Written in the Eternal Constitution: the eternal constitution of man's nature dictates that when we don't apply morality to restrain our own impulses, government will step in with ever-increasing controls.
Sixty years before Christ's birth, great orator and statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero watched plaintively as his republic faded before his eyes and Julius Caesar became the first Roman emperor. As today, some felt betrayed by their leaders, but Cicero knew that the people themselves were ultimately responsible for Rome's slide into empire, saying, "Do not blame Caesar, blame the people of Rome who have ... rejoiced in their loss of freedom ... who hail him when he speaks in the Forum of ... "more security, more living fatly at the expense of the industrious.' Julius was always an ambitious villain, but he is only one man."
One man can accomplish much, but only when aided by others. A leader is no more an island than is any citizen, and if he works ill, it's only because of millions of enablers. Perhaps no one said this better than British statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke, who instructed, "Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be tree. Their passions forge their fetters." (Emphasis added.) That is, if men assume that freedom is license, if they assume that they can do whatever they want and abandon a freely accepted moral code in favor of the law of the jungle, the resulting moral anarchy will inevitably lead to the loss of freedom. Thus, if a people loses its virtue, it is doomed. It is beyond salvation by party, politician, or prophet. It is obvious to many why this is so, yet others don't see the relationship between freedom and morality; they compartmentalize man's existence. It is as if one can be a saint on Election Day and a sinner the other 364 days. So let's examine Burke's statement. "The less of it [control] there is within, the more there must be without."
Outgrowing the Nanny State
Think about the task of raising a child. We are born savages, acting on impulse, screaming out when sad, striking out when angry. Left to his own devices, a child might drink detergent or put his hand on a hot stove, and he certainly wouldn't brush his teeth or clean his bottom. He is incapable of "self-government." So his parents must micromanage his life, watch his every move--hence baby monitors and the use of cribs or gates or harnesses to limit his movements--and do for him what he cannot do for himself, which is a lot. They must be his "nanny state."
As he grows, however, many rules and restrictions can be eliminated. His parents may still have to ensure he does his homework and takes a bath, but over time even this will be unnecessary. As he matures morally and increasingly starts to impose proper rules and standards on himself, the need for a parent to impose them diminishes proportionately. Then, finally, if his parents have succeeded, he can enjoy the full freedoms of adulthood. He will actually choose to eat his vegetables.
But what happens when his parents don't do a good job? Or when, despite their efforts, outside influences corrupt the child? He then will have weak internal governance. He may descend into vice, taking drugs or drinking in excess; or greed and envy may capture his soul, causing him to covet. And, should his impulse control be poor enough, the overgrown savage beyond the crib may run afoul of the law, perhaps by driving drunk, buying illegal drugs, or stealing. Then, incapable of adequate self-government, he may find himself back in a crib. The authorities will lock him up, and he will once again be controlled from without. Thus, you might say that parents' job is to civilize their children, for people of intemperate minds will lose their freedom. Moreover, if there are enough such overgrown savages, they may bring civilization down with them.
Civilize is an interesting word. What is true civilization? One could say it is when a majority of people have become morally advanced enough to attain true adulthood. The goal of raising a civilization is only realized when enough people reach the goal of raising a child: to create citizens who may live beyond the crib. And remember that people aren't "good" or "bad"; rather, simply closer to perfection or further away, as it is a continuum. Thus, the more we can govern ourselves from within collectively, the less we will have to be governed from without.
And politicians reflect the character of the people who are governed. So you could say the people are the vessel and the government the water. Rulers tend to take the shape of the people's collective moral compass, and as it is bent, so will they be. As to this, Edmund Burke also said, "Men are qualified for civil liberty ... in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsel of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves."
Ignorance Is No Excuse
"Ah, but politicians lie; they present one face when campaigning but another when governing," you say? Yes, sure, but why are some fooled when others are not? Ignorance? Alright, but why are they ignorant?
Leaving aside those saddled with "invincible ignorance" (a rare type that cannot be overcome), we all have the moral duty to inform ourselves. Thus, morality comes into play here as well. Many a time we will encounter someone who, upon being asked to consider new facts or reconsider old positions, will tell us that he just doesn't care. Thinking can sometimes be too much work. Yet, remember the old maxim: the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. The indifferent do nothing and are guilty of the deadly sin of sloth--intellectual sloth. We are called to care.
It once again boils down to attaining true adulthood. We might expect children to prefer frivolity to knowledge-seeking; we might have to look over their shoulders to ensure they do their homework. But wise parents look forward to a day when their children will achieve a maturity that brings a thirst for knowledge. For once individuals possess that knowledge of "good" called morality that breeds a yearning for the "good" called knowledge, they can navigate this world without fetters.
The lack of such virtue explains both why people choose bad leaders and why they are chained by them. Consider, for instance, the strategy of playing one group against another. Why does such a callow ploy work? Well, let's take the race card; if both majority and minority populations are just and view members of other races and ethnicities as children of God, they will be united by that ultimate brotherhood. If prejudice occupies a large place in man's heart, however, there will always be the perception of real or imagined persecution, either because the minority is actually being oppressed or because it views the majority through colored glasses. It is likewise with the class-warfare card. If greed and envy find no home in our souls, it's to no avail. If it's otherwise, though, the rich will use their power to trample the modest, thereby abusing the system. Or the modest, in the grip of the green-eyed monster called avarice, will imagine they are being trampled. In any case, there is a division that can and will be exploited by demagogues.
A Check on the Human Condition
As for our chains, governments throughout the Western world are erecting surveillance cameras to thwart crime. London, for instance, has its "Ring of Steel," a citywide network of 500,000 electronic eyes. Yet if few were covetous, there would be no impetus for such intrusion. And this is just one example.
Lest I be misunderstood, I don't mean to justify Big Brother remedies for racial problems, a lack of charity, or crime. I prefer a great measure of disorder to a small measure of domination; I prefer the everyday tyrannies of the many to the everyway tyranny of the few. Put differently, I know that, as ugly as it can be, it's better to have some citizens transgressing against some others in this fallen world--some theft, domestic violence, child abuse, embezzlement, etc.--than to have that great transgression against the human spirit: a social services agent in every home, an electronic tap on every transmission, and a camera on every corner. But the rules governing man offer no choice; a people that will not willingly submit to morality will be oppressed with all-encompassing legality. Children can easily be played against each other, and when liberty and security cannot both be obtained, children will, like it or not, run to their nanny for protection every time.
So to improve the human condition, you must improve the human's condition. We often deify the constitutional republic nowadays, but it is not a cure at all; it is a system suited to only those who have received the cure--and that cure is a good dose of moral understanding, without which freedom is impossible. But one may now note that the medicine of morality is easily dispensed but reluctantly taken. What is a moral crusader to do? A good start is understanding the prerequisite for moral development: the recognition of morality.
This may seem like a statement of the obvious, yet it eludes many of us, infected as we are with moral relativism. This idea that right and wrong are simply a function of consensus opinion, that there is no objective Truth, is the characteristic spiritual disease of our time and precludes moral development. After all, to develop is to progress toward a goal, and how likely is this to happen if we don't believe the goal (morality) exists? We may as well suppose that people will move toward a healthy lifestyle while under the illusion that the principles governing health don't exist. So while moral relativists like to say that all "values" are equal, it is folly. If you tell people all dishes are equally healthful, they will sink their teeth into sin every time. It's the tastiest fare on the menu.
Let us now deepen our understanding of this matter. Truth implies God, as it refers to something outside of and above man that is the author of morality. Without God, the only source of what we call fight and wrong would be man, in which case morality would merely be synonymous with consensus opinion and would not actually exist. Relativism would then be reality. This is why, as you might have noticed, secularists seldom use the word morality and instead speak of "values." They are right to do so. for they don't have morality in the true sense of the word--that is, a standard reflecting an accurate conception of God's will. They merely have "values," which is part of the lexicon of the left and refers to man's will. And this places in perspective something George Washington once said: "Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion." If people believe that there is no God and, therefore, no morality--that right and wrong are merely opinion--they will be able to justify even the darkest urges. Rape, kill, steal--why not? Who is to say it's wrong? That now-common leftist refrain will then make sense; to wit, "Don't impose your values on me." For, being a product of mortal minds, not a higher one, they may really be your values and not His morals. The problem with this, however, is that while the jolly libertine can use this cop-out, so can the next Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein across the sea or the next serial murderer across the street. As to this, killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer said to his parents as a teen, "If there's no God, why can't I make up my own rules?" There are many kinds of freedom, and not all are good.
While it may sound ironic, if we wish to enjoy freedom, we should stop giving ourselves pep talks about it, since without reference to morality, it tings hollow. Making this observation over 100 years ago, G.K. Chesterton wrote: "The modern man says, 'Let us leave all these arbitrary standards and embrace liberty.... He says, 'Away with your old moral formulae; I am for progress.' This, logically stated, means, 'Let us not settle what is good; but let us settle whether we are getting more of it.'" What do we want more of?. If it is morality, liberty will take care of itself. If it is freedom from morality, the total state will end up taking care of us, and freedom from morality will result in no freedom at all. As precious as our U.S. Constitution is, man's inner nature, the eternal constitution, trumps parchment every time.
Selwyn Duke is a columnist and public speaker whose work has been published widely online and in print, on both the local and national levels.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||The New American|
|Date:||Apr 14, 2008|
|Previous Article:||Our Constitutional Anchor: our priceless Constitution secures our God-given rights by keeping America safely anchored within the rule of law. We must...|
|Next Article:||A most tremendous trifle: there is but one social custom that lies at the base of family, freedom, and civilization: marriage.|