Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Writing for USA Today, Jonathan Turley asks, "Do laws even matter today?" There is much I disagree with in his article, which wanted clarity on the following two aspects of the problem he identifies: (1) the proper purpose of government; and (2) the difference between the political and the cultural fallout of this problem. Nevertheless, Turley's basic point is an excellent one:
A legal system cannot demand the faith and fealty of the governed when rules are seen as arbitrary and deceptive. Our leaders have led us not to an economic crisis or an immigration crisis or an environmental crisis or a civil liberties crisis. They have led us to a crisis of faith where citizens no longer believe that laws have any determinant meaning. It is politics, not the law, that appears to drive outcomes -- a self-destructive trend for a nation supposedly defined by the rule of law.The government, rather than protecting individual rights, is engaged in all kinds of things that contradict this central, proper purpose. Its laws, already handing over power to central planners to begin with, are also, therefore, becoming increasingly contradictory by the day, often giving rise to the appearance of impotence or the apparent need for a sort of "manual override." In either case, what should provide a firm basis for citizens to act within a society becomes increasingly arbitrary and anarchic. That's the political fallout. Culturally, bad men are emboldened by the manifold opportunities this milieu presents, and good men are marginalized. The very life-giving purpose of law is thereby subverted.
Without a solid understanding of philosophical principles, one cannot really grasp what is wrong with this picture or what to do about it. In small ways, people become accustomed to "ignoring stupid laws" (as a college professor of my past acquaintance once put it), rather than working to change them. Man-made foolishness thereby becomes confused with metaphysical limits on human endeavor to be worked around by small acts of cunning -- rather than overthrown by principled opposition and replaced with a proper government. Whatever rebellion -- without guidance by proper philosophical principles -- would be blind and ultimately impotent.
What does this mean for those of us who do understand the nature of the philosophical and political revolution that must occur for the tide to turn in favor of increased individual freedom? On the one hand, many who would be sympathetic will be confused and demoralized. But on the other, clarity about principles and how they apply to this situation will help us gain support, and will doubtless be greatly appreciated.