The Reactionary Utopian
                      May 23, 2006

by Joe Sobran

     Anatole France once observed, "The majestic equality 
of the law forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep 
under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal 
bread." I read that as a youth and have never forgotten 

     France's aphorism should be pondered with another -- 
Bismarck's, I think, though I can't find it -- to the 
effect that you should no more watch how laws are made 
than how sausages are made. Legislating is a revolting 

     Crooked politicians (if the term isn't redundant) 
cut deals. Then they pass laws. And the rest of us are 
supposed to obey. Or else.

     We have to obey not because those laws are wise, or 
good, or necessary, but because, however arbitrary they 
may be, they have the power of the state behind them. 
Unless we obey thousands of laws, far more than we can 
keep track of, we may be punished.

     Thus every law is an "or else," a threat. Keeping 
the Ten Commandments, or even all 613 commandments of the 
Torah (or Pentateuch), isn't enough to protect you from 
the wrath of the state, which is constantly adding 
thousands of new commandments of its own -- "incessantly 
engaged in legislation," as C.S. Lewis once put it.

     That's a lot of threats. At what point will we have 
enough of them? This question is seldom asked, since all 
parties agree that we need more threats (alias "laws") 
and the idea that we already have enough, or too many, 
and that some should be repealed, is inadmissible.

     Though the state is the fox, and the rest of us are 
rabbits, this cunning fox has convinced most of the 
rabbits that they need him to protect them. Without him, 
as Thomas Hobbes might say, there would be a war of every 
rabbit against every rabbit. Thus most of us believe that 
the state that threatens us simultaneously guarantees our 
safety. No wonder many Russians yearn for another Stalin.

     To most people in our devoutly political age, 
disbelief in the state is political atheism. We need 
government, don't we, even if politicians are crooked? 
Even if government is organized force and its laws are, 
at bottom, extortionate threats of violence? Even if 
government is what makes huge wars possible?

     Some Christians see obedience to the state as a 
religious duty. Odd that Jesus said nothing about it. He 
did call the Pharisees "blind guides," who had obfuscated 
the commandments of God by multiplying the commandments 
of men, which sounds like a prophecy of the modern state. 
No wonder he was crucified.

     How can there be a duty to obey countless fickle 
commandments negotiated by conspiring politicians meeting 
in what they themselves call "closed session"? Imagine 
what Jefferson would have thought of the staggering 
quantity of government secrets and "classified" 
information we take for granted -- things the government 
withholds from us on the pretext that they have to be 
withheld from our enemies, including the defunct Nazi and 
Soviet regimes!

     These days you can never be sure you aren't 
violating these myriad commandments of men, as I once did 
literally unconsciously -- when my little grandsons took 
my unlicensed puppy for a walk while I was asleep. 
Luckily a vigilant policeman, protecting the public, 
caught the villains. I got a ticket, with a threat to 
revoke my driver's license if I didn't pay the fine.

     And who hasn't had similar experiences? Land of the 
Free? I'd call it the Land of the Licensed. We are "free" 
to do only what our rulers choose to permit. That's 
hardly what our ancestors meant by freedom.

     If the words "tyranny" and "servitude" now sound 
rather antique to us, I think it's because we no longer 
recognize them when we see them, even if they apply to 
us. George III was called a tyrant for far less than the 
U.S. Government does every day.

     Now the bar for despotism has been raised; we're 
content with anything less onerous than Hitler and 
Stalin, and our discontents are assuaged by assurances 
that, after all, we enjoy the privilege of living in a 

     Maybe democracy really is, as Churchill said, the 
worst form of government except for all the others that 
have been tried. You can see his point. I hope you can 
also see the point he didn't realize he was making.


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