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If The Founding Principles Were So Great, How’d We Get To Where We Are? Part II

Read Part I (first!).

Munoz is right to show there was not unanimity among the Founders. Most adopted the language of rights, but some tempered this with doses of natural-law reality. For instance, James Wilson: “In a state of natural liberty [the state of nature], every one is allowed to act according to his own inclination, provided he transgress not those limits, which are assigned to him by the law of nature.” This brings the focus to natural law, but through the lens of rights, not duties. Contrast a direct statement along the lines of “The civil law will follow the natural law.” And now, of course, we have the State denying the limits of our natures—as if our essence can be decided by whim and law and not nature.

The natural law follows from the nature of things. Since all things have natures, or essences, and we are things, and since natures have to have an Author, it is well to learn about this Author and what we might owe Him. Thus we finally arrive at the difficult subject of religion. The State now, and the State at the founding had a religion, even though at the founding it was decided not to call the State’s religion a religion. (As we learned from Anthony Kennedy, that religion is the deification of man.) The idea was that if the State’s religion was not called a religion, worship would not be mandated as worship. Mandating worship is equivalent to mandating thought, a condition about which the Founders were rightly afraid. Funny how we ended up where we were designed not to go. It is now the “law of the land” that people must swear to believe absolute violations of the natural law. There now exist genuine thought crimes.

It wasn’t always so. Madison quoting Jefferson (quoted by Munoz, quoted by me) wrote “We hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, ‘that religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.'” It does not follow from this that State cannot or must not declare a religion. It only says that mandating worship and thought is verboten. Disallowing calling the State’s metaphysical position, which necessarily must exist, a religion allows the State to mandate thought because when it does so it can say it is not mandating worship of an official religion. It is merely, it will say, forcing compliance with a law. Obviously, Christianity was never our State’s official religion, though many forms of it were tacit. But notice that none of the Founders insisted the natural law would be official, either. They left its unacknowledged religion entirely up to “reason”, by which path we have reached unreason.

The radicals cannot thus agree with Munoz when he says “Liberalism, accordingly, recognizes that religious authority and the teaching of religious truth properly fall under the domain of churches alone.” Liberalism, as the radicals have it, acknowledges freedom of thought (which is not equivalent to what we now call freedom of speech) and the right to withhold worship. Outside families, that is; inside families is their own business (children can be made to worship, for example). There is nothing illiberal with having the State teach religion. It can teach the wrong religion, of course, and does (as we have seen) and that can be illiberal. Unless the State officially acknowledges an authority higher than itself, eventually the State becomes the religion. (We saw an outright statement of this conclusion from a Chinese official recently.)

If instead the State laid out with specificity and limits of what its official religion was, while also declaring freedom of thought and association, we might have a real liberalism, at least about religion. Look to once Great Britain for an example. They have an official State religion without mandatory worship. They also have an unofficial State religion, much like our own, with mandated acquiescence. The problem is that the more the religion differs from the natural law, the further from liberalism the society goes. Real liberalism is the freedom to do what is right. And what is right must be based on the natural law. We increasingly lack the freedom to do what is right because our religion is inimical to the natural law.

Also, the constant talk of rights diminishes acknowledgement of the duty to worship. A true liberalism would not see religious police à la Saudi Arabia beating layabouts on the noggin on Sunday mornings. Nor would it develop into clericalism as long as the religion can be made to understand its limitations (which are also in part constrained by the natural law). The State and the religion must not become one. But this does not preclude the State from encouraging worship. Again, it does so now (but it does not call its regulations worship).

Now Munoz also says “The liberal state is limited to safeguarding liberty because religious truth lies beyond its authority. In disparaging liberalism, the ‘radical’ Catholics, perhaps unwittingly, raise doubts about the propriety of the separation of church and state and about the legitimacy of religious freedom.” This is false because a person in government who holds a religious truth brings that religious truth to the State. He can and must use that truth for the actions he takes in government. To say the person is forbidden to bring religious thought with him, and that he must not use religious convictions as the basis of his official actions, is illiberal. It also strengthens the State’s Religion That Shall Not Be Named.

Our enemies understand this point (here’s one example). This is why they push for the exclusion of religion from all State business, including the use of religious principles by State officials (leading to the Imposing Your Beliefs Fallacy). This is allowed because of “freedom from religion”, which arises from (current) liberalism’s separation of Church and State. The more these forbidden religious principles align with the natural law and can be made to seem religious and not deductions from natural law, obviously the further the State will recede from the natural law. You say a man pretending to be a woman is a man? That’s religious bigotry! That it is also a hideous violation of natural law no longer counts. The pseudo-transformation must then be judged on other merits. Again we’re back to Kennedy.

Munoz does allow there is some justice to the radicals’ point about the path from then to now. “American liberalism, whatever its original character, has produced a decadent and deplorable legal and moral culture.” And “The Founders held that the primary purpose of government is to secure natural rights.” That is, in short form, the argument of the radicals: equality and rights and not the natural law were the actual founding principles. Munoz also admits

[The Founders] did not embrace Aristotle’s teachings that the purpose of politics is to make men virtuous and that law should be used to coercively habituate moral virtue, but they did understand that their constitutional republic would depend on virtue for its success. “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People,” John Adams stated.

The radicals say the Founders had it backwards and that Aristotle was right. Adams was lucky to live at a time when virtue was thicker on the ground than now, and he incorrectly forecasted (or wishcasted) its continued presence. It was not a terrible guess, which we know because so many great men thought the same. But nobody bats a thousand.

Munoz still denies the path. “If we Americans are no longer sufficiently virtuous, the fault lies primarily with us, not our founding principles.” It’s true we are to blame for our own decisions (everybody always is), but this is not to disprove we got here from the actual founding principles of equality and rights. Now it could be the emphasis on equality and rights at the Founding was not what we are making it out to be, and that the natural law had a more prominent place. There is surely some truth in that, but because equality is false and rights were always made to seem like a gift to the State (“Bill of Rights”), we did not start from an ideal place.

I won’t discuss, as Munoz does, the Constitution, because it is clear (to him, too) that whatever is written must be interpreted. The radicals say that grounding interpretations on equality and rights gives us results—voil&agrave!—aligned with equality and rights. Because equality is false, and rights are (believed to be) granted by the State, to enforce equality and award rights, the State must inexorably grow. Hence abortion, gmarriage, etc., say the radicals. That story is so well known we don’t need to retell it.

Classic liberals could retort, again with some force, that all civilizations commit suicide or are conquered eventually, and what makes us so special? Equality and rights gave us a good two hundred-plus years! Even if we started with natural law, we’d end up in a ditch sooner or later. Well, who could but agree? Plus what makes all this discussion almost pointless is that however we started we are where we are now, and we all see where we’re going (including Munoz, God bless him), and we also see that only the insane want to get to the final destination. The real questions are: can we get from where we are to a better place? If so, how?

Here Munoz joins with the radicals. We must “regain both political wisdom and the character that befits a constitutional people. Reacquaintance with our actual liberal principles and a return to belief in the existence of an obligatory moral law are essential.” (This does not imply the Constitution has to remain as it was.) I think it is only politeness (for Munoz is a learned and humble man) that has him say that to institute a preeminence of the natural law “may require a reemergence of religious belief, especially among the cultural elite where it has precipitously declined.” The radical would change that “may” to “must’. We guess Munoz would too, in private, because he says “Morality, it must be recalled, is a precondition of political freedom.” That morality must be derived from the natural law.

Alas, I think that unless God looks with mercy on us, and so leads us to another Great Awakening (for which we all ought to pray), it is better to speak of an anticipated Restoration, as our reactionary friends have it. Anticipated because it assumes the slide toward the Left Singularity (as it has been called) will continue. Much worse is to come. The pace is anybody’s guess, but there is wisdom in the old phrase motus in fine velocior: things accelerate at the end.

Note: I do not mean for this to be a complete explanation or a brief in favor of Catholic integralism. All I want to establish here is that States founded on Equality & Rights, as seen here and in Europe, come to the same bad end.

3 thoughts on “If The Founding Principles Were So Great, How’d We Get To Where We Are? Part II Leave a comment

  1. I might be off base, the notion of founding principles and “we” is like reification, the deadly sin. Some of the founders went off the rails early, like Franklin with his post office and Hamilton with his bank. There was only a minority of citizens that were on board with liberty, but they sufficed to build the most prosperous country ever.

    Whatever the key failing of the founding principles was, it would have had to overcome the continual war against the US waged by those who feared the power of liberty and freedom. It started immediately after the revolution. England in 1812. Marxist immigrants and interference in 1840s. Lincoln ‘s aggression. More power hungry socialist like both Roosevelt’s, Wilson, and being pulled into two world wars, followed by intense socialist invasion.

    Perhaps the founders could have defined limits of government more clearly like no government charity or subsidies, no federal money printing or currency. Its hard to know where to stop. The breif document still is beautiful.

  2. Perhaps the founding principles are to blame for where we are now. It could be argued also that Tradition is to blame for where we are now (Post-Vatican II, novus ordo, etc).

    Leftists clearly have no regard for the Constitution, so it’s pretty clear there’s been a break somewhere in the principles.

    Are there any states you can point to which were based on the Natural Law and haven’t met the same fate as the United States? The Scandinavian monarchies and UK, (monarchies!) are argueably worse than the US. Maltas official religion is Roman Catholic. Don’t they have divorce and gay marriage?