Every law has a moral backing. There is no way around this fact. Every law either forbids or compels action to all those to whom it applies. The enforcement thereof will always require the punishing of those who do not obey by depriving them of life, freedom, or property. Once this is realized, the deep moral implications behind the passing and enforcement of law should be extremely apparent.
Therefore, the process of determining civil government’s role in society is essentially the determination of what moral code will be enforced on society as a whole. The fact that statutes/laws are applied to people via government force and coercion adds a further moral dilemma to the existence of civil government at all. Thus stems this fundamental question that must be asked of everyone:
What set of moral rules is justifiably enforceable against every person, regardless of any other separating and distinctive variable they have and/or claim?? (i.e., religious denomination, or lack thereof)
The dilemma of government is succinctly pointed out by H. Verlan Andersen when he stated:
“A government which pretends to be just to all must see to it that the code of morality expressed by its laws is properly enforceable against everyone. With the exception of infants and mental incompetents, everyone is expected to conform to the laws or suffer punishment. But unless each member of society believes the conduct which the law prohibits to be evil, and that which it commands to be good, some will be punished for doing that which they sincerely consider to be right while others will be compelled to do that which they regard as wrong. This violates our sense of justice and the only solution is to find a moral code which is known and accepted by all people. But does such a code exist?”
H. Verlan then goes on to state that:
“The position taken herein is that there is a code of moral behavior which may with justice be enforced against all people regardless of the age or country in which they live. This code is based upon the universal need and desire for freedom. While people differ widely in their objectives, everyone wants to be free to achieve his own, whatever they may be. Everyone wants those elements of freedom – life, liberty of action, property and knowledge – without which no objective can be reached.
Not only does each desire to possess these elements, but each is keenly aware of what injures them and considers such actions harmful and evil when committed. Even during infancy and youth we condemn that which injures our bodies, restricts our movements, deprives us of our property and corrupts our knowledge. With respect to those possessions which are necessary to the exercise of freedom, we all have essentially the same moral code: that which denies or injures them is evil and wrong; that which provides, protects and preserves them is good.
When the laws of a nation conform to this universal moral code, they will be respected and upheld because they suit the paramount need and desire of all people. But when they deviate from it, contention and strife are bound to arise because this is the only standard of moral behavior which is known and accepted by all men. In essence this universal moral code is nothing more nor less than the Christian’s GOLDEN RULE which, according to Holy Writ, ‘is the law and the prophets.'”
People tend to get lost in the noise of so-called “politics,” and forget that freedom, in and of itself, is the moral issue. The moral issue surrounding freedom itself is the overarching concept behind good government. In fact, the ultimate civic virtue to be codified in the societal structure itself is the concept of individual rights and freedom. That was the whole purpose of creating civil government to begin with.
Another way of looking at this is to ask yourself which moral code that you apply in your own life would be justifiably enforced against other people via your agents in government. For example, if you ask your conscience, is there not a pretty big gap in terms of the expectation of enforcement between the moral premise to not murder, rob, or steal, and the moral premise to abstain from coffee, tobacco, and to watch “R” rated movies?
Notice the principle difference between the two? One set of examples extend to other people’s rights/freedom and is Malum in Se (“wrong in itself”) while the other is contained within one’s own personal idea of the same as it applies to themselves. Remember, if this concept is not the truth, what was the point of someone like Jesus Christ teaching the Golden Rule at all? If you wouldn’t want someone’s seemingly “arbitrary” standard for right/wrong behavior outside of the violation of someone else’s rights to be applied to you…then how could you reasonably expect someone else to accept the same coming from you or your favorite legislator?
We should probably re-visit the concept of the Golden Rule and apply this more fully in the social sciences, including politics, or “the science of government.” What could possibly be found as wrong in allowing others the freedom you desire for yourself and your own pursuit of happiness. In other words:
“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
This is a good way to notice for yourself that there is a general morality to all of mankind. No one desires to be murdered, robbed, or enslaved, even if there is room for debate on the ethics behind the consumption of alcohol, or the use of certain words in someone’s vocabulary. This general morality naturally surrounds the universal desire for freedom, and the rights of mankind.
In fact, it is this general morality which is actually most relevant to the issue of government. One of the biggest ironies concerning most of the debates in the so-called “mainstream” of political thought is that they often merely focus on the intricacies of the various modes of particular morality. They act as if these things are assumed relevant when it comes to government action just for existing, without any mention of other avenues in society for expressing views and promoting causes.
Even Paul the apostle speaks of the differing spheres of God’s law. One which involved more particular forms of righteousness was revealed to Israel from God, while one general set was given to even the Gentiles “which have not the law,” and which they follow due to the fact that “the work of the law [is] written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness” of what is wrong and what is right when it comes to their actions effecting other people. (Romans 2:14-15)
It should be no surprise that this understanding of a general morality was echoed by the founding fathers themselves. Remember that in the Declaration of Independence, it states that “to secure…Rights governments are instituted among men.” Not to promote a particular form of morality or religious principles via government force, but to codify and help enforce the universal moral code surrounding the desire for freedom. Everything else was supposed to be up to individuals in society using their freedom to promote whatever they desired in a voluntary way.
Now, this is not to say that all beliefs are objectively created equal. But, in order for our nation to restore its fundamental premises, people must understand that the question with government is not whether or not there are consequences for certain beliefs, actions, or lifestyles. There is, of course, Natural Laws which trumps any belief, desire, or government decree. The question of government is when is it moral and legitimate to use force against your fellow human beings? When are they legitimately accountable to you via your agents in government?
We must remember the words of Thomas Jefferson when he stated that: “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
To accept any other standard than this for legitimate government action would be to render an arbitrary standard that is liable to the whims of the most organized and/or supported groups in society, regardless of the merits of their demands. It would be, in the logical extreme, to accept the premise that murder, slavery, and thievery somehow magically transform into legitimate actions once clothed in the robes of legality. All of this in the name of a particular form of morality that is promoted via the medium of government.
Think about it. If you cannot, as an individual, morally force your neighbors to act/believe in a certain way due to mere preference, or any particular moral standard, and not as a response to any infringements on their rights, then how could you ever delegate “authority” to government agents to do this in your behalf? Government receives all legitimate authority from the people themselves. Thus, any action not so constituted and directly derived from the authority of the people is merely abuse of power, and an act of usurpation.
We, as a people, must remember, learn and understand the true and natural concept of crime, or Corpus Delicti. This is when it becomes clear as to how government force helps to protect rights, and how we can judge whether or not it is infringing on them. Essentially, this is found in the understanding of the difference between government punishing crime, and government perpetuating crime.
If this is forgotten, the beginning of the end is here in terms of having a good government in harmony with its proper role. As was pointed out by H. Verlan Andersen, whenever government oversteps those bounds, “contention and strife are bound to arise.” Consider the possibility of your government, instead of representing a force to help protect your rights, becoming a vehicle for oppressing them or, at best, representing a particular moral code that differs from your own. Why should you support such government? In fact, why should anyone?
Whenever any statute deviates from this simple and limited path, government itself becomes a battlefield for factions to attempt to get the upper hand at the expense of other people. After that, the statute books, the courts, the tax code, and the particular morality of any person in the executive becomes subject to a battle that should never have entered into public policy to begin with.
A faction is defined by James Madison, the Father of the Constitution as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” It is essentially a special interest group.
James Madison, in Federalist No. 10, notes the danger that “the violence of faction” can be to the existence of any government or public counsel. The Father of the Constitution then notes the two methods for “curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects.“ Madison continues and points out that it is impossible and immoral to forcibly remove the causes of faction. Therefore, we are left to the latter cure; “that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects.”
And what are the effects, of which we should be protecting ourselves? They are any attempt to use the force of government to benefit themselves at the expense of others. Any attempt to use the government to get the upper-hand against any other person or group. Regardless of how large the majority is, or how organized the minority is, neither of these types of situations can justifiably compromise the entire purpose behind having a civil government in the first place. (It is in this context that the issue of the differences between a true Republic, and a democracy becomes extremely important. See here)
We, the people, must be vigilant in assuring proper government action, and never allow it to become a democratic vehicle for a battle of the factions. To paraphrase the great political economist Frederic Bastiat, the State should never become the means by which people benefit at the expense of other people.
We should champion the Universal Desire for freedom as the moral code to be enshrined in our laws. We should never lose sight of the general morality that is the basis to such a standard, and never be tempted to succumb or take part in any attempt to use government to enforce anything more or less than that. We should respect those Rights that come from a higher source than any earthly government we could ever appoint and design, and never use any bromide or far-fetched hypothetical to attempt to justify the abandonment of this standard.
Always remember that whenever this abandonment of correct principle occurs, (especially if it becomes a perpetual problem), the government begins to act contrary to its entire purpose for existing. It is at this point that the people have a right and duty to alter or abolish such government. It is not about right or left. It is about right and wrong. It is about personal freedom and tyranny.
But, ultimately, it is entirely up to us.