James Madison wrote that, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
This famous statement captures the strong distaste that the Founders had for government authority.
This distaste is reflected in the Declaration of Independence, and remains American doctrine to this day.
It is a manifestation of liberalism, born during the Enlightenment, and it is incorrect on almost every level.
For one thing, if men were angels then they would have more government, not less. After all, angels stand perpetually in the face of the almighty and wait with anticipation to do his bidding. They are governed absolutely, and exist in a grand hierarchy.
Really the only angels that would agree with Madison’s statement—the only angels that think they need no government—are the angels in Hell. The loyal angelic host knows better; it knows that true freedom lies in submission to Truth and Light. Heaven abhors anarchy.
The Founders went wrong by conceiving of government as a necessary evil, brought about only by human sin.
If men were only virtuous enough, so they thought, then humanity could be completely free from authority, ruled by no one but their own private versions of happiness.
This error multiplied into many. Take the following section from the Declaration of Independence: “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
This makes two liberal statements about human government. First, it says that government exists primarily to secure individual rights. Second, it says that government derives its power from the will of the people.
When the singular purpose of government is reduced to “mediator of individual rights,” it becomes impotent in regard to all things that really matter.
Justice, goodness, beauty, wisdom, and morality, not to mention God, are none of the state’s business.
It should be no surprise that this leads to a secular nanny-state which must spend all its energy settling disagreements about Rights, the highest courts being occupied with mockeries of justice, wrapped up in absurd debates about the definition of marriage, a definition no civilization before now has managed to misunderstand.
Next, when we say that government authority works from the “bottom-up,” from the consent of the governed, then whatever the majority wants is what such a government is obligated to do.
If the population decides that the pursuit of happiness lies in child sacrifice, then child sacrifice will become common practice, as it currently is in the United States and in other enlightened nations.
I said before that this idea of government was rooted in liberalism. This means that even American conservatives, when they harp about getting back to “founding principles,” are simply harping about getting back to our original liberalism, which is the philosophy of individual choice without an obligation to transcendental authority or even pagan virtue.
Page 2 of 3 - The Greeks, who were as free as any American, knew that society was about more than individual liberty. Aristotle spoke truly, saying:
“A state exists for the sake of the good life; and not for the sake of life only… It is clear then that the state is not a mere society, having a common place, established for the prevention of mutual crime and for the sake of exchange… Political society exists for the sake of noble actions, and not of living together.”
Christian tradition agrees with this wise philosopher. The Church has always taught that government is a created good; that ordered community is not optional; that “it is not good for man to be alone.”
Government, for the Christian, has a responsibility to be active in seeking and promoting the common good, and is to have as its end the human person.
Christ submitted even to an unjust Pilate, under an immoral empire, to the point of death. He knew who ordained authority. “Thou wouldst not have any power against me, unless it were given thee from above.”
Saint Paul, following that lead, states plainly that “There is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.”
The state, whether we like it or not, is an authority instituted from the top-down, from God, not the bottom-up. If we try to turn that upside down, as the Founders did, then the state becomes untethered to reality.
It becomes what it is now: a nanny-state catering to the Culture of Rights. It becomes unable to seek the first and most basic precept of Natural Moral Law: “that good is to be done and pursued and evil to be avoided.”
This has led to a situation in which we have but two political parties: A liberal party that knows it is liberal, and a liberal party that does not. Both cling to individualism and petty Rights. Both reject the legitimate moral authority of the state, one crying “My body, leave me alone!” the other crying “My wallet, leave me alone!”
We should be patriots. It is good to love our nation and to maintain respect for the men who created it; but we must also acknowledge that the Founders were not infallible, and that the Constitution is not Holy Scripture.
The Founders knew they were not perfect. Jefferson stated many times his hope that later generations would correct any errors in the Constitution. It is completely within our power to reinstate the vital link between government and goodness, between the body of the State, and the soul of the Church.
Page 3 of 3 - Whether or not we will muster the moral vigor and strength of spirit required to heal ourselves is up to us; but the option is there.
The opinions in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the The McPherson Sentinel or GateHouse Media. If you have any related questions or suggestions that you would like to see explored here, simply email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.