Nation of Laws?
- I detest claims that we are primarily a “nation of laws.” The letter of the law is the final refuge of scoundrels. I was brought up in a “nation of principles.” A nation of laws is a short step towards fascism. My parents fought a war which proclaimed that merely obeying laws and following orders was no excuse for reprehensible acts.
- The United States was founded in rebellion against unjust laws unfairly applied. A fierce civil war raged against laws which violated human moral principles. The Civil Rights Movement successfully resisted Jim Crow laws put in place by southern whites. In my own lifetime protests expanded personal liberties while questioning the Vietnam War and prohibiting massive water and air pollution. Our literature and movies glorified not those who blindly accepted any awful situation, no matter how legal, but those who fought for the right.
- Conservatives used to believe in the “higher values” of religion, family, community, country and even humanity itself, no matter what the temporary local law stated. We did not prosecute others because they stole a piece of bread or slept under a bridge when they were starving. We left that to the kings and dictators and bureaucracies of Europe and Asia. We curtailed the force of laws with individual rights embedded in the Constitution (without reference to citizenship.) Until the current administration, we insisted that all human beings deserved similar rights.
- Laws are a tool of civilization, but like any tool they can be misused intentionally or unintentionally. Police enforce the laws but also interpret their application, and we should always distrust such naked power even though enforcement is a necessary evil. Our excessive veneration of the equally problematic military is an invitation to a future coup d’etat.
- Liberty often consists simply of the right to resist injustice. Blind belief in becoming a “nation of laws” is the slippery path to despotic majority tyranny.