“Come now! Let’s think this through” (Isaiah 1:18).
In the political sphere, Americans who identify themselves as conservatives can usually be counted upon to give respectful lip service to the U.S. Constitution and to the wisdom and right intention of the leaders who helped to persuade the country’s founding generation to adopt it. If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of praise, however, some of the “conservatives” most loudly trumpeting their great respect for the Constitution seem quite determined to prove their insincerity. When debating issues of constitutional principle, rather than answering good reasoning with better reasoning, they deploy the tactics of verbal intimidation and personal attack. Once mainly the weapons of the communists and socialists, these are tactics conservatives understandably claimed to loathe.
Leftist ideology tolerates the guise of deliberate reasoning and logical discussion only long enough to prove that both are nothing more than a superstructural pretense, inevitably overwhelmed by the advancing force of history. Since that force is the deciding power in human affairs, political contests are ultimately to be decided by its deployment, in whatever form required to assure success. Sometimes that means the use of verbal intimidation, meant to inflict emotional damage on outspoken opponents – cowing them and leading others to shy away from their views. Sometimes it means questioning their motives, or better yet their sanity, in order to provoke a pointless exchange of mutually offensive blows. Complete with personal mockery and insulting epithets, this irrelevant combat is meant to disrupt the persuasive influence that reason and common sense might otherwise exert.
When deployed by self-styled “conservatives” these tactics expose the root system that connects them to the ideology they pretend to despise. Traced to its source we find that this root system spreads from the trunk of a tree of supposed “knowledge,” planted in the ground of willful human independence and self-sufficiency that lies beyond all thought of God and beyond all constraints connected with God’s authority. It lies, therefore, beyond reason; beyond common sense; beyond all claims of good and evil. It is a place where all that matters is the inexorable advance of history, the resultant of events that sorts those still running in the vanguard of history from those who lie crushed beneath its weight.
Yet, as the justly famous anti-communist Alexandr Solzhenitsyn understood, truly human life still stirs there, with even enough courage to speak “from under the rubble.” That life survives precisely because it is preoccupied with God and all such things that do not matter to those who tout as “progress” humanity’s irresponsible surrender to the merely material facts of “history.” Just because things are as they are, the truly human mind and spirit will not accept that they are as they should be, not when we remember the responsibility to God that arises from His presence in us and in the universe of His creation. Without this remembrance, we fall prey, as Solzhenitsyn surely knew, to the attitude that “drums into our souls that there there is no such thing as unchanging, universal concepts of goodness and justice, that they are all fluctuating and inconstant. Therefore the rule – always do what’s most profitable to your party.”
The providential significance of the American founding lies precisely in this, that the United States of America is a nation rooted in the moral essence of human understanding. That understanding holds fast to truths that are self-evident to the human spirit, no matter what material results and circumstances the vaulting pride of obdurate human ambition spews forth to be the forerunners of “history.” This providential characteristic offers each generation of Americans the opportunity to ennoble what might otherwise become just another sordid spectacle of “those same old cave-age emotions – of greed, envy, lack of control, mutual hostility – which have picked up in passing respectable pseudonyms …” but which simply mask the usual heedless fight for power after power ending in vast reaches of death.
In this generation, shall we save or lose that opportunity? Our answer depends on how we handle the issues that point beyond our material circumstances and that therefore indicate either our continued adherence to those spiritually self-evident truths, or our abandonment of them. But which issue does not? For example, the legal and political battle to defend the “right of the people to keep and bear arms,” explicitly recognized by the U.S. Constitution, may seem far removed from, and even antithetical to the effort to safeguard the unalienable right to life. But both are rooted in the responsibility we feel, by God’s endowment of our nature, to preserve and defend the life He has created in us. As we are moved to procure the food and drink needed to sustain the body’s life, so we are moved to react against the malefactor whose violence sheds innocent blood. As, by God’s endowment, it is right to procure the means of sustenance in the former case, so it is right to procure the means of self-defense and lawful retribution in the latter.
In both cases we exercise (i.e., put into practice) the unalienable right to life. When, in respect of God’s will, one of us eats and drinks he accepts responsibility for the preservation his own life. Yet he also preserves the life of the species. Similarly, when in respect of the laws of nature and of nature’s God one decent citizen procures the means of defense and retribution, he secures his own life. Yet because he does so, the people as a whole are better prepared to carry out the responsibility they have to defend the right to life they have in common. But on account of that same respect for God’s law of nature, and their responsibility to respect the right to life that is their common good, the people as a whole must be prepared to assure by law that each person is enjoined to accept responsibility for the life of her offspring. What the right to bear arms prepares the people to do in the first instance, they must be prepared to do by force of law in the second, i.e., preserve individual life and at the same time defend the unalienable right to life which is God’s endowment to all.
An American politician may in one moment deny the nation’s responsibility to insist upon laws that defend the unalienable right to life. In the next, he may retreat from that denial when pressured to do so. But when we hear that this same politician denies the nation’s responsibility to safeguard the right of the people to keep and bear arms, are we wrong to believe that this is not a coincidence, but a characteristic disregard for the principle of justice which declares that, at every level, the purpose of governments is to secure our God endowed unalienable rights? How are we supposed to believe that such a politician respects the Constitution when he consistently disrespects the premise that justly delimits government power, providing, in form and substance, the guiding principle on which the just framework of the Constitution entirely depends?