “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?”

Jefferson was not implying that government is needed to dictate any notion of God on anyone. That’s not the role of government. He was recognizing that God is the ultimate giver and sustainer or liberty, not governments or politicians.

I recall when President Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (on November 19, 2008) told the Wall Street Journal Digital Network: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

Another insightful quote: “A government big enough to give us everything we want is a government big enough to take from us everything we have.” (Gerald R. Ford)