Our American people are more divided today by moral philosophy and politics than they have been at any other time including the civil war. Both sides of the political spectrum know what they believe, but cares little about what those who differ from them believe. Furthermore, few on either side understand why they believe what they do.
What is the Natural Law? The classic definition refers to a “moral order inscribed in all of nature especially human nature, an order understood by all men by engaging faculties of reason, conscience, grace, and revelation”. This is the definition embraced by the philosophers of the Enlightenment. Many who were Christians, but others deists, agnostics or even atheists. Modern-day humanists embrace this meaning but leave out the ideas of conscience, grace, and revelation, which they feel, has a specific Judeo-Christian connotation. This idea was discussed by moral documents that proceeded the Torah like the Law of Hammurabi in ancient Mesopotamia,
The Torah itself, writings of the Stoics (stoicism is, in fact, the study of ethics) the Classic philosophers of antiquity—Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and expanded across the Mediterranean and the World with the Spread of Christianity. The Church fathers Augustine and Aquinas and into the reformation with Luther and Calvin all wrote extensively about the moral basis of right and wrong. Interestingly Luther discussed specifically how the Natural Law applied to “The Two Kingdoms” one civil and the other Spiritual. Because all men—believers and nonbelievers were made in God’s image, the Law was equally relevant to both groups, but the rationale for its application—reason vs conscience and revelation were different.
But today as I listen to our contentious political debates it seems like each side is using a different playbook, and we are. Abraham Lincoln recognized when he responded to a supporter during the darkest time of the civil war that “the issue was not if God was on our side, but whether we were on His side” Both sides in the civil war prayed to the same God. They believed in a similar process using the Natural Law to support their positions. The Natural Law can be used for good or evil depending on the motivations of those applying the Law we are all humans and because of our fallen nature are capable of great evils ourselves and we will go to great lengths to rationalize those evils.
This common belief in the Natural Law by different political factions seems to have been lost within my lifetime. In “The Age of Entitlement” by Christopher Caldwell it is argued that since the early 60’s three events have occurred that have changed our common rules of the game. The 1st was the student deferment for military service during the Viet Nam War. Young men of means with rich fathers could be deferred from risking their lives in a rice patty and instead chose to study art literature and sociology or studied “poly-sci” and received another 4-year deferment and became lawyers, thus creating an “entitlement or privileged class”.
I must say parenthetically that I know many lawyers in our state who went to war 1st and then went to law school. Soldiers coming back from Viet Nam were humiliated and made to feel ashamed. The “rich boys” who didn’t fight did not feel in any way responsible for losing that war. Prior to WWI, only 1 in 30 men attended College, but over 60% studied in what we today call STEM studies. By 1969 over 50% of men attended College but less than 10% graduated with a STEM major. After the 60’s a new class divide was created—college educated and “workers”
Second—and I can attest to this fact as my family has pictures of my Quaker grandmother marching in Philadelphia in support of the 19th Amendment, the principles of the women’s suffrage movement were substituted and displaced by the feminist women’s rights movement of the ’60s. The idea of the family as Charles Murray puts it, being “the place where the stuff of life occurs” was substituted with the idea of the “nanny state”, where children are early on placed in daycare centers and their moral and educational development is by people—teachers and counselors and baby sitters who are not members of the family and may have values very different from parents and other community members. The Family Advocacy Programs found in the military in the ’70s are now enforced in the private sector by employers of over 15 people regulated by government rules not legislated but enforced by bureaucratic fiat.
And finally, the social welfare state that evolved in the mid 60’s With The Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Medicaid, and other social network programs though important regarding their goals and aspirations, gave rise to a new bureaucratic state that has today exposed every aspect of social economic and political life to direction by government agencies and judges quite divorced from the legislative process.
So herein lies the rub. When the work of civil rights legislation and social programming became well ingrained in society, the rules and regulations that were used to implement these programs were made stronger by lifetime government bureaucrats. For example, affirmative action was never a consideration under The Civil Rights ACT nor was forced school busing. By institutionalizing these ideas not in legislative law but administrative law proponents of these actions are participating in a process completely foreign to our Founders. Unchecked powers have been given to an administrative State that are the antithesis of fairness and democratic principles.
This is what the “swamp” is all about.
So the two warring factions in our society have aligned themselves with two different sets of moral principles. Conservatives with a constitution based in The Natural Law and progressive socialists based on a new set of principles grounded in situational ethics and emotion and institutional bureaucratic fiat.
Because we no longer share a set of basic ethics based on The Natural Law, each political side will site a bases for their political philosophy on the standards that best serves their purposes. It would serve conservatives well to be grounded in what we believe and why we believe it. We believe in the natural law and if you are a Christian for reasons above reason alone. If you are a progressive socialist, you believe in the situational application of a moving set of principles that can be changed to the benefit of the believer and be applied indiscriminately in an “ad-lib” fashion.
Which position is more likely to be abused or leveraged for the selfish interest of a group? Which position is more likely to concentrate power? Which position is more likely to use coercion as a means of executing “its will”? I for one believe in the equal application of laws and for this, we need a moral standard outside our own self-interests. The Natural Law has been that standard for over 6000 years.
Weren’t our Founding Fathers brilliant?