The Rhymes of History
April 21, 2014 6 Comments
This is going to be a two or three-part series, and it’s not going to have many laughs in it. What we are going to talk about is the manifest overreach of the federal government, in especially the last few years. We are also going to dispassionately (mostly) compare it to a similar time some 240 years ago, in the 1770s. We’ll start this morning with some discussion about what the Founders were thinking in those days. So, let’s begin.
And so, Sen. Harry Reid thinks that Cliven Bundy and those with him the other week are domestic terrorists. I suppose he is entitled to his opinion, and we’ll come back to that.
It seems to me that we are starting to tread on ground that we haven’t covered in about 240 years. Yes it may be that serious. And so we need to review the basics. America was founded above all to reclaim the liberties afforded to all freeborn Englishmen, and because of when the settlement happened, we inherited them at their zenith. In fact, in 1775, Edmund Burke said this:
Let the colonies always keep the idea of their civil rights associated with your government-they will cling and grapple to you, and no force under heaven will be of power to tear them from their allegiance. But let it be once understood that your government may be one thing and their privileges another, that these two things may exist without any mutual relation – the cement is gone, the cohesion is loosened, and everything hastens to decay and dissolution. As long as you have the wisdom to keep the sovereign authority of this country as the sanctuary of liberty, the sacred temple consecrated to our common faith, wherever the chosen race and sons of England worship freedom, they will turn their faces towards you. The more they multiply, the more friends you will have, the more ardently they love liberty, the more perfect will be their obedience. Slavery they can have anywhere. It is a weed that grows in every soil. They may have it from Spain, they may have it from Prussia. But until you become lost to all feeling of your true interest and your natural dignity, freedom they can have from none but you. This is the commodity of price, of which you have the monopoly. This is the true Act of Navigation, which binds to you the commerce of the -colonies, and through them secures to you the wealth of the world. Deny them this participation of freedom, and you break that sole bond which originally made, and must still preserve, the unity of the empire. Do not entertain so weak an imagination as that your registers and your bonds, your affidavits and your sufferances, your cockets and your clearances, are what form the great securities of your commerce. Do not dream that your Letters of office, and your instructions, and your suspending clauses are the things that hold together the great contexture of this mysterious whole. These things do not make your government. Dead instruments, passive tools as they are, it is the spirit of the English communion that gives all their life and efficacy to them. It is the spirit of the English constitution which, infused through the mighty mass, pervades, feeds, unites, invigorates, vivffles every part of the empire, even down to the minutest member.
And it seems that history does at least rhyme, because we may have come again to that point.
And so, we find ourselves doing the same things as the founders did, studying the writing of the great philosophers of antiquity as we attempt to discern the way forward. And inevitable after watching the confrontation in the Nevada desert, we gravitate to St. Thomas Aquinas, and his just war theory, in Summa Theologica, he writes of the just causes of war, to wit.
First, war must occur for a good and just purpose rather than the pursuit of wealth or power.
Second, just war must be waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state.
Third, peace must be a central motive even in the midst of violence.
Which is all very well, but leaves us with the conundrum of the “properly instituted authority, such as the state”.
The School of Salamanca expanded on his work in this area thusly:
In self-defense, as long as there is a reasonable possibility of success. If failure is a foregone conclusion, then it is just a wasteful spilling of blood.
Preventive war against a tyrant who is about to attack.
War to punish a guilty enemy.
Which sheds a bit more light, with the introduction the term tyrant.
We often have trouble when arguing in the English-speaking world when we work from sources connected with the Catholic church, for all their learning which is immense and very useful, there is also a dichotomy. The Church is properly called The Roman Catholic Church, and it is no misnomer. That is in no way meant to be a disparagement of the church, but since the empire itself, Roman law has always had the principle that the state is the giver, the top of the pyramid, if you will.
In the English-speaking world, which developed from the old north German tribes (Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and others) who migrated to England after the Roman period and never owed allegiance to the empire we have another model. In our history the government has always been the creation of the people, and the government, the servant of the people. This is the thread of which we have spoken so many times that runs from King Alfred’s Charter to, Magna Charta, on to the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution and the English Bill of Rights, and continued on this side of the Atlantic with the American Revolution (which many see as a reprise of the English Civil War) and finally the Constitution and its attendant Bill of Rights.
That is a very long way of saying that the people are sovereign and may set up their government as they please. And that gives us the properly instituted authority, that Aquinas demands, the people are the highest authority, in our world.
Even the law codes reflect this, in the Roman world we hear such terms as the Justinian Code and the Code Napoleon, which signify law written from scratch by the ruler and imposed on the populace. But in our world we have the Law of the Land, by which we usually mean the Common Law, and it reflects what we have said, instead of being imposed by the ruler, it has been built one case at a time over the centuries, by the people themselves, and their needs.
The clearest manifestation of the difference is in this. In most of Europe it is assumed that you can do most anything if you get the permission of the government. In the UK and even more in America it is assumed you can do anything you please unless it is specifically prohibited by law. It is a very big difference, isn’t it?
That’s all fine and good, but do we have the individual right to resist the government. In some ways that is a question that you have to answer for yourself, but if we go back to St. Augustine we’ll find that while he considered self-defense to be a bit sub-optimal, he did recognize it and further recognized a right to defend the weak and/or defenseless. He recognized that one could be faithful to God and still be a soldier, although it could at times present a decided dichotomy between obedience to God and obedience to the state. In the last analysis, you’re going to have to talk it over with God.
That’s the general background that supported the Revolution, and would have to be satisfied to justify another one. Echoing everyone who ever thought about this Thomas Jefferson said this in the Declaration of Independence:
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security..
So we need to think long and hard before doing anything like that, and make sure we can’t do it peacefully. But of course, it’s not entirely up to us either.“
In our next post, we will analyze the confrontation between Cliven Bundy and the BLM.