Government Under the Law

October 27, 2008

Government Under the Law

Most Americans, and other Westerners, claim to value a government under the law. But to what law do they refer? This law could be a law the government sets for itself, but then the statement would be meaningless: even a despotism is likely to have some standard procedures, yet no one would consider such a government to be under the law. Indeed, such a system does not strictly fit the statement, for the government would be simultaneously over and under the law, rather than purely under it. Thus, the government cannot be the source of this law.

Perhaps, then, this law is a law set by the people, yet unique to the government. But following this standard, any representative government (directly or indirectly) would be under the law, for the people in those circumstances establish a law for the government, but that law may yet be highly mutable. The Athenian admirals were executed in consonance with the laws established by the Athenians, yet few would consider the Athenian ochlarchy to be government under the law. Really, this is naught but a special case of the first instance, where the government sets the law; for in a representative, the people are the government, and thus no law alterable (or even once established and then immutable) by the people can base a government under the law.

Thus the law under which a government under the law operates comes not from the government, nor from the people. Whence else can it come? If from some external, active source, merely considering that source of law to be the government restores the objection. Thus, the law must be eternally immutable, existing outside any human agency: the natural law. A government under the law means a government under the standards of human rights established in the essential order of the universe.

Government under the law and rule by law compared

This definition of government under the law dissatisfies some, for it describes a government where the laws accord with natural law, but in which men may still rule. Should we not seek a form of government in which laws and not men rule? No, for it is impossible. Government under the law is possible, if difficult to attain and to maintain; rule of law cannot exist. Only that possessed of agency can truly rule, and agency is to God and his rational creations alone; to say that anything else rules is merely to inaccurately say that men rule in accord with laws. But they are under no necessary compulsion to do so. If a judge judges by whim, and not by law, what power has the law to punish him? Only another ruler, a man and not a law, can do so, and that ruler is either under the authority of another man or is a law unto himself. What legislator, legislating from inclination and contrary to the Constitution, has been struck by lightning emanating from the violated article? To ask the question is absurd, for parchment cannot act.

Government under the law is a condition of government, transient with each new law and each new judicial decision, and not a form of government. No form of government can assure adherence to natural law by elevating laws above men; we must only seek that form most likely to uphold natural law.

A Defense of Reason

October 18, 2008

Reason as the sole organ of understanding

Reason, that organ whereby man relates one proposition to another, is the only original means whereby he can attain understanding. Reason is sovereign above a man’s thoughts; all that he believes must first be accepted as justified by his reason. In saying this I do not claim that all men undergird all their beliefs with a chain of reason sufficient unto properly justified belief by the standards of the philosopher, for they may accept a belief on insufficient grounds, but at all times the justification must be sufficient to their reason. Sensory observation, special revelation, faith–all may contribute valuably to the conclusions of reason alone, but they are grounded in reason, for it is by reason that man deems these credible sources of beliefs.

Reason as self-evidently reliable

Some have objected that our reason is fallen, with our will, and therefore unreliable. The antecedent I grant, but the consequent I deny as a non-sequitur. Let us assume that the reason be not reliable, and discover how far we can proceed. Were the reason unreliable, whence might we learn anything? Calvin suggests the Bible, and special revelation. But is it not an act of the reason, antecedent to our acceptance of the Bible, whereby we declare it to be reliable? Were the reason unreliable, how could we know that our acceptance of the Bible, and not the Koran, is correct? He who holds reason to be unreliable cannot condemn another who has turned to a different source of understanding. I do not suggest that it is possible to attain right doctrine in any but the most general sense without turning to special revelation, but reason is the foundation of our acceptance of special revelation. Kierkegaard suggests faith. But in elevating faith above reason, does he not justify himself by the use of reason? Thus, it is by reason that he concludes that what seems impossible ought to be preferred to what seems obvious, and so reason grounds faith. Faith may profitably build upon reason, advancing beyond the scope of what is knowable by reason unaided, but it always extends from a base of reason; it can never contradict or act without reason. Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος; were reason unreliable, then must also be all else, and man is condemned to total doubt. To deny the reliability of reason is to deny the possibility of belief.

Reason as the mediator of God’s revelation

I do not claim that God deserves no credit for our approach to truth, for he is sovereign above our thoughts as above all else. However, God does not always act immediately, but is often mediated through his creation. God is the lord of the storm; do we thus deny that the cloud brings rain? God is the lord of the harvest; do we thus deny that the sun and the rain cause plants to grow? No, for God’s bringing of the rain is mediated through the cloud, and God’s raising of the plants is mediated through the rain and sun. Thus is God the lord of our thoughts, but through the mediation of our reason, his chosen organ for the attainment of understanding.

Pax Americana

October 18, 2008

Entering the term “Pax Americana” in Google produces 433,000 results. Some use the term in derision; too many in approbation. While our politicians have not endorsed the term, many have embraced the concept of a global peace enforced by the United States. Yet let us look at the antecedent of all this, the Pax Romana. Is such a hegemony a worthy goal?

The Pax Romana is a period of roughly 150 years, from 27 to 180 AD, in which the Roman Empire enjoyed a period of relative security. And for the citizens of Rome, this was certainly a period of prosperity and safety. No barbarians or wayward generals crossed the Rubicon; the emperors were, for the most part, good, at least relative to those of other times (at least if one omits consideration of Nero and Caligula). But the citizens of Rome were not the entirety of the world, and while many others shared the Roman Empire, few shared the Roman Peace and this “peace” was still a time of war and of oppression. This was the peace of Claudius’s legions as they conquered Britain; this was the peace of the one million civilian dead when Titus besieged Jerusalem; this was the peace of Boudica and the bloody suppression of her war for freedom: a time of peace for the rulers; a time of suffering for the ruled. But not even the rulers escaped unscathed, for they found it to be impossible to rule others while retaining their own virtue. For Rome this was a time of prosperity, but not the prosperity of Republican austerity: instead, this was the prosperity of “bread and circuses”, of decadence, of depravity. As the empire rose in might, as the Roman eagles spread across the world, the Romans forgot what it was to be Roman, forgot the ideals of citizen service, of governmental accountability, that had first built the prosperity of Rome, replacing them with spectacle, with handouts, with despotism. And thus, the Roman Empire fell, its foundations cut away by its final, superficial triumph.

So, what out we to expect from a Pax Americana? Peace in our time, perhaps. But not a peace of virtue, of mutual desire and mutual cooperation. Rather, a peace by war, and not even by the threat of war, but by the active use of war. And since this would a peace of force, of hegemony, let us not speak of ourselves as a global police force and of “making the world safe for democracy”. Justice is not to be found in violence, aside from the redress of specific wrongs. Furthermore, as our society comes to rely on war, the slave will become the master. Just as the Roman Republic could not grant the powers to its generals necessary for the latter to expand the empire without risking the ascension of those generals into supreme power, consummated first in the triumvirates and ultimately in the Caesars, we cannot expect to found a world order dependent on the military and still expect to retain control of that military. Let us remember that few men in the history of the world valued their form of government more highly than did the citizens of the Roman Republic, and yet the Roman Republic became the Roman Empire. Let us not feel so secure in our Constitution as to allow forces that must in time destroy that Constitution. Peace through force we may have; but if we desire a just or a lasting peace, let us look to cooperation and not antagonism.


October 18, 2008

I intend this to be a general blog on the old scholastic subjects of praxeology, ethics, and theology, both addressing theory and present conflicts. Before I post anything substantive, I thought that I would give some introduction to my general philosophical background.

I am, preeminently, a Christian. Most of what lies beyond this is the subject of future posts, rather than of this introduction, but I shall touch some salient points. I accept the complete inspiration of the Bible. I am neither a fideist nor a rationalist, believing that all proper conclusions of unaided reason and observation are correct, but also that there are some things that cannot be discovered by reason which we can learn from direct revelation. Thus, here I fall in line with the scholastics of the Middle Ages.

Epistemologically, I am neither a rationalist nor an empiricist. Men can derive true conclusions a priori, but can also extend that knowledge a postiori. However, data without the application of reason can teach us nothing. Thus, I here also align with the scholastics, rejecting the post-Renaissance dichotomy between rationalism and empiricism.

Ethically, I am deontological, believing that the consonant dictates of natural law and Biblical ethics. I do, however, believe in the consistency principle, that following deontological rules will best uphold men’s rightly understood interests. Thus, I do not feel a need to combat utilitarianism ethically (unless it specifies an improper standard for men’s interests) but only in regards to man’s ability to find the correct course of action by utilitarian methods.

Economically, I do not categorize neatly. My methodology is firmly individualist and subjectivist. I do not, however, align neatly with the Austrians, who are nevertheless closest to my position. With regard to conclusions, I deny the ability of any intervention in a marketplace free of coercion to improve outcomes.

Politically, I follow natural law human rights theory, specifically that men have a right to property that extends to their own body and faculties, and that the remaining body of rights extends from that foundation.