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 The Commandments of Men 

May 23, 2006 
paragraph indentAnatole 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 Today's 
column is "The Commandments of Men" -- Read Joe's columns the 
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indentFrance’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 business.

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

paragraph indentWe 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.

paragraph indentThus 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.

paragraph indentThat’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that we need more threats (alias “laws”) and the idea that we already have enough, or too many, and that some should be repealed, is inadmissible.

paragraph indentThough 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.

[Breaker quote for The Commandments of Men: The curse of 'law']paragraph indentTo 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?

paragraph indentSome 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.

paragraph indentHow 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!

paragraph indentThese 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.

paragraph indentAnd 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.

paragraph indentIf 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.

paragraph indentNow 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 democracy.

paragraph indentMaybe 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.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2006 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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