The Executive Branch and the Roots of Order
On the Web Site giftedkids.about.com we find an article titled "How (Not) to Argue with Gifted Children," by Carol Bainbridge, who explains that gifted children "are often compared to lawyers." They argue rules and they argue consequences. This raises a smile on those of us whose parents would never entertain arguments of any kind from children, however "gifted." Arguing with those in authority should be an exceptional situation, instead of a commonplace occurrence. The proper response to authority is obedience, not argument. Imagine attempting to argue with your drill instructor during boot camp. Or imagine quarrelling with a judge in the midst of court. Today it is commonplace, however, to learn that parents have lost their authority. As Bainbridge points out, "If children can talk their way out of consequences for bad behavior, they, not their parents, end up being in control."
Imagine a world in which everyone fights for control with everyone else. It would be, I suppose, a war of all against all. And what if all those who are subject to authority took control from those who hold authority? Who would really win? What kind of a world would it be? Perhaps we should ask ourselves, first of all, who ought to be in control? Should it be the parent or the child? The teacher or the student? The soldier or the commander? Does anyone seriously think we can have a world without obedience and authority?
All order is hierarchical. There are those who command, and those who obey. Without this arrangement you cannot have business or government, and you cannot raise children properly. Yet we are taught by egalitarian principles to despise hierarchy, especially in its more paternal manifestations. In today's democratic culture we are taught disobedience as if it were the most fundamental of all rules. It is authority, after all, that is unnatural. For that matter, why can't we do whatever feels good? So it is "only natural" that the child is expected to rebel against the parent, the worker is expected to rebel against the employer, and so on.
Through some undetected process, the very ground of order has given way. In his book, The Culture of Narcissism, Christopher Lasch wrote: "capitalism has evolved a new political ideology, [called] welfare liberalism, which absolves individuals of moral responsibility and treats them as victims of social circumstance." According to Lasch the new ideology is "egalitarian and antiauthoritarian." As obedience and authority retreat in the face of egalitarianism, "even the rich lose the sense of place and historical continuity ... [so that] the subjective feeling of 'entitlement,' which takes inherited advantages for granted, gives way to what clinicians call 'narcissistic entitlement' -- grandiose illusions, [and] inner emptiness." Here the individual becomes a law unto himself. He is "special," and therefore "entitled."
Three and a half centuries ago England was convulsed by civil wars (1641-1651). The man frequently credited as the first modern political philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, described the course of these wars in a book titled Behemoth or, the Long Parliament. He wrote that if men could view the England of his day from "the Devil's Mountain" they would see "all kinds of injustice, and all kinds of folly." It was a case, he explained, of "double iniquity" on one side, and "double folly" on the other. It was a war between democracy and monarchy that claimed about 190,000 lives at a time when the population of the country was a fraction of what it is today. Hobbes, of course, was a critic of democracy. He believed that order was fundamental, and monarchical authority was the key. Hobbes blamed the civil disorders of his time on many factors. He said that ongoing debates over the Bible led to a growing interest in ancient languages. Educated men thereby "became acquainted with the democratical principles of Aristotle and Cicero, and from the love of their eloquence fell in love with their politics ... till it grew into the rebellion we now talk of...."
This is a remarkable assertion, since Aristotle and Cicero did not have democratical principles; nevertheless, Hobbes makes a valid point insofar as the political writings of Aristotle and Cicero led Englishmen to establish "mixed government" in which democracy eventually overtook monarchy. To be sure, Aristotle clearly stated that democracy was the very worst form of government. But Hobbes was the first to recognize that the democratic tendency, once set on by the reading of ancient philosophers, could not be held back. Once the democratic principle was admitted, even as a check on monarchical power, it would grow into a power of its own. Over time the many would lose their obedience, and the state would no longer be able to preserve domestic tranquility or provide for the common defense. "The virtue of a subject," wrote Hobbes, "is comprehended wholly in obedience to the laws of the commonwealth." the virtue of sovereign power, he explained, tends "to the maintenance of peace at home, and to the resistance of foreign enemies."
In Hobbes's political philosophy, outlined in Leviathan, Society is a contract between the sovereign power and the subject population. The sovereign is obligated to protect the subject, while the subject is obligated to obey. And truly, it may be said, that every state exists insofar as it is defended by a military force; and every military force is based on the obedience of the soldiers to their commander. Without obedience there can be no command, and without command there cannot be strategy or victory or a state. The chief difficulty with the democratic side of any Constitution is the tendency of people to extend their rights and privileges until you have a country in which there are all rights and no duties. Such a system, to be sure, has no means of self-defense; for the principle of democracy has usurped and displaced the function of the commander-in-chief. No longer do we find two powers operating in separate spheres under the same constitution, but one power declaring its own emancipation in a way that subverts the Executive function. In other words, democracy tends towards anarchy. (Note: It has not reached this point as yet under the U.S. Constitution.)
Besides being opposed to democracy, Hobbes is opposed to anarchy as well. In Leviathan Hobbes described life without sovereign power as a "war of all against all" which is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Whenever a state collapses, there occurs a struggle for power. Nature abhors a vacuum, as they say. And those powers that emerge, are seldom gentle. "War is Hell," said William Tecumseh Sherman. Whether it is a fight to "preserve the Union" or a battle between a king and parliament, war is cruelty. It is murder organized on a massive scale. It is, therefore, something to be avoided. It is preferable to accept authority, and settle on a legitimate Executive than subject a country to self-slaughter. If a country should lose its way in this respect, the consequences will prove horrifying. Once the legitimate line of succession is broken in a monarchy or the Constitution is seriously violated in a Republic, the resulting civil war turns men into victims or killers.
If the U.S. Constitution fell apart, how would Humpty Dumpty be put together again? How would the issue of sovereign power be resolved? How would legitimate authority be re-established? Would this be done peacefully, or through violence?
As it happens, Thomas Hobbes translated the most striking description of civil war ever penned. Thucydides the Athenian wrote of a struggle between democracy and oligarchy which occurred in the midst of the Peloponnesian War (during the 5th century B.C.). Here we find a breakdown of order coinciding with a breakdown of morality. "Greece," wrote Thucydides, "was in commotion; and quarrels rose everywhere between the patrons of the commons ... and the [patrons] of the few.... And many and heinous things happened in the cities through this sedition.... For inconsiderate boldness was counted true-hearted manliness; provident deliberation, a handsome fear; modesty, the cloak of cowardice; to be wise in everything, to be lazy in everything. A furious suddenness was reputed a point of valor.... He that was fierce was always trusty, and he that [was gentle] was suspected.... In brief, he that could outstrip another in the doing of an evil act or that could persuade another thereto ... was commended."
It is entirely possible, that whenever authority is collapsed and hierarchy leveled down, good becomes evil, and evil becomes good. If this is the case, and authority has been gradually disappearing as democracy advances, then Nietzsche was right to say that "democracy is the declining form of authority." Even more damning, if democracy places an equal sign between things that are not equal then it is nothing less than nihilism. If all men are created equal, they do not remain so; for men vary in their accomplishments and virtues. In other words, all deeds are not created equal. To say otherwise is to say that good and evil are the same. This is what our political philosophers have missed; namely, that egalitarianism implies antinomianism and moral nihilism; that the heralded "liberation" of the workers share's Satan's defiant sentiment expressed in Milton's Paradise Lost, "Better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven. "
There is nothing wrong with using democracy as an element in a system of checks and balances. The problem is making egalitarian democracy the core of your system. In the last analysis, government is about national defense and the preservation of domestic tranquility. If there is no commander-in-chief there is no order, and no prospect of real peace. And if the commander-in-chief partakes of the nihilist spirit, embraces egalitarian democracy and moral nihilism, there is every reason to suspect that civil war is around the corner. And in that circumstance in which the Executive and the Legislative branches were elected, one would have to assume a corrupt people at the bottom of it all.
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