Subtitle: Collapse the Rule of Law.
Carl Sandburg (1878-1967), winner of two Pulitzers, gave an assessment on the demise of nations in world history: “When a nation goes down, or a society perishes, one condition may always be found; they forgot where they came from. They lost sight of what had brought them along.”
On closer inspection we find the unmistakable sign of a failing republic, one that lost its vision, is the collapse of just law. Just law protects life and property and is consistent with the Law of Nature. When government loses sight of the purpose of law, when it stops protecting the law-abiding from the lawless, when law enforcement fades, anarchy is around the corner.
This isn’t to imply an absence of rules. On the contrary, an explosion of unnatural and special interest-serving regulations dressed up as law often accompany the downfall. Minute regulation of normal activities in the form of thousands of petty, contradictory, and unnecessary “thou shalt nots,” as well as suffocating social “no-noes,” displace the legitimate duty of state legislatures and our Article I Congress.
These observations aren’t new. Nor are they limited to republics. The Byzantine Emperor Justinian didn’t order a rewrite of a thousand years of Roman common law for the fun of it. He did so because the law had become a morass of hopelessly confusing and contradicting precedent that enabled imperial lawyers to confidently argue anything. Law had come to mean everything – yet nothing. He recognized the danger and corrected the problem.
Behind the Declaration of Independence were years of confusion over the law. Between 1773 and 1775 lawyers and judges had to choose the law they wanted to defend. After more than a century of governing their internal affairs, George III’s North American colonies at first resented, then actively opposed Parliamentary interference. Colonial assemblies prevented judges from accepting royal salaries. Judges in Massachusetts feared for their lives. American lawyers questioned why the colonies, chartered by English Kings to whom one and all swore allegiance, owed obedience to Parliament.1 Our Founders not only called out George III for high crimes, he purposely collapsed long-standing law, especially the rights earned in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The law was in doubt. Revolution followed.
As France slipped into socialist revolution (1848), Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850) wrote, “But suppose that the legislator mistakes his proper objective, and acts on a principle different from that indicated by the nature of things? Suppose that the selected principle sometimes creates slavery, and sometimes liberty; sometimes wealth, and sometimes population; sometimes peace, and sometimes conquest? This confusion of objective will slowly enfeeble the law and impair the constitution. The state will be subjected to ceaseless agitations until it is destroyed or changed, and invincible nature regains her empire” The invincible nature to which Bastiat refers is anarchy and dissolution followed by authoritarian tyranny.
More Bastiat: “All peoples have had laws, but few people have been happy. Why is this so? Because the legislators themselves have almost always been ignorant of the purpose of society, which is the uniting of families by a common interest.” Going further, in words that echo our Founders’ Declaration and the Framers’ Article V, Bastiat advised what to do when the springs of government (go) slack. “Give them a new tension, and the evil will be cured…. Think less of punishing faults, and more of rewarding that which you need. In this manner you will restore to your republic the vigor of youth. Because free people have been ignorant of this procedure, they have lost their liberty!”
Tragically, US law began its drift from equal justice adjudication to victim group exceptions some sixty years ago. The purpose of government grew hazy. Was it to impartially enforce the law of the land or was it to bust up neighborhoods through the busing of school kids? Much of US law entered Bastiat’s “plunder” phase, in which the purpose of the law is inverted; instead of protecting people and property, it assaults them. Legislators, he wrote, “Think only of subjecting mankind to the philanthropic tyranny of their own social inventions. Like Rousseau, they desire to force mankind docilely to bear this yoke of the public welfare that they have dreamed up in their own imaginations.”
It is no revelation that as too many local, state, and certainly our national government fail in their first duty, to protect the persons and property of the law-abiding, they substitute extraneous and feel-good nonsense. The religious fervor of climate change hoaxers is a distraction, a horrid con. The mayor of Portland Oregon lets Antifa run lose as it busts heads and property. Ditto in Baltimore. California bans plastic straws and discrimination over hairstyles while it taxes its middle-class into extinction. Sanctuary cities. Democrat presidential candidates push for open borders, government-run healthcare and free college tuition. Hate crime prosecutions work strictly in one direction.
Of course, the Mac-Daddy law abuser is coup d’état leader Barack Obama. Together with Hillary Clinton, these wealthy criminals, who walk free in the republic they sought to overthrow, may signal the last chapter of a republic that forgot where it came from. Article V before it is too late.
1. James Wilson found precedent that justified the colonies independence from Parliament. English judges determined that parliament had no jurisdiction over Richard III’s (1452-1485) Irish possessions. Hoffer, P. C. (1998). Law and People in Colonial America. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 141.