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9. February 2011

Privilege, equality, and law

Filed under: natural law and rights,philosophy,politics — admin @ 14:20

Few can resist the emotional appeal of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech.  Somewhere, deep within the human soul, we long for a time when true equality can be found in human interaction, the day in which people will be judged by one another solely according to character.  And oftentimes, at least in the West, those pursuing this ideal attempt to enforce it through what they define as perfect legal equality.

But if total equality under law were truly sought–meaning that no man would have a governmental privilege or power that another lacked–, what would become of those who administrate law?  Would we strip the policeman of his license to necessary and lawful force?  Would we give our war strategies to every member of the population, instead of only our military officials?  Would the authority to enforce law be taken from the judge?  The right to create law taken from the congressman?

With this in consideration, we must understand that any functional society must grant status to certain of its members, and that this status must endow the elect with privileges and powers which the average citizen does not have.  And most of our population–if not all–agree that this dispersion of power and privilege must not only take place, but that the rest of the citizenry must accept the authority of the privileged.  In this mutual consensus lies the very power and order of government; in its absence, revolution and chaos.

But in a free society, these special privileges cannot be bestowed upon anyone due to ancestry.  The American constitution forbids titles of nobility and unelected hereditary succession, placing the state’s privilege and authority only upon those whom the public elects.  In this way, although certain members of society must necessarily be privileged beyond their neighbors, the duration of those benefits exists until the specified expiration of term. Without this hallmark institution of the republic, this election into privilege, the citizenry is subjected to powers almost entirely independent of democratic will, unaccountable to the neighbors who support them through the forceful levying of taxation.

Though expressly opposed by most, it could be argued that this banned form of unelected nobility exists within our present society, although lacking the appearance of aristocracy.  When we as a people decide to grant protected minority status to any particular group, what we bestow is a special power, a special series of privileges and rights to those both unappointed to their position by cyclical election, and individually irresponsible for the maintenance of public support for those privileges.  What we have created, without intent, is the very hereditary privilege–although in a different sense–which our forefathers fought to destroy.  What is nobility, after all, if not state-enforced privilege without popular election?

This perpetual American “nobility,” of course, can be wrongly bestowed in several different ways.  The first, by wrongfully declaring a state of segregation, in which any ethnic/racial group is forced into submission to the other, using the forceful coercion of the state (not to be confused with legal opposition to group-endorsed morally-deficient behaviors, or different rights for citizens and non-citizens).

The second, although having the appearance of philanthropy, grants certain groups rights to advance in the business and the state, or purposely excludes other classes, cultures, and races from receiving forcefully-redistributed funds.  The third method, the least recognizable and thus the most dangerous, grants unspecified circumstances in which the privileged may pursue legal action, so that any organizations which do not succumb to the agendas of certain peoples may forfeit unlimited amounts of property.

It could be argued that the language in much (though certainly not all) of these last two legal endeavors is structured in such a way, as to not expressly favor particular groups.  Yet despite efforts to portray a universally beneficial intent, it is not unfair to ask whether these laws would have been passed, had our leaders not expected the empowerment of certain groups above others. The very definition of the term “affirmative action,”–positive steps taken to increase the representation of women and minorities in areas of employment, education, and business from which they have been historically excluded–suggests that the legal empowerment of particular groups is central to its purpose.

But even should intent to this end have been unexpressed, the inapplicability of the law toward overwhelming portions of the US population maintains the rhetorical form of equality, while performing the function of hereditary privilege. Information from the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission clearly displays that certain groups, though composing miniscule portions of the US population, sue and win judgments at far higher rates than the average American, as the state-privileged have more instances in which to pursue legal action.  As such, the adoption of equal-opportunity law cannot largely benefit any particular groups other than those composing particular minorities, regardless of whether individuals composing them are actually impoverished.

Americans, though earnest in their pursuit of what they wrongly believe to be American, have forgotten the values of our fathers.  After having defeated the imperialist English twice, having abolished the horribly inhuman institutions of slave trade and segregation, having brought justice to the Nazi’s doorstep, and having combated the military invasions of creeping Communist states, we should know better than any other peoples what liberty means, and how to defend it.  But if we refuse to recognize the proper boundaries within which privilege may be bestowed, my fear is that our bedrock of equality may be eroding more quickly than we think.

20 Comments

  1. Your article raises a number of questions. Perhaps you will venture to answer a few. Is there a difference between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome in this idea of “perfect legal equality” or “total equality under the law”.
    If so what are they both good? What means might be legitimately used to pursue them?

    From whom does governmental privilege or power derive? Who grants it? Where did they get it?

    Comment by Mike — 8. March 2011 @ 04:32

  2. Mike, thanks for your interest in American Clarity, and in this article. In regard to your first question, there is no difference between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome in that they are both never to be pursued by the government. What I mean by “perfect legal equality” is that one rich man and one poor man receive the same sentencing and the same protection under the law. The dispensation of law is never to favor any type of person over another, except in cases of necessary privilege or power granted through elective processes. These cases of privilege and power may only exist to further a certain governmental action, and terminate outside those purposes.

    Governmental power is derived from God, and *all* forms of power are under His authority. If a government contradicts the positive laws of Scripture as contained in the Pentateuch, asking its citizens to do something wrong (say, for instance, marrying two homosexuals or killing Jews), it is the duty of the Christian and the Jew to reject the law through civil disobedience. In the event of civil war over such matters, Christians and Jews may choose the side most closely mirroring Biblical principles.

    Thank you for your (excellent) question!
    -J

    Comment by admin — 8. March 2011 @ 14:36

  3. “What I mean by “perfect legal equality” is that one rich man and one poor man receive the same sentencing and the same protection under the law. The dispensation of law is never to favor any type of person over another, except in cases of necessary privilege or power granted through elective processes.” Then this is something that the government should pursue, that is, equal standing before the law. You make an exception for politicians and bureaucrats. This is equality of opportunity before the law.

    If governmental power is derived from God, then how was it legitimate for the founders of the country to rebel against the God derived power of King George? How was it legitimate to attack Hitler, to attack Sadam Insane, invade Afghanistan? You are trying to have it both ways. Either, governmental power is derived from God or it is not. All power is under His permissive will, yes. But God permits much evil to happen. His purpose is eternal not temporal. You seem to be arguing for the divine right of kings, unless the permit homosexuals to marry or kill Jews. And you argue from the Pentateuch. The Law says to execute adulterers. Would you oppose a government that opposes that? The Law also forbids eating catfish and shrimp. Would you oppose a government that allows it? What do our founding documents say about where the legitimate power of government derives?

    Comment by Mike — 9. March 2011 @ 14:55

  4. Oh boy — I can only answer so much of this today before I go to work, but you’re asking great questions.

    In regard to the divine right of kings, I mentioned above that Christians have the ability to choose sides in a civil war, though we are not to go about starting rebellions. The Apostle Peter clearly explained that the authority given to leaders was for the purpose of protecting good and punishing evil, so I would say that whatever a leader does which is OUTSIDE the Biblical standard of good and evil can be disobeyed, and sometimes this leads to outright splits in government (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Peter%202:13-14&version=NKJV). Peter himself engaged in disobedience under the premise that he was to obey God rather than man, and the other apostles agreed with him.

    I also do not believe that even democratic will makes a country’s actions legitimate in light of Biblical natural law. For instance, if Gambia starts killing Christians, a Christian country which borders Gambia may attack them, and I have no problem with that (the same goes for if Gambia commits international fraud, or any other obnoxious acts). I have an article on this very topic, which should be published within the next few weeks depending on the editors at American Thinker.

    Second, Biblical moral law is different than ceremonial law, as explained in the book of Hebrews (I highly recommend reading it, as it explains why certain laws are no longer necessary). And other laws aren’t necessary either, like execution of apostates. Since Israel was a theocracy, and Yahweh was their king, apostasy was treason. No such need for a law exists today, although the OTHER laws, such as punishment for adultery are still very much applicable.

    In response to governmental legitimacy, the legitimate power of government derives from the leader’s protection of the common good, in essence, of the people. When a government violates the common good, showing itself to be purely interested in its own gain, recognized according to the principles contained in the Scripture, it has overstepped its boundaries. However, that does not necessarily mean that Christians are to be rebelling: it means they are called to civil disobedience, and if rebellion breaks out, they can rebel.

    I hope I’ve helped, and I apologize if I missed anything. Got to run, though! Please feel free to toss me some more questions =)

    And by the way, this article explains the bridge between Mosaic rights and civil rights decently, so I hope it helps: http://americanclarity.com/2011/01/01/defeating-christian-liberalism-part-1-turning-the-other-cheek/

    Comment by admin — 9. March 2011 @ 16:59

  5. It seems to me that you are still advocating the divine right of kings. Unless, one believes that they are contradicting something is the Bible. But the system seems unworkable, for two reasons, first there are some 38,000 Christian denominations in the world, so that even Christians can’t agree on what the Bible teaches, and second, some people don’t believe the Bible at all. Under this system the king is always going to claim that he is doing Gods will, or claim that he is divine. Should not those who are governed have a say in the matter? You talk about the common good, but that is a nebulous concept. There are probably more ideas about it than there are Christian denominations. You say that the legitimate authority of governments come from the leader. Is that in the sense that Napoleon crowned himself emperor? Did our country’s founders have ideas about why governments are instituted and their purpose?

    I find it curious indeed, that you think it is ok for one country to interfere in the internal affairs of another nation. The United States is persecuting Christians, particularly in public schools. Not to mention the massacre at Waco. Should Mexico invade? And it is committing international fraud by debasing its currency. It is further being obnoxious by blaming the Chinese for currency manipulation when the Chinese just want to get a dollar back that has the same relative value as the one they loaned us. Should China invade? What did Jesus say? “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Jesus seems to prohibit Christians from fighting in the name of Christianity to establish an earthly kingdom.

    What is the difference between natural and positive law?

    I am not sure I see a distinction between ceremonial law and moral law. I have looked briefly through Hebrews again. Chapter eight ends with the statement “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” All of the old covenant is gone. We are now under the new covenant. The new is normative. The old is gone. But you seem to argue that we are under half of the old covenant which has vanished. Hebrews argues from beginning to end that the new covenant is superior to the old. The terms are better. The sacrifice is better. The priesthood is better. Chapter ten says that the law was but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form. Who would decide which laws are still valid and which are not in a covenant that has been superceded? It seems curious indeed that you say adultery among people should be a punishable offense, but adultery against God is not.

    We seem to be hacking at the branches of the matter rather than the root. I guess on the most basic and fundamental level I am asking from whom do governments get their legitimate authority. To answer “from God” doesn’t work, because God allows Pol pots, Maos, Stalins, Hitlers etc., etc., etc. In other words God allows the illegitimate use of authority and that is not the question. How could the most legitimate form of government be established?

    Comment by Mike — 10. March 2011 @ 05:27

  6. I suppose in the macroscopic view, you’re completely correct: Christianity is not a political religion, but it is a religion which necessarily influences politics. You quoted Jesus correctly.

    My question to you is, supposing that proper government was not determined by its adherence to natural law (which to answer your question, is Scriptural positive law, as contained in the *moral* principles of the Pentateuch), would a secular system provide any solutions which a Christian influenced system did not? As far as I can tell, we both have a gigantic gray area, as we were intended to by God’s omission of concrete guidance in this matter.

    But the most important issue here concerns the concept of new and old covenants. I have a simple question in this matter: was there ever a situation in which Jesus or the apostles condoned breaking moral law? Did they ever say, after Christ’s death, that adultery, fornication, murder, thievery, or any other prohibited interactions were kosher? Or did they spend their time, as in the book of Galatians, explaining the proper function of the ceremonial laws? As far as I’m concerned, if Jesus really wanted us to ignore the moral laws, then they wouldn’t be a part of God’s character. And if they weren’t a part of our Father’s character, why would we need a Savior to protect us from things that aren’t sin?

    Sorry that I couldn’t answer all your questions, but I honestly don’t have perfect answers to all of them. As mentioned before, we Christians have a gigantic gray area in which to foray, and it will require lots of prayer, Scripture study and kindness. But one thing is certain, and it is that an entirely secular approach to government, morality, and law is neither moral nor advantageous, as it runs into the same problems, but with fewer timeless guidelines.

    Could I add you to my mailing list? I’ll be covering these issues in the near future, and would love to have your input. Thank you for your questions, and God bless you!

    -J

    Comment by admin — 10. March 2011 @ 18:05

  7. Yes, add me to your list.

    Comment by Mike — 10. March 2011 @ 20:53

  8. I am uneasy with the statement that Christianity is a religion which necessarily influences politics. It is perhaps a reaction against the term religion and the collective implications of it. I think that Christian individuals living Christian lives should be a light to the world. When we think of it that way, would we think of Christian people killing others in the name of Christianity? If so, what is the Biblical basis for such action?

    My understanding of natural law is that it is derived from the autonomy of man’s mind, the sufficiency of human reason, and the common ethics of all religion. It is contradiction to scripture. Scripture on the other hand is a form of positive law. I am not sure that the problem is a lack of guidance. It is more like a lack of adherence.

    The question, I think, is what ought government do? And, what are the appropriate means by which it might accomplish it? The founder’s had ideas about this. They are stated in the declaration of independence. Is there one general foundational principle from which we can begin?

    I must go back to work now.

    Comment by Mike — 10. March 2011 @ 21:18

  9. With regard to your first question the answer is no. For instance, all of the ten commandment are repeated in the New Testament except for keeping the Sabbath day. Jesus however, seems to carry the matter to an even higher level in the New Covenant. The law was “do not kill”. Jesus wants us not to heart. The law said, “do not commit adultery”. Jesus said, “do not look at a woman with lust in your heart.” What God seems to really want is not so much that our action are right but that our heart is right. If we treasure right things in our heart, then our actions will tend to follow. And of course, and more to our point, and, also, as you have quoted earlier, Jesus’ response, to the question what is the greatest commandment in Matthew 22.

    “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
    On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

    This passage deals with our vertical relationship with God, and our horizontal relationship with our fellow man. If former doesn’t exist, the latter has no substance. But in civil society it is the latter that interests us- man’s relationship to man. So fabricate from thin air, what is called the axiom of non-aggression. I draw it from this second commandment. I think that it is an over statement to call it an axiom. An axiom is a self evident, or universally accepted truth. If the axiom of non-aggression is indeed axiomatic, it is honor more in the breach than in practice. Non the less, it seems the principle of non-aggression seems to me a good starting point. What do you think? Oh, yes, I should explain that the principle of non-aggression is not opposed to self defense. It stands in opposition to the initiation of aggression.

    Comment by Mike — 11. March 2011 @ 04:08

  10. Jesus wants us not to hate, that is.

    Comment by Mike — 11. March 2011 @ 04:09

  11. “Sorry that I couldn’t answer all your questions, but I honestly don’t have perfect answers to all of them. As mentioned before, we Christians have a gigantic gray area in which to foray, and it will require lots of prayer, Scripture study and kindness. But one thing is certain, and it is that an entirely secular approach to government, morality, and law is neither moral nor advantageous, as it runs into the same problems, but with fewer timeless guidelines.”

    There are no perfect answers here, because men are not perfect. And I agree with you that without God, liberty is a fiction. I would point to the Declaration of Independence for two other ideas that seem fruitful for our discussion. And I would draw attention to the relationship between those ideas.

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

    The first is rights. My understanding is that the text first enumerated life, liberty and property. I prefer that. I take property to be an extension of life, because we, in fact, trade our life for it. Also, there is much confusion and shallowness in the discussion of happiness. It is commonly thought that whatever makes you feel good makes you happy. I define happiness as the result of a life well lived. If anyone under 60 or so tells me they are happy, I think they are making a premature judgement.

    The second idea is that governments are instituted among men and derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.

    The relationship points to purpose. To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men. I think the founders were a little optimistic. But it is a fascinating idea.

    So what have we got?

    We have God given rights of life, liberty and property.

    We have governments instituted among men that derive their just powers from the consent of the governed for the purpose of securing those rights.

    And undergirding it all we have a principle, a command, from God to love our neighbors as our self. Which is actually more than the principle of non-aggression. I think it implies a positive active posture. But at the very minimum we can posit a principle of non-aggression.

    Can we make anything of it?

    Comment by Mike — 11. March 2011 @ 04:55

  12. Is there tension between common good and individual good?

    Comment by Mike — 11. March 2011 @ 16:05

  13. Mike, I’m going to do the best I can here, but I can’t cover all of this within the time I have. I’ll give it a good shot, though =)

    1) Christianity has already influenced your politics: you say that mankind has unalienable rights which come from our Creator. But the truth is that anything called unalienable rights or natural law, as noted by John Locke, cannot contradict Scripture, or else it is void (see sections 135 and 136: http://www.constitution.org/jl/2ndtr11.htm). And if you are Christian, and Christ has changed your heart, and you’re voting in a democratic republic, then we both know Christianity influences politics.

    2) Jesus does want us not to hate, but hatred — like you mentioned — is a condition of the heart which motivates us to actions, not the actions themselves. This is why the commandments, statutes, and judgments are so special: because they show us what the proper boundaries of justice are, so that we can do what is required of us without wondering whether justice is hatred. When Jesus defined the Law as love, He meant it: if we love Him, we keep His commandments and encourage others to follow them as well. Without taking His commandments seriously, how do we know that justice isn’t hatred? And how do we judge what is in the hearts of others?

    3) I agree with you 101% about life, liberty, and property. But even property rights, as explained in the Pentateuch, have limits which I highly recommend researching. http://americanclarity.com/2010/11/28/marx-vs-moses-a-foray-into-biblical-economics/

    4) There is tension between common and individual good, and the proper boundaries are explained in the law, and whatever the law didn’t cover by Jesus Christ. If we understand the boundaries between what must lawfully belong to a man, and what is his duty to his society, there will be a tension, but it will be properly dispensed. Without, we can either end up as libertarians — a philosophy condemned by the law and prophets for its lack of care toward the rights of the poor — or communists, a philosophy condemned by the law and prophets for its lack of concern for individual property rights.

    Thank you so much for your honest input to my site. God bless ya!

    -J

    Comment by admin — 14. March 2011 @ 14:27

  14. 1. Christianity doesn’t do anything. It is an abstract concept. People do things. Either, Christians, people who claim to be Christians, or non-Christians. It seems better to me to always keep before us the fact that it is people who act not abstractions. It is easier to rationalize evil in the name of an abstraction, than to say that Peter, who claims to be a Christian is in Afghanistan killing Muslim farmers. Christian individuals acting for good or ill, may influence politics.

    2. Yes, it was the heart that Jesus was interested in, because He knew that actions flowed from the abundance of the heart. Jesus nailed to the old law to the cross. He gave us a new law, the law of grace. The old law was a tutor to bring us to the new. Among the things that it taught us was that we are not capable of keeping it, of being what we ought to be. The hand writing of the ordinances was against us for that reason. We needed the blood of Jesus to reconcile us to God. We can learn things about what society ought to be from the old law but it is not normative. We are under the law of grace now. Should we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! But we are motivated not by fear of punishment, but by recognition of the love of God as demonstrated by the Cross. More to our point though, Scripture doesn’t teach us that we should attempt to create a Christian state. The earthy manifestation of the kingdom of God represents the epitome of the micro state. Autonomous local congregations, overseen by the local eldership. Christians are not judges of hearts, but inspectors of fruit with no authority beyond the local congregation.

    3. I don’t have time to look a three. I must go to work shortly.

    4. What is the tension you see between individual and common good? If on the fundamental level we begin with the principle of non-aggression? What are the boundaries? What is his duty to society? What is society?

    Comment by Mike — 14. March 2011 @ 17:18

  15. 1) Christianity DOES do something. Christianity is the Spirit of God transforming a human into a higher creature, a creature empowered with new desires, new standards, and new purpose. To suggest that a democratic republic filled with actual Christians will have law no different than a democratic republic filled with Muslims or atheists is not rooted in reality.

    2) The old law is a tutor. You said it: we can’t keep it, but we can’t discard it either. To suggest that the character of God encoded in His laws is neither applicable nor important is like saying that Jesus saved you so that you could continue sinning. In one way, He did. You are covered with His blood, so when you sin today and tomorrow, you can always go back to Him. But that doesn’t mean that His standard isn’t important. If Jesus died for us because we couldn’t keep it, we should do our best to keep it.

    4) Well, there is a tension of LAW between the individual and common good. For instance, how much are we required to give to feed the poor, and what may we keep ourselves? When your property injures someone else, what rights do you have? What is the difference between taxation and thievery? While the Spirit of God allows us to live in the fulness of His character, law can only prescribe so much before it becomes totalitarian. That is why God’s law is the best law: it clearly prescribes the boundaries within which law is righteous. Anything to the left or to the right is wrong.

    Comment by admin — 14. March 2011 @ 17:36

  16. Tell me one thing that Christianity does. It is not the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of God. Christianity is an abstract concept. God acts. People act. Christianity is a word that describes a certain category of people. God transforms. I didn’t say the Christian individual might not have different preferences for government. I said, it is Christian individuals who act together for that purpose. I decline to ascribe it to an abstract because you can not hold an abstract accountable for doing wrong.

    Comment by Mike — 14. March 2011 @ 23:00

  17. 2. Discard it? Jesus nailed it to the cross. The book of Galatians is an argument against returning to the law. Paul opposed Peter to his face for being influenced by the circumcision party.
    “[5:1] For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
    [2] Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. [3] I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. [4] You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”

    That seems pretty straight forward to me. The law wasn’t His standard it was His tutor.

    There is no tension there. “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” You have fabricated tension by holding to a law that has passed away and separates you from Christ. If your property injures someone they have a right to be compensated based on the loss. But that is between individuals. There is no difference between taxation and thievery. Why should law prescribe anything other than, “one should not initiate aggression against another”. Is not that the sum of the law and the prophets? “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.” “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

    Comment by Mike — 18. March 2011 @ 03:39

  18. I’m writing an article to address this very issue, as the same objections keep coming up. I’ll publish it for you shortly.

    -J

    Comment by admin — 20. March 2011 @ 13:29

  19. Let me know where to find it.

    Comment by Mike — 21. March 2011 @ 03:46

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