Opinion | Liddick: Rocking the government’s foundation
January 7, 2019
"Our government is made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
— John Adams
Yes that John Adams, co-signer of the Declaration of Independence; vice president and later president; friend, then enemy and finally friend again to Thomas Jefferson; correspondent and ideologue of the early republic and its government, which he had a large hand in forming. As a creator of a government which stated plainly "there shall be no religious test for office," why did he — and many others among the founders — think this? The answer is simple, but perhps troubling.
Let's begin by stipulating that governments are not the source of morality; at best, they embody the ideals of the society that created and sustains them. This is why governments in some parts of the world commit what we consider monstrous abuses which their citizens accept with equanimity: When the paramount goal of a society is national stability, Godly living or world domination, its governance does not much look like a creation of 18th century liberalism.
Our republic is the product of a long and complex gestation, from the relative unity of medieval Christendom to the furnace of Europe's Wars of Religion, to revolution. These turbulent centuries distilled what shorthand calls "Christian Humanism," which undergirded general agreement in the West about what constituted "moral" government: security for a citizen's person and property, and legal protections for liberty against depredations by the state. These values were considered God-given, eternal and unchanging, and were written into the foundational law of the United States. Other social values — charity, rectitude, moderation, thrift, piety — were also considered universal, but private; they were no business of any government.
In time this view began to change. By the late 1800s, many political philosophers had thrown aside religion for Utilitarianism; they believed ideas had value only insofar as they were useful in achieving results. There was no eternal or universal moral imperative, only that which served the purposes of the moment. A corollary was that government had a duty to pursue the greatest good for the largest number of people, regardless of the effects this might have on the liberties of individual citizens. Both thoughts grew in conjunction with efforts by the early progressive movement to expand the role of democracy in American government. Thus the seeds of the great tragedies of the 20th century were sown.
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Utilitarianism wedded to "democracy" — categorized as "mob rule" by Jefferson and by Adams as a suicidal form of government — minus the controls of an agreed-upon set of moral principles established and maintained by an incorruptible and ever-vigilant judge may, at first blush, have great beauty. It seems to create a government acutely responsive to the needs of its people, one whose systems and goals can change quickly to meet evolving circumstances. It seems to have no need for the impediments and fustian of morality that flows from an evolved vision of man as a flawed creation struggling toward, but never quite achieving, the perfection of heaven. It promises satisfactions of corporeal wants in the here and now, since for such a government and its creatures the hereafter is not a consideration. And since it is not, there are no constraints whatever on the actions any such government might take "for the greater good."
Theft is easily justified. Many have less while some have more. Without agreement on the moral value of protection of private property, it can be confiscated and distributed to the general public to, as a well-known politician recently had it, "spread the money around."
Supression of thought is equally simple: whip up a quick election in which a select group participates, and claims they are "oppressed" or "frightened" by the appearance of certain ideas. Failing that, simply claim a popular "mandate" for the protection of favored groups. Approval in hand, set about censoring any non-approved expressions with the zeal of Savanarola; those doing so will become Heroes of the Movement, those who demur, fresh targets. College audiences are perennial favorites for this sort of nonsense. They are easily gulled and have been conditioned by years of indoctrination to swallow drivel without protest.
Proscription of targeted groups is easy: Claim that their members suborn the safety, prosperity, mental well-being or other assets of the general public or protected groups — women, for example. Then set about removing them from society, always using rules and laws established through democratic means, of course. When they are out of the public eye, less fastidious means can be used to assure they do not return.
If any of this sounds familiar, it should. The past few decades in our country have witnessed an unremitting weakening of the universal and eternal foundations of its government and their replacement with props that are ephemeral, unstable and based only on popularity. The entire edifice is now built on sand, and if the status quo ante is not soon restored it will collapse, taking its protections with it.
And we will regret our foolishness when it goes.
Morgan Liddick writes a regular column for the Summit Daily News.
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