by Brad Nelson
“It is better to cherish virtue and humanity, by leaving much to free will, even with some loss of the object, than to attempt to make men mere machines and instruments of political benevolence. The world on the whole will gain by a liberty, without which virtue cannot exist.” — Edmund Burke
“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” — Benjamin Franklin
“America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” — Alexis de Tocqueville
“. . . a government is like everything else: to preserve it we must love it . . . Everything, therefore, depends on establishing this love in a republic; and to inspire it ought to be the principal business of education; but the surest way of instilling it into children is for parents to set them an example.” — Montesquieu
“Liberty . . . is the great parent of science and of virtue; and . . . a nation will be great in both always in proportion as it is free.” — Thomas Jefferson
“It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.” — George Washington
“To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.” — James Madison
“The order of nature [is] that individual happiness shall be inseparable from the practice of virtue.” — Thomas Jefferson
Thank you for first reading and contemplating those eight quotes. It is background for the rest of what I will say.
This issue of the maintenance of America is classically framed as “You need a virtuous people in order for our American republic to be maintained well.” That may be true. If so, the challenge is to understand why. I think the second quote from Franklin gets directly to the point which is basically that if there is no private virtue, government will step in and try to be the nanny, the priest, the master. Do not we see that in our own time? We have nannies trying to control everything from the size of the soft drink we can buy to whether or not we can throw a Frisbee on the beach (which you cannot do now in LA County except “off-season”).
Another way of thinking about this is to understand two points about human nature: One, our morality and values are instilled to a great extent by external forces (that is, much of our ethics are a result of how we are taught). Two, we are a religious or spiritual being by nature. If you take those two premises to be true (and I think they are obviously so), then logically when moral instruction isn’t done at home (or in the church), it will be out-sourced to something else. And in our time, that “something else” will be government and public schools who are only too glad to do so. When good religion is marginalized, de-legitimized, or excluded, you will find people orienting religiously toward the state, looking to it for its moral bearings.
Although, god knows, no religion is without problems, the inherent problem with looking to the state for moral instruction is that government itself is an inherently corrupting influence. Ultimately, politicians care about votes, not about you, and certainly not about ethics. Your father and mother may love you, your brothers and sisters may love you, your friends may love you, your minister may love you, even your boss may care a great deal about your well being. But a politician is here today and gone tomorrow. We need them, but politics, for lack of a better word, tends to attract those who are best at dispensing bullshit.
Expecting the state to “care” for you is like going to a prostitute to ask for guidance on how to behave with your soon-to-be bride. It’s a non-sequitur. In the realm of politics, right and wrong are not primary. What is primary is politics, and politics itself is often little more than the art of organized deception. And yet people’s values are now to a great extent being formed by government instruction and pop political attitudes. We are told that we need to “save the planet” and yet, as Dennis Prager has noted, the same people who believe this are the same ones who think it’s okay to cheat on your test if you can get away with it.
I take it as axiomatic that Judeo-Christian ethics are, by and large, superior and demonstrably so compared to most (or all) other ethical systems. That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems. But one needs to understand that even if you don’t buy all the supernatural aspects, another aspect of Judeo-Christianity is that it is the accumulated trial-and-error wisdom of the ages regarding morality. Again, for the pointy-headed liberals out there, no, I don’t mean it’s all perfect. Nothing in this life ever is. But just because something is lacking in the eyes of the exalted and unforgiving postmodern perfectionistic “Progressive” mindset is no reason to throw it out in its entirety.
But I’m not selling religion today. By all means, believe in religion or don’t. But do note that it is a fact that if you don’t have an established religion (for yourself), you will tend to make your politics your religion. And because politics is (at least when we expect it also to be our church and moral instructor) inherently corrupting, you will end up having your morals and ethics corrupted as well. You will be led astray and will delve into goofy stuff such as (as Laura Ingraham calls it) the “Church of Global Warming,” which was the corruption of science and scientific ethics because of politics.
Politics is where good ethics go to die and they are certainly not born there. The inherent ethics of government (absent any other overriding virtue) is to trap people in dependency, to enslave them, to take their power for their own. And then, as Thomas Jefferson said:
“Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition.”
That’s right. As Thomas Jefferson notes, we all become tools. Although the left has done its utmost to spread a distrust and even hatred for Judeo-Christianity, all they have replaced it with is this bizarre appeal to trust government to know what is best for us. But last time I looked, the religious in this country weren’t ringing up trillions in debt and selling this country piecemeal to China. They weren’t cozying up or bowing to the world’s dictators and tyrants. They weren’t demonizing freedom, individual rights, and the free market while bowing to the altar of Karl Marx and his ideological descendents. Whatever the faults of Judeo-Christiantiy (and I’ve been a harsh critic myself at times), the ethical “secular” pseudo-religious melange of values derived from the governmental process has been, and continues to be, abysmal.