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Speaking of illegal immigrants, Jeb Bush says:

“Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family. I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime that there should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families.”

“I did it for love.” God knows how many times that excuse has been evoked to justify all manner of human actions. These days, it seems, love justifies all.

I wonder, though, whether Jeb Bush would agree with his father and Dick Cheney, who took the position that the love of Allah, their family members and their fellow Muslims (whom they saw as fatally victimized by the United States) did not justify the action of the Islamic fanatics who killed thousands in the infamous terror attacks on 9/11. I wonder if he would agree with government officials who have, over the years, relentlessly pursued criminal gangs that derive the ethos of loyalty in their criminal enterprises from the affections and obligations of family life. I wonder if he would applaud prosecutors who successfully prosecute people who kill their spouses, or have them killed, so that they can be with the one they love.

When it comes to law and government, love is quite often cited as a motive. It is far less frequently acceptable as a justification. Common sense leads us to distinguish between cases in which the love motive extenuates the offense (e.g., parents who kill someone who threatens their offspring) and those in which it adds to the impression of guilt. It all has something to do with the harm done: to oneself, to others or to the integrity of the law that safeguards everyone.

In “Les Miserables,” the character Jean Valjean steals bread to feed his sister’s starving children. Conscience and common sense agree that in such a case of dire need, love extenuates his offense. In fact, under the circumstances, it very nearly nullifies the offensive character of the act. Moreover, Valjean’s circumstances raise a question that involves love of a different sort, i.e., the natural compassion people should have for one another. So, for example, in the Bible the Law of Moses directs that:

“When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf … you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord God may bless you in all the work of your hands.” (Deuteronomy 24:21)

So it goes for olives and grapes as well. This suggests that the failure to make legal provision for people we know to be vulnerable is a defect. The resulting human law falls short of the requirements of natural right.

But God-endowed natural right is the basic premise for the constitutional self-government of the American people. Respect for the rule of natural compassion is therefore a necessary aspect of our common good. But you don’t have to be a brainy philosopher, like Aquinas or Immanuel Kant, to raise the obvious question: What if everyone who claims to act for love is given the same break? If such extenuation becomes a general rule for judgment, what damage will that do to society itself?

Let’s say that judges start dismissing cases of home invasion when the people committing the offense are just seeking shelter for themselves and their loved ones; or cases of car theft because someone working to support his family needs a car in his line of work. Before you know it, people living in homes they have invaded will be driving cars they have stolen to work that mainly consists in stealing things other people work for.

Though many are loath to admit it these days, the residual influence of Bible-respecting Christianity is the cultural root of the “love justifies all” sentimentality Jeb Bush is exploiting for political purposes. But Christ made it clear that love does not justify all.

It doesn’t justify someone whose desire for peace on earth, or in his family, leads him to reject Christ’s divisive purpose (Matthew 10: 34-37). It doesn’t justify someone who turns away from Christ because he loves his father or mother or son or daughter more than he loves Christ (Matthew 10:37). It doesn’t justify someone who disregards what Christ’s commands because his passionate love of someone or something knows no bounds (John 14:23).

Does Christ rebuke unruly love for his own sake? How can this be when, on account of the way God loves the world, He sent Christ to die so that even though unworthy, others may live? God literally surrenders His own being in order to realize His good intention for the world of His creation. But if, God is love, as many these days are wont to admit (even as they deny the power of His Word), then His love is the epitome of love. But He acts for the world, even sacrificing His beloved Son to fulfill His goodwill toward the whole of things. We see the extent of His love confirmed when the Resurrected Christ enjoins his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all creation, not just to their fellow human beings (Mark 16:15).

In this respect, true law and government ought to reflect the quality of God’s love. When it comes to law enforcement, therefore, it is not enough to consider the good or harm an offense does to individuals. The just legislator, the true statesman, the truly conscientious citizen must consider its effect on the whole. In the Terri Schiavo case the failure to do so led then-Gov. Jeb Bush to neglect the God-endowed natural right of an individual.

Now, as a would-be candidate for president, he is casting the issue of illegal immigration in terms that neglect the sovereign good of the nation. This may please the elitist faction forces his family’s political dynasty serves and represents. But it again demonstrates his inability wisely to apply the nation’s fundamental and defining principles of right to the great prudential issues that threaten the survival of America’s liberty. Such incompetence is bad enough in any American politician. But it’s a fatal flaw in someone ambitious to carry out the office of president. For more than any other official, the president is supposed to serve and preserve the common good of all, which those fundamental and defining principles proclaim and represent.

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