Friday, November 30, 2018

I Didn’t Expect To Post Even Twice Today...

     ...but here I am with a third piece for this last day of November.

     First, please view the video below. It’s quite short. (Feel free to stop when you get to the promo for D’Souza’s recent movie.)

     The conception of “a moral order in the universe” goes back many centuries. Indeed, the first monotheists, the Jews of Abraham’s time, did not accept the Ten Commandments because they sounded good, but because they reflect the way the world works. Disregarding any of them leads to calamity, and sometimes to social chaos in which even the most temperate and self-restrained persons, fully aware of their obligations and ready, willing, and able to meet them, will suffer.

     God was not telling the Jews of the Book of Exodus anything they didn’t already know. He was merely codifying principles of conduct their own experiences should have taught them. That there have been millions of persons who strove to break those laws and get away with it – some of whom did succeed, in this life anyway – does not invalidate the laws themselves.

     It is noteworthy that the Ten Commandments are merely a modest extension of the Noachide Commandments of the Book of Genesis. So in Biblical terms, the meat of the moral order of the universe has a lineage that extends rather far back toward Creation.

     D’Souza is quite correct in stating that prior to world War II, at least, Americans were near-unanimous in affirming that moral law exists outside the individual. Even the most corrupt, most sybaritic American would not have dared to say “Naah, the Ten Commandments are just some asshole’s opinions.” Even those who chafed at them and strove to violate them with impunity would at minimum give them lip service – and would teach his children to observe them.

     In recent decades even the most secular of intellectuals have found that there are damned good reasons for believing that there’s a moral order in the universe.

     Allow me to cite one of my favorite Ralph Waldo Emerson quotations yet again:

     You cannot do wrong without suffering wrong. Justice is not postponed...Every secret is told, every crime is punished, every virtue rewarded, every wrong redressed, in silence and certainty. [From Emerson’s essay Compensation ]

     And now allow me to extend it some distance:

     This Law writes the laws of the cities and nations. It will not be baulked of its end in the smallest iota. It is in vain to build or plot or combine against it. Things refuse to be mismanaged long....Though no checks to a new evil appear, the checks exist, and will appear. If the government is cruel, the governor’s life is not safe. If you tax too high, the revenue will yield nothing. If you make the criminal code sanguinary, juries will not convict....

     The ingenuity of man has always been dedicated to the solution of one problem - how to detach the sensual sweet, the sensual bright, etc. from the moral sweet, the moral deep, the moral fair; that is, again, to cut clean off this upper surface so thin as to leave it bottomless; to get a one end, without an other end....

     We can no more halve things and get the sensual good, by itself, than we can get an inside that shall have no outside, or a light without a shadow....

     Whilst I stand in simple relations to my fellow-man, I have no displeasure in meeting him. We meet as water meets water, or as currents of air mix, with perfect diffusion and interpenetration of nature. But as soon as there is any departure from simplicity and attempt at halfness, or good for me that is not good for him, his eyes no longer seek mine; there is war between us; there is hate in him and fear in me.

     There is genius in the above. There is a recognition and an acknowledgement that Law is at work – the kind of law that enforces its own decrees. Clearly such a law is not the product of any legislature. It certainly isn’t a matter of anyone’s opinion.

     Now for the Ace kicker: Despite the Law as Emerson has explicated it above, some persons do – seemingly, at least – succeed in detaching “the sensual sweet, the sensual bright, etc. from the moral sweet, the moral deep, the moral fair” and getting away with it. When we realize that someone has done so, it wounds us deeply. But why? Do we envy the successful criminal? Are we saying to ourselves, in the silence of our souls, “I wish that were me” -- ?

     Some might react thus. A minority, perhaps a tiny one. But for most of us, we sense that a Law beyond any legislature’s competence has been violated – and that our culpability in not ensuring its enforcement will, sooner or later, rebound against us.

     For Man is part of the natural order.
     We have a role to play in the enforcement of the Law.
     When we slacken, or look aside, we are complicit in such a violation.

     The above is important for more than one reason. It reinforces the dictates of our consciences. But beyond that, it teaches us of the importance of knowing where the law must end. It’s but a short step from the above observations to the law’s limits:

If a law cannot be effectively enforced,
It must not be passed.
A law already on the books that has proved unenforceable must be repealed.

     There are many unenforceable laws here in the Land of the Formerly Free. I shall leave the completion of this exercise in sociopolitical logic as an exercise for my Gentle Readers.

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