Sunday, September 6, 2015

"A government of laws and not men"

As much as I like John Adams, he was only half right when he portrayed a government of laws and not men as the ideal. Laws are written, interpreted, and enforced by men. For example, there is ample evidence that the authors of the 14th amendment did not intend for it to enable chain migration and birthright tourism. The Founding Fathers surely did not intend for the federal government to become the gargantuan monster it is today, and yet here we are.

I alluded to it in my previous entry, and I will expand upon it here. Modernity presents us with a choice: either enforce the laws exactly as they are written, or else we will descend into barbarism and anarchy as everyone ignores whatever laws they dislike. In practice, everyone knows that doing the right thing sometimes means defying the law, whether it's the Fugitive Slave Act, Jim Crow, or Roe v. Wade. Liberals cheered for Gavin Newsom when he ordered San Francisco county clerks to issue marriage licenses to sodomites in defiance of Proposition 8. At Nuremberg, the West decided that "I was just following orders," is not a license to do evil.

Civilized society rests on the bedrock of natural law. It's well and good to enforce the laws exactly as they are written, but even then they will not and cannot be equally enforced. Laws against trespassing do not equally apply to us both if you are the homeowner at 1 Elm Street and I am not. Government simply is authoritative discrimination in favor of one alternative instead of others. Our representative republican form of government discriminates against those who would prefer a Catholic monarchy. Liberalism discriminates against those men who would be happier living like vikings: looting, pillaging, and raping.

Don't misunderstand: other things being equal, I believe laws should be enforced as they are written. But in the everyday messiness of human life, our rulers have to make authoritative discriminations at the level of particulars. With apologies to the prophet Chesterton, a man who doesn't believe in the natural law doesn't believe in no law, but he will believe in any law.

Since laws are enforced by men, it behooves us to ensure that we are ruled by good men.


  1. Yes, this mechanistic view of the law fails to take full account of human agency, and that seems to be a feature of Enlightenment law and politics. Certain US Constitutional fathers (e.g., Madison and Hamilton) believed that they could create the proper procedural machine to ensure good government without becoming destructive of the public interest (which is distinct from the common good). Adams was slightly better than Madison and Hamilton when he explained that "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." But, of course, how do we as a society develop and foster a "moral people"?

    The American Catholic needs to discard the mindset that God might forgive people's invincible ignorance and to develop a mindset that understands that there is truly no hope outside Holy Mother Church. Until that happens, there will be no real "checks and balances" on the mechanistic Federal Leviathan that is working exactly as designed.

    Until I see a US president doing penance under the lash because he actually believes in the Real Presence of Christ and the Final Judgment, there will be no real checks on this most unlimited Federal Power.

  2. Just one of the big problems I have with Mormonism is that it sees America as being some kind of 'Holy' creation, even though its founding principles are completely at odds with historical Christianity, and today its actions are completely at odds with historical Christianity. Putting aside the heretical elements for a moment, this religious fetishizing of the USA alone is a blot against that religion.