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February 2017 Policy Study, Number 17-2

   

A Commentary on the American Founding

   

Part 15

   

 

By contrast, our Founders understood the Law itself to be authority.  And they didn’t settle for just any old law, the pronouncements of elected officials or bureaucrats for instance.  They opted for the immutable “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”  And they perceived that no man was above this Law, including them.  When the Law is moral, consistent (unchanging or even subject to the whims of man), applied equally to all men, and individual men adhere to that law, a condition of true justice reigns.  Immutable Law is not a burden.  On the contrary, it is a blessing, in that it is for our own protection against the transgressions of all others.  Where men observe the Law, no king is necessary.  It is in this respect that the form of the government, which was bequeathed to us by our Founders, is so rare and inherently different from the republics of Greece and Rome.

 

One could continue to maintain that a civilization with no strong civil leader combined with everyone doing what he thinks best is a prescription for anarchy; but it needn’t be so.  Even with no king and everyone doing what he thinks is best, if everyone’s actions are moral and undertaken with due respect for the Law and the civil statutes it engenders, good social order, justice, and liberty will prevail.  How can this be so?  Actually, it is the only way it can be so.  We currently fail to recognize this because we are working from a false premise.  We believe that the laws (civil code) we enact will produce good social order and justice, and thus liberty.  What our Founders understood was that it was not law (civil code) that produced these results; but quite to the contrary, a just civil code was the result of a people that already abided in good social order because they carried an innate sense of true justice in their hearts.  And they believed that innate sense of justice was grounded in the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”

 

We have a choice.  We can either govern ourselves from the inside by having a conscience and complying with it by observing the moral law (“Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”); or we can be governed from the outside by relying on government to compel us to conform by dint of brute force.  And as we have seen, what government may compel us to do may or may not conform to the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”  This author is convinced that compliance with the “Laws of Nature’s God” is exactly the new form on which the experiment in self-governance was organized.  Our Founders believed that it was only upon these conditions that true liberty could prevail:  “This is a government designed for the governance of a moral people; it is wholly unfit for the governance of any other” (John Adams).

 

One must not conclude from this that our Founders were a group of hopeless Pollyannas.  They fully understood the human condition and knew well that all men would not respect the Law.  But they did expect that the overwhelming majority of the citizens of this new nation would.  Those who would not respect the Law, whether they were inside this nation or outside, were the reason for the new government. Its purpose was to “establish Justice” and thereby “secure the Blessings of Liberty.”  And the justice they proposed to establish was a moral justice, based on “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”  Their purpose wasn’t to make the individual morally upright through the use of government, for they realized that was beyond their power, not to mention beyond their authority.  Their resolve was to use government to prevent the moral transgressions of one individual, or many, upon any other.  When we live in a condition of the absence of the moral transgressions of others, we live in a condition of true liberty.  That is the purpose of all legitimate government.  There is a corresponding responsibility on our part, and that is granting to our fellow men the condition of living in the absence of our own moral transgressions.

 

Our Founders’ aspirations for us were high and very likely unobtainable in any absolute sense; but that should not disparage their intentions, nor should it discourage us from fervently pursuing their objective.  But why must we at this time continue to pursue our Founders’ objectives?  Wasn’t it bequeathed to us?  Yes, it was.  Then why don’t we have it now?  Because we have become remiss in our guardianship of this precious endowment over the intervening years.  We have allowed and possibly encouraged our government to revert to the character of government found in Greece and Rome.  And our character as a people is likewise reverting to the character of the citizens of those ancient governments.

 

   

 

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