It is clear by now that President Barack Obama is willing to blow right through the rule of law whenever it suits him.
Given the history of “imperial” presidents in the past four decades, that shouldn’t much surprise us. What’s shocking to normal Americans are some of the causes for which he is willing to break the law.
We are puzzled by his decision to arrange the release of five master terrorists, in order to free a soldier who was apparently a disgruntled and anti-American deserter that sought out the Taliban himself. Accounts from the front lines are muddled, of course, and no doubt the commander-in-chief is giving orders to keep them that way—even as leftist media twist and spin this story like frenzied ballet dancers.
President Barack Obama walks with Jani Bergdahl, left, and her husband Bob Bergdahl, right after he spoke about the release of their son, U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Saturday, May 31, 2014. Bergdahl, 28, had been held prisoner by the Taliban since June 30, 2009. He was handed over to U.S. special forces by the Taliban in exchange for the release of five Afghan detainees held by the United States. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Even more appalling was Obama’s decision to release “36,007 deportable aliens with criminal convictions in 2013. Those aliens, with no right to remain in the U.S., included 193 homicide convictions, 426 sexual assault convictions, 303 kidnapping convictions, 1,075 aggravated assault convictions, and 1,160 stolen vehicle convictions,” according to Newsworks.
These are not the kind of “new Americans” anyone needs.
We might be less puzzled, but ought to be equally horrified, by Obama’s willingness to use pilotless drones to execute Americans without due process of law. While none of us mourns the loss to the world of American traitors who run off to join our terrorist enemies, Sen. Rand Paul is absolutely right to warn that the Constitution does not give the president authority to execute Americans without trial. That’s the kind of royal power that our Founding Fathers regarded with unmixed horror, which is exercised today by tinpot dictators in places like North Korea.
Our nation was founded on the theory that human beings must control their passions by reason, and obey the “laws of nature” imposed by “Nature’s God.” People who govern themselves that way are suitable citizens for a country that leaves them free, only interfering with their decisions when they violate others’ rights or gravely impair the common good. So John Locke wrote, and Thomas Jefferson echoed him.
While neither man’s philosophy was perfect, their views could be reconciled with the basic Christian preference for freedom over coercion, and the sovereignty of the individual conscience. One of Locke’s philosophical rivals, Thomas Hobbes, disagreed.
Photo source: Americans for Prosperity
He thought that the natural state of mankind was tyranny whipping chaos into submission. He rejected the idea that a rational God had implanted a natural law in the human heart and endowed human beings with rights; Hobbes saw human beings as wildly spinning atoms, blindly driven by fear, lust, greed, and the will to power. The only way to prevent them from explosively colliding and producing the kind of chaos which he had witnessed (the English Civil War) was to subjugate them completely to the control of a powerful government - a Leviathan - which would controlled by a single man whose decisions could never be questioned.
And Hobbes was right - up to a point. When people do reject the natural law, and forget the God who endowed them with rights and reason, they will act as Hobbes predicted and it is unsafe to leave them free.
The conservative philosopher Edmund Burke warned that citizens who will not or cannot control themselves will need a dictator to protect them from each other - that in fact, such reckless people will welcome a tyrant as the only alternative to chaos.
We see Burke proven right in many countries across the world, from Putin’s Russia to dozens of dictatorships in the Islamic world and elsewhere, where governments are nepotistic and unaccountable, and the citizens beaten down and cynical, obedient to the state because they fear their neighbors even more than the secret police. Wherever the citizens and their institutions have been so broken down by ideology, corruption, and social decay that people habitually act as if it’s every man for himself, it’s impossible to maintain a free society.
Remember what Benjamin Franklin said to a man who asked him what the Constitutional Convention had given America: “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Our Founders were deeply concerned that America’s citizens keep up a level of civic and moral virtue, supported by faith, that would teach them to govern themselves in their private lives - and make responsible choices when picking their leaders. Failing that, the American republic might well descend into the kind of alternating dictatorship and chaos that marks many other “republics.”
With the breakdown of the family, and the collapse of the ideal of virtue and self-restraint, too many Americans are acting like addicts - as selfish, short-sighted, pleasure-seeking perpetual teenagers. A country whose citizens routinely blow past the moral law to gain immediate gratification should not be surprised when their leaders do the same. They are spinning like atoms in the void, and they really do need a Leviathan.
And God help us, it seems like we’re getting one.
If we want to reclaim the freedom our Founders bequeathed us, we need to take up the cross of virtue they hoped we would carry. We must learn again what human dignity means, and live according to the laws of Nature’s God. Or else we will have no real law at all.
Jason Jones and John Zmirak are co-authors of the upcoming "The Race to Save Our Century: Five Core Principles to Promote Peace, Freedom, and a Culture of Life."
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