Bayou Calvinist

A Somewhat Eclectic Discussion by a Law Student Concerning All of Today's Major Topics, as well as, a Few Not So Major Topics

Monday, July 11, 2005

Keeping Vigilant

There is little doubt that the once dominant political philosophy of America, liberalism, is a shell of its former self. Liberalism as a serious intellectual base for a grander political platform has largely been destroyed by the fall of communism, the seeming success of the Reagan Revolution and the movement by many liberal political leaders away from American military robustness during the same time that America is under direct attack from abroad. This collapse is most notable in the fact that there remains no American thinker of the left on par with the conservatives William F. Buckley, Irving Kristol, and Victor Davis Hanson which can both be taken seriously and is known to even a plurality of his/her likeminded compatriots. So, Conservative philosophy (as that term is understood in American politics) is at a height which it hasn’t seen in nearly a century. But one must remember that just 25 years ago, liberalism was in the same place. Everything looked on the up and up and Conservatism seemed destined to continue along its path towards complete irrelevancy. For this very reason, it is important that those who hold Conservative beliefs not become lazy in their success, confidant that liberalism is down for the count. Conservatives need to remain true to their ideas and not become weighed down by the excesses which always seem in a hurry to overwhelm those in power. Contemplating such dangers, I thought it would be interesting to post over several days those Conservative ideals which I feel are in the greatest danger of being diluted or even cast off unnecessarily in the near future if vigilance disappears.

Moral Foundation of Government: In today’s society many people look upon any politician with great suspicion if they purport to base any aspect of civil law and governance on the Divine Creator. Such politicians are called theocrats or puritanical. Liberals and very many Conservatives claim that such a politician is dangerous and hopes to force religious belief and/or worship down the throats of the un-consenting masses. The fact that all these people view a moral base for society as a danger is dangerous in itself. Conservatives must be willing to rebuild the confidence in the idea of a moral foundation for Government that once existed. At one point in time to proclaim that all rights and liberties come from God was to state the obvious. But when, as today, a President makes the observation that “freedom is not America’s gift to the world but rather the Almighty’s gift to all mankind” many rise up in opposition.
As Conservatives, we must attempt to conserve the understanding held at the founding of our place (of government’s place) in creation. The recognition that God (as found in the Declaration of Independence, official government proclamations, public prayers and the personal writings of the founders) is the basis of all things is not intended to be a club with which to beat unwilling citizens into submission. Instead, such a recognition is intended as a limit on the government’s subjugation of the individual. A limit to keep the government from overreaching in its exercise of its demigod-like status here on earth. In today’s mostly secular society any attempt at moving even back to this basic understanding will be fought at every level. For this reason it is important that conservatives clearly delineate between the correct understanding of Natural Law and the incorrect theocratic understanding. For if the later understanding is taken up as a Conservative value, then both it along with the much needed former understanding will be defeated.
The best way to make such a distinction is to look at the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (specifically the Establishment Clause), which reads in part:

Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

When correctly understood, this simple sentence will fulfill both Conservative understandings of the relation between the Creator and governance, without subjecting the opposition to the more theocratic practices which they rightly condemn. A recognition of a higher meaning than humanist notions of right and wrong is what America has always been about (“All people are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights”). By fighting for such an understanding of God’s place in society, conservatives may ensure that the government never reaches a point where it can justify based simply on a cost-benefit analysis the killing of certain of its citizens for the betterment of the remainder. By fighting for such an understanding, Conservatives may ensure that devout people of all faiths never (as did the Christians under Roman Rule prior to Constantine and later Protestant’s under Catholic dominion) have to choose between obeying civil law and obeying their conscience and their God. Government recognition of religion’s special place in society would also mean that no legislator would ever again be forced to fear that his/her legislation would be deemed unconstitutional based solely on the fact that one of their many considerations motivating the laws passage was religious in character.
Just as Conservatives must be certain to avoid falling into the atheistic trap of humanism which has ensnared so many, thus far, they must also avoid being tempted to follow the other extreme. One certain denomination or religion should not be supported over the others. Nor should an establishment of state practices peculiar to one religion be created through legislation or government coercion. While I understand that legal arguments, which have both rightly and wrongly interpreted the meaning of the Establishment clause, have been snagged by the question: exactly when does the promotion of religion in general become too specific? I would merely state that at the very least government should not be afraid to promote the practice of looking to the divine for guidance over unbelief. Where I think greater difficulty arises is whether the government should be allowed to promote monotheistic belief above say the polytheism of Hinduism. While I don’t believe the Establishment Clause would prohibit the government from specifically supporting monotheism, I would argue that such a promotion might not be necessary. The overall point is, that as Conservatives, the promotion of a moral basis for governance should be maintained and perhaps strengthened.

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