There are three interconnecting spheres to any and every society. The legal sphere, the moral sphere, and the ethical sphere. Every issue that comes about in society will reside in one, sometimes two, and sometimes in all three. The questions and answers as to why that is the case should lead to a much clearer thought process in approaching societal issues.
Murder would be immoral, justly illegal, and would be considered unethical in our society. Robbery, theft, and any other destruction of life, freedom, or property would be as well. These are obvious violations of natural rights, which are justifiably punished, whether that is on our own in a state of nature, or by us using the help of our agents in government.
Yet, there are issues where an action, such as an addictive habit, or even something involving personal hygiene, which only palpably affects the rights of the person making that choice. That choice may even may be completely immoral. Yet, we must be very careful and realize that that action cannot legitimately enter into the legal sphere of society.
That is not to say that there are no consequences for poor behavior and unwise decisions and habits. Obviously, every action has its attendant consequences. But since moral law is not dependent upon even our understanding of it for its existence, this is not a matter of consequences. The consequences exist with or without a government. Therefore, in terms of the legal sphere of matter, it is a matter of when consequences are justifiably imposed via government. When is it morally justified to take away the life, liberty, or property of someone else using government force? The better and more specific question that needs to be asked in a discussion on government is:
When is our fellowman accountable to us, via our agents in government, for the actions they take?
Since government’s sole proper function is the securing and protecting of rights, then it cannot be assumed into the equation of government that it is it’s role to punish all immorality. This is especially due to the fact that all actions that are immoral or unwise do not involve the palpable violation of the rights of other people.
This principle should be clearly seen on the subject of religion. What if a religious principle held by a specific denomination holds that even salvation itself, or life’s continued existence after “death,” is dependent upon a certain action, which action, if not taken, does not involve palpably harming another person’s rights? Can that denomination be justified in forcing the rest of society into compliance with that action? Even if that principle was truly as important as they claimed? The answer is, of course, no. That would violate the very rights that government’s very purpose it is to secure. The same principle outlined in this example should apply across the board, regardless of the issue.
To go more in depth as to a few of the reasons Why this is not the case is the subject matter of this article.
- The Moral sphere is universal, and unchanging.
We would do well to remember that it is not as if consequences do not have their own natural existence and effect. Moral Law simply exists. Natural Law simply exists. It is an unvarying set of laws with its specific causes, always leading to its specific effects. It exists independent of any particular person, let alone any legislative action!
Could any legislator, judge, or executive use government to change the fact that two and two equals four? Would two and two somehow not equal four, absent any government definition and/or regulation? Would anyone deny the natural consequences that would come to a person who believed that two and two equaled five, and attempted to become a master of mathematics before mentally correcting that flaw? What if that person was a government official defining the “legal” outcome of that equation as five, further adding confusion to society in the process?!
No. No. No. No. But why not?
Because Natural Law does not depend on Earthly governments for their existence! And, yet, governments do, in fact, depend on the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” for theirs!
In fact, our humanity itself is part of nature, and thus, since our unalienable rights are naturally a part of that humanity, it is not possible to separate the two, nor government’s proper relation to them! Even tyranny itself gives credence to the proper role of government by its abandonment, just as any counterfeit or perversion gives credence to the pure original.
This being understood, it is clear that, once again, this issue is not a matter of the existence of consequence. That is already self-evident. It is not as if someone who makes an immoral and unwise decision in a state of nature has no consequences. Therefore, we must be able to internalize the proper role of government before we can understand when it is justifiable to impose additional consequences on other people via the medium of government.
- The Legal sphere should be universal and strictly limited to the proper role of government, which must be based on the universal desire for freedom. Yet, it is also somewhat relative to a society’s understanding of the principles of freedom and their subsequent toleration for any abandoning of those very principles.
One reason that the founding fathers of the American system of government were able to be so genius in their design, is that they were humble enough to realize their own small place in the world. The world, so to speak, did not need them, and they realized that. Yet, they, of their own volition, sought to make it as easy as possible for each individual person to seek happiness for themselves. They saw that God was the one who had organized this Earth and all who are on it, and that, therefore, He was the one who, via the Laws of Nature, regulated conduct, including any government action. He was the being that mankind was accountable to for their actions, and not to themselves, or any other persons in government! They realized that this is what actually is and exists, and that that understanding is exactly what should be represented in a governmental system.
They saw the principles of human rights and duties as part of the principles of nature that He set out, and not something arbitrarily and positively created in the British legal system. They came to realize that rights came from God, and not ANY Earthly government! Otherwise, how great would be the folly of fighting for “rights” that came from the British system, by separating themselves from that very same legal system from which their rights had their supposed source?
They saw that rights and duties belong to the individual. That that individual’s rights were superior and antecedent to any Earthly government! Thus, they saw that every single individual person had value and had worth. They saw every individual, since they were all apparently worth God’s time to create and place on this Earth, as if they were equally valuable in the sight of God! That those individuals’ natural rights should thus be equally protected under any governmental system, and that every individual should have equal status and equal respect under the law! And how could a political philosophy based on that premise ever be considered radical, let alone its effects considered “selfish,” “impractical,” or even “unnatural”?
In fact, those that call America a “Christian” nation should probably define their terms. The author would agree with this assertion under the definition that he holds, and the understanding he currently has about the teachings of Jesus Christ. But that being said, the author would highly disagree with many of the political actions taken today in the name of “Christianity.” Yet, there is more to this point that deserves elaboration.
One of the most prominent themes in the accounts of Jesus Christ’s life was the principle that every individual has worth. He cared for everyone. He even cared enough to never force anyone to follow Him, even though under His divine claim, it would have been in their best interest for them to follow Him. He, thus, always respected the individual’s right to freedom to choose for him or her self. He always gave an open invitation to follow Him, and yet, it did not seem that he cared for the salvation of his followers any more than those who did not choose to follow Him. The man, who, on the cross for the sins of mankind, begged His God to forgive the very people who were literally crucifying him at the time, due to the lack of understanding He perceived in them about the magnitude of insanity and potential condemnation that drenched what they were doing.
The author feels that many of the Founding Fathers of America were filled with a spirit of humility and that they had not only perceived this understanding, but deeply cared enough to attempt to create a system that would respect the individual person as much as humanly possible. A system that would rather see a guilty man walk free than an innocent man punished. Thus, a system that assumed God as the ultimate judge, and not mortal man. A system that respected the right of the individual to pursue their own happiness in their own way, as long as that individual, in their course, did not palpably infringe on another’s ability to do so. If that is done in the name of Jesus Christ, or any other religious figure, or even no religious figure at all, the effect is the same and the cause is worthy of endorsement and support.
We must remember that, in the end, governments are run by men, just as fallible and human as those whom they represent. Society does not, in any way, exist outside its individual members. Government officials are not made of a more quality clay than the rest of mankind just because they somehow convinced enough support for their election. They, as government officials, have no rights outside of their own individual rights, and their support should go to none other than the support and enforcement of the rights and duties of the persons whom they represent! Government’s sole role, as outlined in the Declaration of Independence is to help secure and protect rights, and nothing more. It is to help mankind in their own personal journey, and not to mold it for them! It is to help mankind better seek God’s will for them, and not to dictate to man what a few men, or even a majority of men, feel is best for them!
So…why do government officials desperately define, let alone attempt to regulate, everything under the sun? Would the universe somehow not function on its own, as it had previous to that particular government, without that government defining and regulating it? Are human beings, somehow, not part of that universe? Does Mother Earth somehow depend on human bureaucrats as the source of her power? Is she without effect absent any human legislation?
The author can think of no one that would claim enough knowledge to run the natural world, including that of mankind. And thus, there is complete wonder as to why there are so many pompous and presumptuous representatives and bureaucrats, all over the world, that seem to think that they can?! In fact, what folly is it that would lead to the thinking that mankind is too dumb and ignorant to make their own choices for themselves in their own respective lives, and yet, they are smart enough to not only create and/or sustain a governmental system, but to elect the very people who are then, somehow “needed”, for that regulatory purpose?! In other words, how can the people that are too “dumb” to run their own lives be so naturally capable to democratically elect the people that are better able to run their lives for them?
Very often an argument is made against those that desire less government that is very fallacious. Often people will say that if people don’t want the government to do it, they must not want it to be done at all! If one is against “‘free’ public schools,” they, of course, must dislike education and not care for the children, right??
This fallacious mindset may even lead one to confuse between what is illegal and what is immoral. Even if a king decreed that everyone’s firstborn child is to be killed, although that action may be clothed in the robes of legality, could that ever be in harmony with natural law? Could that ever be moral? Once again…even if it were “legal”?
We must realize the moral implications of government action. We must remember that government action involves an element of force that must be kept within proper bounds. The proper bounds are already naturally set by the fundamental natural rights and duties of the individuals that makeup society itself. The proper bounds are already set by Nature, and it is folly to ignore that fact any longer!
- The Ethical sphere is relative to the society under consideration.
Although morals do not change and are not relative, what a society considers to be moral must needs be considered relative. Just a look around the world’s various cultures and even the history of mankind itself should show that this is the case. What is often considered rude in one culture, can even be heartily endorsed in another.
Yet, could there ever be a time when cold-blooded murder is a good moral action? Even if a society ignores this fact, and some violent society sees murder, or even human sacrifice, as ethical, it could never be considered moral. Therefore ethics are relative to the society under consideration, while moral law exists independently of any society, and is as consistent in its makeup as it is universal in its application to all of mankind.
The Three Spheres of Society, and the Need for Humility in Approaching Issues in Society
Well, it must be admitted that the picture above could, to be more accurate, be depicted somewhat differently. Since every law has a moral backing, even if it is in rejection of the universal morality surrounding human rights and the universal desire for freedom, the three spheres could not be equal in size. Although, the question still stands:
When does behavior legitimately enter into the legal sphere of a society?
All that it will take to answer this question is to reiterate the entire purpose of government. When someone violates the rights of others, the medium of government is justifiably used to enforce the violator’s natural duty to that individual whose rights were violated. That duty will, of course, be that specific respective violated rights’ corresponding duty! (Of course, you can’t legitimately enforce the duty associated with the right of travel against someone who has harmed the exercise of a right that is not that of travel). Whether government is simply a means for reparation, and/or a means of punishment, the reaction is principally the same. Thus, for an activity to even be considered potentially criminal, there must needs be a victim whose person, freedom, knowledge, or property was palpably harmed in some way.
So, does that mean that anything that doesn’t fit into the legal sphere can safely be assumed to be a good moral action?
Of course not. Their are plenty of destructive, negative, and immoral things people can do that do not legitimately enter the legal sphere. That is simply of a fact of life that should be recognized. Some may call that naive to consider. But the author asserts that to hold any other guiding legal principle is naive, and must needs be contrary to the entire purpose of government. In fact, where would the line be drawn logically, if it is NOT to be drawn around the equal rights found so obviously in the Laws of Nature? Do we honestly consider ourselves smart enough to think of an alternative to the thinking surrounding the rights that have come as a result of Divine Providence??
A perfect example of this is found in the concept of duties themselves. There are layers to the concept, yet, there is only one type of duty that is legitimately enforceable by our fellow mortal man! There can be more added to this, but it boils down to two differing aspects of the concept of duty:
1) Duty to Self
2) Duty to Others
The Duties to Self are enforced by natural consequences themselves, while Duties to Others are legitimately enforced when not fulfilled, due to the palpable harm it has on the rights of others! The difference between these is a great example of difference between the moral and the legal spheres of society.
For example, A person not only has a right to self defense, but they have a duty to prepare to exercise that right, as well as a duty to exercise it when the situation calls for it! What practical good is the right to self defense if one is unprepared to exercise it, and may not even understand that right and the limits to its legitimate extension, to say nothing of actually exercising it? One not only has the right to self-government, but they have the duty to exercise it! Therefore, every right has a duty to self, or a responsibility to self, that relies merely on the individual, and which consequences can be pinned solely on the individual.
The second aspect, or the Societal Aspect of Duties, involves other people. One may have the right to self-government, but they have a duty to respect everyone else’s right to the same, and everyone else has a duty to respect theirs.
As another example, if we have all hired, if you will, a sheriff to aid us in our self-defense, then it is the duty of us all to aid him in his lawful public service, pay for his service, and also to support him should he need help in that end!
So, out of the two aspects of duties, which one is enforceable??
That was a trick question, of course. Since they are both enforceable, what is the real question.
By whom are they enforceable??
You see, duties to self, cannot be legitimately enforced by our fellow man on our fellow man, due to the lack of palpable harm it does to another person and the exercise of their rights! When someone neglects their rights’ attendant duty to other people, or the societal aspect of duties, it harms them in a way that is justifiably repaired with, if desired, the aid of government force.
But, hopefully the reader caught the fact that the duties to self are, in fact enforced! Just because people are not justified in attempting to force others to fulfill their duties to self “for their own good” does not mean that they aren’t enforced! Just because government is not the proper medium for this enforcement does not mean that it is not done at all! (And honestly, it should be seen how dangerous a philosophy it would be to support a government that is attempting to save the people from themselves! Not only is the subjective nature of those in power dangerous, but the subjective and relative nature of the people themselves and their view of what is best for mankind is also equally dangerous! In fact, where is the logical end to what government can do once this premise is accepted?!)
So how are Duties to Self enforced?
Well, in fact, we call them consequences. They are the natural consequences from our actions, or lack of actions, whatever the case may be. They are, then, enforced by the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God. Thus, as hopefully it was noticed, the duties to self reside in the moral sphere of society! Not the legal sphere! That is the fact, even if ethically society has lost that point. Since it does not affect the rights of other people, but merely affects the exercise of rights of the person unfortunately choosing not to fulfill that duty, their is no activity that is justifiably punished via government force. That is not to say that it doesn’t affect other people, but that is to say that it doesn’t violate their rights.
To bring in the ethical sphere, hopefully it is already recognized that our Duties to Self should be exercised by people, even if ethically, it has become unpopular. Since ethics often steer the lobbying for what is often termed “moral” legislation, we should notice the trends and definitely recognize our moral duty to exercise our rights! Just because it is starting to be ethically less popular to carry a gun openly, and even in public, should not dissuade somebody from exercising that right! In fact, it should motivate someone to! The same would go for protests, boycotts, petitions, and any other rights that, as time goes on, tends to be associated with being “radical” and even “unpatriotic.” The trends in history have shown that the exercise of rights when found unpopular in a society, are often infringed by the government of that society, as that government begins to take shape around that moral state of the people themselves!
To state a point that should be noted once again: it is not as if government is the only means of action in society. Activism, educating, boycotting, association, missionary work as well as any other means based on persuasion would be appropriate in this context. And, in fact, why would these “moral crusaders” want it any other way?
The way people have been politicizing their christianity as of late makes me wonder why Jesus didn’t just spend his time in Rome and at the Council lobbying to enforce his moral measures on everyone else! For their own Good, right!? But the fact is, Jesus Christ did not spend his time lobbying in Rome, or even at the Council, for government force to be used to get people to do what is supposedly in their best interests. His method was persuasion, and invitation. And why should it be any other way?
In fact, there is deeper moral principle here that should be expounded elsewhere. Notice that Jesus condemned many people who were supposedly living the commandments, due to the hypocrisy of their intent. It was not enough to merely live the commandments, if the entire purpose for doing so was lost in the process. That being said, why would force not be considered one of the disqualifying factors for a supposedly “moral” action. If force is involved in the equation, how can an action be considered truly moral? They were forced to do it. They did not actively choose for themselves to do it.
Thus, I refer back to a point made earlier in this article. The founders had humility and a more heavenly perspective and understanding of the honor and respect God and/or nature bestows upon the individual. This was a foundation, from which they created such a brilliant legal system. Should we not expect to need a similar mindset to attain the same results today? Or is this the one exception from the laws of cause and effect?
Once the line is crossed from a negativistic, or reactionary, government that merely protects rights and enforces duties by being a means of repair and that of punishing crime and, thus, prevents injustice, towards being a government that can run and regulate personal habits, or somehow “promote” justice itself, or promote a “morality” outside of the moral issues dealing with the legal principles of freedom, then there is no logical line in the sand for what can be considered “legitimate” government action!
At that point, inevitably, society will become a battleground of the factions! This group fighting that group! That group fighting this group! Government becoming more accurately compared to the ball in a game of football, with each team attempting to gain control of it! Justice will be perverted in the process, as the exercise of rights for everyone will be then threatened by the very institution set up to protect those very rights. The law books will then become a pawn in what would then become the “game” of society itself. The seeds of discord have then become sown. It is only a matter of time before government becomes a government of starvation!
But, ultimately, it is entirely up to us.