How many times have you heard someone (usually a leftist advocate of some traditionally discouraged sexual activity) say that “you can’t legislate morality.” Of course, morality deals with right and wrong. Since all law ultimately relies on making this distinction, it would be more truthful to say, “You can’t legislate without morality.” Law deals specifically with those aspects of morality that affect the public good, especially the peace and safety of the community. This is obviously true of criminal law. But even the civil law reflects the prudent desire to establish some means of arbitrating or adjudicating disputes among private persons so that every such dispute does not become an occasion for conflicts that disturb public peace and order.
So the notion that “you can’t legislate morality” flies in the face of the inescapable necessity of doing so. It’s an insult to common sense. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of insult that is characteristic of our times. It has a counterpart in the insistence that government must be the focal point of efforts to take care of people in need. The very people who say you can’t legislate morality demand with righteous anger that society care for the poor, the sick and infirm, the orphans and the elderly. Often the very same people who indignantly decry laws against traditionally discouraged sexual behavior (adultery, homosexuality) strenuously promote laws that force people to pay for the housing, sustenance and health care of others. Not content to prevent behavior that harms others (murder, theft, fraud), they insist on forcing people to do or support activities that help others.
These people take legislating morality and, as Chef Emeril Legasse might say, “BAM! They kick it up a notch.” Of course, the problem isn’t that they legislate morality. It’s that they do so claiming to act for the sake of compassion. But what is compassion? It’s the feeling that leads people to do for others what they would want others to do for them. It reflects the willingness to put ourselves in another’s place and then show as much concern for their good as we do for our own. At it’s root, compassion is the active manifestation of our capacity to love others for their own sake, rather than with the selfish expectation of something in return.
Now, freedom is an essential aspect of what we do for love. Someone who cares for another in order to avoid punishment or gain some favor in return, doesn’t act from love. If someone professes to act out of love, and we later find that they have such an ulterior motive, we cease to trust their professions. Freedom is to love what sunshine is to plants that love the light.
Though the proponents of socialist schemes of compassion want us to forget the fact, government action is distinguished from that of other human associations by the implicit threat of coercion behind all its lawful acts. Government uses money taken from citizens under coercion. The same implicit coercion backs up the actions of its duly authorized agents. Everything done by government therefore smacks of constraint. The underlying reality of its power is, as I think Bentham suggested, the prospect of the gallows that overshadows everything it does. The root of its executive power is the right of lawful execution.
Government as such is not an expression of human freedom. It in fact reflects the constraints required to make freedom compatible with peace and order. As the sphere of government domination and control grows, the sphere of free human action shrinks. But if freedom is an essential element of love, the sphere of human love shrinks with it. This means that, for all their talk of compassion, those who promise utopia by means of socialist schemes of government power are either tragically deluded or simply lying. The track record of someone like Obama certainly points to the latter.
Socialism isn’t about compassion simply because you can’t legislate love. If we can somehow get well-meaning Americans of every stripe to ponder this simple fact, common sense will deflate the pretensions of all the socialists and so-called liberals overnight – at which point people will have to face the simple truth that Christ just as simply conveyed. Without love, all the works of the law count for nothing. The law can discourage evil. Only hearts truly transformed by the power of love can do true works of compassion.