"When you want to fool the world, tell the truth" Bismarck
The Broken Covenant
The individual and society
[Editor: this is a rather long article, but please be patient and read it to the end which is particularly explosive]
A tension between the rights and interests of the individual and those of society as a whole has always bedeviled political thought. Failure to reconcile this tension will lead inevitably to conflict. The nation or community will then veer either towards complete anarchy, where everyone is a law unto himself, or towards the only other alternative of a totalitarian regime, where one rules over all.
Conflict unresolved finds its end in chaos and death, but also the longing for peace on a false footing will produce the same result. Relativistic thinking provides no solution, but just further exacerbates the difficulties. Under these conditions, every point of view, religious, political, philosophical, is equally legitimate, equally true relative to all others, despite the fact that one may contradict another. Everyone is a citizen, every opinion and culture is equally valid and legal. Chaotic anarchy prevails, yet at the same time one point of view works to eliminate all its rivals, killing off all others until total supremacy is achieved. The conflict will retain the upper hand, in the process of which all who differ from the mainstream will be criminalized. There is a perennial ambivalence between a ruling aristocracy of political and social élites, suppressing and controlling people and the fight-back by the underdogs. Initially, tolerance of all groups is preached, but one group will often used as a weapon against its rivals in the climb to the ultimate dominance of one. One religion may be used against another in order to destroy both. The end will always be repression and a totalitarian State. Having subdued all rivals it alone determines what is true and what is false, what can be said and what cannot be said, what can be tolerated and what cannot be.
Both individualism and collectivism have the same roots. An individualistic society, where the individual is of more significance than the group, will tend to dismantle and destroy all that restricts the identity and freedom of the individual. By contrast, a mass society works to reduce the individual to just one number among many. The reality, however, is very different. An individualistic society will also at one and the same time be a mass society. The reason for this is that the first step to liberate the individual is to break up those small groups that are an organic fact of society. The individual frees himself from family, from the local community, from village, parish and all relatives. The result is that that the then individual faces the rest of his fellows as a whole but on his own. When not held together by these small societal structures, men are then forced to live alongside each other in a mass, but in an unstructured manner.
Mass society is based on individuals, even when their identities are isolated and their significance and meaning is determined by the relationship of one to another. Because each one claims to be equal to the next, they immediately become a mathematical abstraction, reduced to a number. When and where this mass of individuals regroups it begins to lose both its individualism and some of its characteristics as a mass society. Groups of élites form within what largely remains a mass society. They rest on a framework of strongly structured centralized political parties, trades unions, and similar groupings. These organizations reach out to an active minority, everyone else being left out in the cold. These minorities are no longer individualistic because all are integrated into these associations. When observing an individualistic and a mass society, we are observing two corollary aspects of the same reality. Propaganda must appeal to the masses and at the same time also to the individual.
According to Thomas Hobbes, a despotic government is best able to enforce order on individuals without restraint. Why then are not all governments despotic? The reason must be that ‛all men are born equal’, or so it is claimed. Everyone has the same rights as every other person on earth. Order is not an end of government in itself, but only the means whereby men enjoy freedom and equality. However, we must be mindful, equality is a mathematical term and it is difficult to impose a mathematical abstraction on human beings. In almost all suggested solutions, the reality is that men are indeed levelled, but only to be stripped of all power to create a State that is equal to the people. Instead, everything is above them to crush them. The power of authorities is absolute, unlimited as to persons and property. Everything existing within its jurisdiction can be reached and must support the State.
The general theory of the State suggests that it exists for the purpose of law and order, the institution of property, the preservation and security of life. Liberty is consequently dependent on the existence of the State. Private ownership of property is postulated on the existence of the State and the State may in its own eyes properly exhaust all resources of private property in the support and preservation of its own existence. All privileges and liberties thus derive from the State and it may take away any share of those privileges to preserve itself. The State has become the whole, comprehending the life and property of every person and thing and is itself the most basic and highest value of all. This is a most unacceptable state of affairs.
The Social Covenant, Compact or Contract
A resolution of the conflict between the individual and society has been suggested in the form of a social compact or contract between individuals and rulers. It would seem from a reading of history, that there is much to the argument that the social contract was developed from the Christian and biblical idea of covenant. It being the case that God always deals with men under the terms of a covenant, there will, it has been suggested, also be a covenant or compact when we come to consider civil government and the ordering of things on earth. Just and peaceful government, therefore, will be founded on a covenant. A three-way covenant was said to exist between individuals in the presence of God and under His laws in which it is the duty of the government to act and enforce conformity to God’s revealed Word. This covenant is valid regardless of its acceptance or refusal. As with all God’s covenants with men, they are initiated by Him and oblige all men without exception.
It is a mistake to view the thousand years of the medieval period as ‛dark ages’ as many are want to do. Rather, its view of God, man and government was a clear improvement on the previous pagan order. Before this time, nature was something to be feared, to be appeased by magic. Warring gods ruled the forces of nature and were to be placated, magically propitiated and manipulated through the intermediary offices of a divinized ruler or polis in possession of esoteric knowledge. This was now largely gone, replaced by an understanding of God as Creator and Sovereign of the universe. Scripture as the Word of God removed the divine from the State to God Himself. Now kings and rulers were subject to the higher rule of God’s law and this law was accessible and knowable. The validity of the covenant in medieval times was central and shaped the institutions of the West. The idea of a higher law dominated politics at the time. The teaching of a Covenant implied a higher law to which all men are obligated, the violation of which brings punishment.
These ideas were clearly set forth in the Huguenot document of 1579, Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, which stressed the duty of all men to obey the law of God. It argued that should rulers command the contrary, it becomes the duty of the people under the leadership of magistrates to oppose the offending king in order to uphold God’s law. The law of God applies to all men in the first instance because He is the Sovereign Creator of all things. It applies to all men without exception and that whether rich or poor, believer or unbeliever. All men are required to keep God’s law despite that fact that all have broken it and stand before Him as guilty sinners. All men are equal before the law because they are God’s creatures and because they are sinners. No one is above God, no one is above His law and are sinners having transgressed the law. All stand accused.
In a Christian commonwealth, such as that envisaged by the English Puritans and the early settlers in North America, God’s government is founded upon and established by law as must be all human governments. Civil government is seen as being of divine origin for the good of people in the midst of original sin. It will have the good of the people at its heart or lose God’s sanction. Rulers are limited by the fundamental constitution of God’s law. Here a just government is one founded on a compact between rulers and people under divine law. Any act that is contrary to this compact is illegal and therefore null and void. No one is bound to obey such an illegal act, so that there exists the right to resist encroachments on one’s right to life, liberty and the fruit of one’s labours. There should be honour and obedience, on the grounds of the compact, to good rulers and spirited opposition to bad ones. In this latter case, he who resists someone in authority who has violated fundamental law is not a rebel but a protector and upholder of the law. Not without reason, Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protector and declined all offers of a crown. Rulers themselves live under the law and their powers are not absolute but limited by it. It is totally unjustified to assert a supposed right to absolute rule. In the English Revolution and also the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the validity of absolute power was denied.
The Secularisation of the Christian Covenant
The biblical doctrine of total depravity, of original sin, found a parallel particularly within the secular doctrines of Thomas Hobbes (1588--1679) as did the idea of ‛covenant’ or ‛social contract’ which also surfaces in the writings of John Locke (1632-1704) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). The pure Christian teaching was diluted because the classical tradition of ‛natural right’ was introduced. It was understood that there were universal norms found in God’s revealed will which could be known by the study of Scripture. Natural law was always thought to be a part of the human constitution, but now it was made available and credible by the sovereign God of Scripture. This combined classical and Christian understanding and gave rise to the Renaissance and Enlightenment theory of natural rights. Property rights, for example, were inviolable and beyond the interference of kings and rulers. Much later, in the United States teaching on natural rights was influenced by the writings of English Puritans and the Glorious Revolution but especially through the writings of John Locke, who wrote in a secular vein despite his Puritan background.
The classical tradition of natural rights was given a Christian tone by emphasizing universal legal norms produced by God’s will, yet knowable from Scripture rather than being the abstract universals knowable only by the autonomous rationality of classical thought. Natural law had always presupposed a God who had designed its laws into the constitution of man’s being. Hobbes first of all, then Locke, tried to supplant the earlier idea of covenant with a replacement secularised social compact or contract.
The classical liberalism of John Locke attempted to combine both the ideas of the Reformation and of the Renaissance, even although in reality they were entirely incompatible. From the Reformation Lock took:
- the absolute worth of human personality
- a higher, rationally knowable, divinely given law
- society as a compact under God based on higher law and culturally prevalent Christian morality.
From the Renaissance he took:
- the autonomy of the human mind in the newly revived dictum of Potagoras: ‛man the measure of all things’
- the outlook of new science; society composed of atomistic individuals living together under laws not revealed, but made and obeyed not because they are inherent justice, but because of the force and coercion behind them.
In this way the Christian faith was first reduced to a rationalistic religion and then it was attacked as irrational. By the beginning of the 19th century utilitarianism had proclaimed the unknowable hedonistic principle of the ‛greatest good for the greatest number’. Later, pragmatism and historicism taught endless change as fundamental and reinforced by Darwinian evolutionary speculation. Finally, positivism proclaimed nihilistic facts-values dualism. All traces of Christian morality and assumptions were removed in thoroughly relativistic and collectivistic 20th century liberalism.
Secular forms of the social covenant, compact, contract, generally postulate an original ‛natural state’ in which everyone lived as free and equal individuals, at the same time remaining individuals. Hobbes’ use of the theory of the ‛social contract’ sought to explain society and the various individual obligations involved. This compromise or contract, still called a ‛covenant’ by Hobbes in his work Leviathan, is an agreement among people to live by a certain set of rules or conventions we now call the ‛laws of society’. Hobbes and others believed that the original contract would in the end justify the abandonment of all freedom of personality. The social contract for him is not orientated to personality, but to the rigid domination of the laws of mathematical science. By contrast, Locke formulated inalienable human rights in opposition to the absolutist doctrines of Hobbes. Locke was a genuine Enlightenment figure. He held fast to an optimistic view in which mathematics provided instead the best guarantee of the freedom of personality.
Thomas Hobbes preferred the evils of absolute power to those of a chaotic society. We must see his assertions against the background of the English Civil War where Hobbes fled to the Continent. He did not want to live in a country lacking a powerful sovereign and he felt in constant danger of assassination. He returned to England, but in 1662 was ordered to stop all publishing on social and political matters or end up in gaol. He believed the only way to keep one’s life, property, or family safe is to compel people to obey the laws of society or be punished. Abuses of power are to be preferred above chaos. According to Hobbes this can only work when there exists a single all-powerful sovereign with authority to enforce the law. A group of rulers would always tend to fall into conflict among themselves. There would be a divided power of enforcement. A single monarch, on the other hand, cannot be divided against himself and enjoys the ‛leak free’ secrecy of counsel.
Without this kind of social contract, says Hobbes, chaos would ensue because essentially all men are by nature selfish and egoistic. Hobbes’ statement is well-known, that man’s life in a state of nature is ‛solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’. To survive the conflicts of the state of nature he must effectively abandon all egotistical impulses. Therefore, society is a compromise entered into by the population for the sake of peace and is essential to survival. Chaos and conflict would follow were there no such laws. Hobbes believed the law to be only of use when enforced and this can only be the case where there is absolute power. Otherwise, conflict becomes impossible to avoid.
Even under Hobbes’ social contract, the subject has certain ‛liberties’ or things he may refuse to carry out when commanded by a monarch. Despite the sovereignty created by the covenant or contract, a subject retains all those natural rights which cannot be transferred by covenant.
- obedience cannot be demanded where one’s own life is in danger
- the subject is not bound to testify against himself in a criminal action
- military service may be refused where the sovereign’s purpose is not the maintenance of peace. The subject may not refuse to defend the realm.
Liberty does not include the defence of anyone seeking to overthrow the sovereign. Rebellion of this kind is always unwarranted. The protection of a criminal from officers of the law is also unjust. There is liberty to defend lives from threats by the sovereign and the sovereign can be sued. All obligations to the sovereign last only for as long as the sovereign is able to protect. The whole point of obedience in the end is protection. No subject is permitted to make a new covenant or to rebel against the monarch as long as he is able to protect him.
Hobbes thought that no breach of the covenant was possible by the sovereign himself as he has made no contract with his subjects. They have agreed among themselves to abide by certain laws and have appointed the sovereign as an agent to enforce those laws. There is one appointed sovereign holding absolute power and any dissenting minority must acquiesce or suffer the consequences. It is not possible for the sovereign to act unjustly towards anyone. The sovereign makes the law, so that what he does will be the law. He is in control of all opinions and decide what will cause chaos or conflict and what will bring peace. He makes all the civil laws and adjudicates disagreements involving the law.
It is John Locke who can said to be the theoretical architect of our modern form of democracy. His work the Second Treatise on Civil Government was especially influential to both the founders of the American and French republics. Evidence of Locke is found in the wording of the American Constitution and also the Declaration of Independence. Both documents are full of expressions taken directly from John Locke.
- “All men are created equal...”
- “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness...”
- “We hold these to be truths to be self-evident...”
Locke was involved in intrigue against the King of England and was forced to flee on two occasions, in 1675 and again in 1679. He opposed most vehemently the views of Thomas Hobbes.
Locke begins with the origins of government and a ‛social contract’ just as Hobbes does. In order to provide an answer to Hobbes, he distinguishes between life in a ‛state of nature’ and life in a ‛state of war’. Life in a state of nature is to a large degree peaceful. Men own private property, land, private possessions, sheep and cattle, and can dispose of property at will. Men by nature are not wholly selfish; they co-operate and often work together for the benefit of each other. Nevertheless, from time to time they will behave egotistically.
The only law governing men is said to be the ‛law of nature’. This can be summarised by saying that “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions”. Men will from time to time transgress the law of nature; they may attempt to kill or steal. When this happens the injured person has the right to punish the wrongdoer. There is no real reason for men to leave the state of nature and form societies, except for difficulties arising in punishing those who offend the law. There are three main basic difficulties arising from this supposed state of affairs:
- each man in the state of nature is his own judge as to what is right and wrong. This can, of course, be biased. Who then decides who is right and who is wrong?
- even when it is clear that the law has been violated, many have not sufficient force to punish the wrongdoer.
- the degree of punishment may vary between different groups of individuals.
To overcome these problems men require:
- a judiciary that will administer the law impartially.
- an executive that can enforce the law when broken.
- a legislature to lay down consistent and uniform laws.
Society therefore comes about as attempts are made to develop institutions that will remedy these defects. The community will decide among themselves precisely what the nature of these institutions is to be.
A state of war is a completely different scenario and exists when one person or group of persons seeks absolute power over all the others. There is no ‛common judge’, just a struggle for survival. Hobbes’ mistake, so Locke, was to confuse the two states. In the state of war, persons create this situation between themselves and those whom they seek to dominate. Opposition in this case is not simply justified, but required. According to Locke, the monarch by seeking absolute domination over citizenry has established a state of war between them. This must be true for any kind of tyrannical government.
In John Locke we find some of the most basic elements of democratic theory:
- the law not force is the basis of government.
- government without law is tyrannical.
It is the characteristic of monarchy, particularly that envisaged by Hobbes, to rule by decree. Even though there may be no previous law, a monarch may fabricate one at will and imprison anyone he does not like. Such a government rules by caprice and society is rendered unstable. Democracy on the other hand is government by laws arrived at by long deliberation by properly chosen representatives of the people and published so that everyone knows them.
There are some areas of life that are immune from government interference, these are called ‛rights’ by Locke. From this came the Bill of Rights in the American Constitution. The Bill of Rights maintains the government is powerless to limit certain conduct, e.g. the freedom to speak or worship as one pleases. The main right found in Locke is the right to own property. No government can justly confiscate property because private property is largely the fruit of one’s own physical labour. In Locke the term ‛property’ is used to refer to a man’s life and liberty as well as property. Confiscation of property is understood to be an attack on the physical person. Hobbes and Rousseau strongly disagree. Property, they held to be a creation of society. Hobbes maintained that before society exists there can be no ‛thine or mine’. No one has any right to anything, save for that which he can hold on to by force. This is rejected by Locke. He had a profound influence on the Bill of Rights and established the democratic belief that ‛all men are created equal by nature’.
Locke believed all men to be equal in the sense that they have rights which are anterior to those given them by society. Since they are not given them by society, then equally they cannot be taken from them by society. Today it is clearly understood that everyone is to be treated equally before the law and ‛due process’ is the application of it.
The most important element in Locke’s theory is that society is created to eliminate the defects of the state of nature. On leaving the state of nature the power of punishment is given to an executive whom the people appoint. Locke emphasises that the executive is appointed by the people and therefore responsible to them. In summary, he believes that the purpose of government is to make laws for the regulation and preservation of property, for the defence of the community against external aggression, and all this only for the public good.
If the government violates our trust by attempting to usurp our rightful authority, we can dismiss it. A people must agree to who its rulers are to be. Ultimately, the source of authority lies with people who appoint the government. All powers of authority are delegated. Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address is in parts almost a paraphrase from Locke’s Second Treatise.
“A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people. Whoever rejects it does, of necessity, fly to anarchy or despotism. Unanimity is impossible; the rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy or despotism in some form is all that is left.”
In 1750 a question was posed by the Academy of Dijon and a prize offered for the best response. Jean-Jacques Rousseau submitted “Discours sur les sciences et les arts”. He shot to fame. His offering was a passionate attack on humanistic civilisation which had been dominated by the science ideal and trampled on the rights of human personality to a natural development. From the outset the humanistic ideal of science had implied a fundamental problem between scientific thought and autonomous freedom and the value of human personality. Rousseau found an antinomy between these two. He did not shy away from the consequences of disavowing the science ideal in order to make possible the recognition of human personality as a moral aim in itself.
In Rousseau, the free individual remains the central point of the civil state. Locke construed the transition from the natural to the civil state by means of social contract. Citizens had already possessed their inalienable rights of freedom and property in the natural state, but needed the social contract to guarantee them by an organised power. This was the sole purpose of the social contract as far as Locke was concerned, namely the continuation of the natural state under the protection of an authority, the maintenance of innate human rights of the individual.
By contrast, Rousseau broke with this older form of liberalism. He did not consider the natural state of freedom and equality to be the highest ideal in and of itself. This state of affairs had gone forever. Man is called to a much higher destiny within the civil state. Only in the civil state can the sovereign freedom of the individual be elevated in its true value. The innate natural rights of men must be transformed into the inalienable rights of the citizens. It is by means of the social contract, says Rousseau, that the individual surrenders all of his natural freedom to receive it back again in the higher form of the freedom of the citizen.
Rousseau rejects the subjection of personality to mathematical thought. He says: “To renounce liberty is to renounce being a man, to surrender the rights of humanity and even its duties ... These words slavery and right contradict each other, and are mutually exclusive” (The Social Contract, Book I; Chapter IV). Freedom, like equality, is a inalienable human right that is to be abandoned in its natural form only to be regained in its higher form of citizenship. In Rousseau, transition from the natural state to the civil state must guarantee the sovereign freedom of personality in its only legitimate form, that of association. This was in opposition to earlier humanistic theories of natural law. Personality here achieves supremacy over the ideal of science. “The problem is to find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain free as before” (loc. cit).
The problem is therefore to be solved once more through the ‛social contract’. To be valid such a contract must contain the precise words that each individual delivers himself with all his natural rights to all collectively and thus through becoming subject to the whole by his participation in the ‛general will’ receives again all his natural rights in a higher juridical form. “For, in the first place, as each gives himself absolutely, the conditions are the same for all; and, this being so, no one has any interest in making them burdensome to others” (loc. cit).
According to Rousseau, the inalienable right of freedom maintains itself in the sovereignty of the people which can never be transferred to a magistrate. The sovereign will of the people is the general will which expresses itself in legislation. This must be sharply distinguished from the ‛volonté de tous’. Volonté générale is directed exclusively towards the general interest which is incompatible with the existence of private associations between the State and the individual because they foster particularism. Public law is formed by the general will and does not recognise any counter-poise in private spheres of association. The ‛social contract’ is the only juridical basis for all the rights of citizens. So the construction of the general will becomes the lever of an unbridled absolutism of the legislator.
“As nature gives each man absolute power over all his members, the social compact gives the body politic absolute power over all its members also; and it is this power which, under the direction of the general will, bears, as I have said, the name of sovereignty” (ibid, Book II; Chapter IV).
Rousseau sees an inner tension between volonté générale and the individual freedom of personality. “But, besides the public person, we have to consider the private persons composing it, whose life and liberty are naturally independent of it. We are bound then to distinguish clearly between the respective rights of the citizens and the sovereign, and between the duties of the former have to fulfil as subjects, and the natural rights they enjoy as men” (loc. cit.).
For Rousseau it is beyond dispute that in the social contract every individual transfers to the State only as much of his natural power, possessions, and freedom as is required for the ‛common good’ of the community. The ‛common good’ and also ‛general will’ do not recognise individuals, only the whole. In his democratic revolutionary political philosophy, nevertheless, Rousseau did not abandon altogether the mathematical pattern of thought. He sought to maintain the natural rights of human personality in the face of the despotism of Hobbes’ Leviathan.
Rousseau distinguishes between ‛volonté générale’ and the ‛volonté de tous’ as the former can only be directed towards the common good.
“There is often a great deal of difference between the will of all and the general will; the latter considers only the common interest, while the former takes private interest into account, and is no more than a sum of particular wills; but take away from these same wills the pluses and minuses that cancel one another, and the general will remains as the sum of the differences. ” (loc. cit.)
With reference to the general will:
“Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole” (ibid, Book I; Chapter VI).
Personal freedom is absorbed by the principle of majority.
“...whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free” (ibid, Book I; Chapter VII).
The State Leviathan is construed in Hobbes, but does not disappear altogether in Rousseau and this despite the picture of Leviathan with its head cut off in the frontispiece of the first edition of The Social Contract. The State still operates in accordance with the mathematical ideal of science, respecting no limits, devouring free personality in every sphere of life. The idea of the ‛volonté générale’ is meant in a normative sense. In it personality was to regain its natural autonomous freedom in a higher form construed by mathematical thought. Its introduction implied the absorption of free personality into a despotic construction issued from the condemned ideal of science.
Rousseau had outgrown the spirit of the Enlightenment. The accent of his philosophy shifted to ideal of personality. The latter can no longer be identified with mathematical thought. Feeling became the true seat of the humanistic ideal of personality which had been robbed of its vitality by the science ideal. He continually pleads to return into ourselves, that freed from the burden of science we may learn true virtues from the principles inscribed in the heart of everyone. He re-awakened the ideal of personality calling humanistic thought to self-reflection on the religious motive of freedom and autarchy of personality which called science into being in the first place.
In the event of a breach of the covenant
Some deny outright the existence of any social contract, particularly today. It is true that there may be no formal arrangement. Nevertheless, it can be argued that the fact that we agree to live as law-abiding citizens in and of itself indicates that we have accepted a form of contract by implication. Yet, where the State obliges us, we too expect the State to meet its obligations towards us in return. For as long as governments rule justly, the people will agree to obey the laws of the land faithfully. The position of government and the citizen with respect to this covenant is different in each case. Our governments promise simply, absolutely and unconditionally. This can only be so, for they are not above the people. The people promise conditionally. When governments fail the people, they are relieved of their promise. As we agree to be law-abiding citizens, should governments break the covenant, do not keep their side of the bargain, we are relieved of our side of the contract. Their authority over us is null and void. If one party breaks the contract, satisfaction can be demanded by the other. Should any among us default, it will be quickly agreed that the government is called upon to extract payment or execute punishment of some kind for the wrongdoing. Equally, the same accountability and retribution in the face of wrongdoing must be exacted from governments and their officers.
Disregard for the citizens over whom they rule, dismissing all responsibility to the people for what they do in their name, when such tyranny and corruption sets in all attempts to rescue the political system they operate will become futile. The structures of government have strayed far beyond legitimacy and must be dismantled and rebuilt from the bottom up into something entirely new. They cannot be repaired or reformed: they must be replaced. In such circumstances, we must ask ourselves whether and in what way governments can be rightfully resisted and removed, threatening as they do to bring ruin to the nation. If so, by whom should this be carried out?
This is our civic duty to act against offending governments. There can be no excuse for inaction on our part. How can we go about removing a guilty government? Who exactly may punish our rulers? The answer must always be the people. When speaking of ‘the people’, it is understood that we mean those who stand for the people, e.g. the magistrates and judges below the ruler, a tribunal authority that can restrain the encroachments of sovereignty and represent the people. Yet more often than not, where government offends, the judiciary will itself be equally guilty, equally corrupt. What then should we do then, where the government uses its own agents, judges, provosts, police and similar, to force us to do wrong, shall we not then work to depose them? Of course we must do so, lest once more we make ourselves partakers of their evil deeds and equally guilty. If our rulers can be punished, so too can we for our failure to act or to initiate action against them. It follows that a people who fail to act, or worse still support their ruler in his crime, make themselves guilty of the same misdemeanour and must bear the same punishment as the rulers. Have we no recourse to uncorrupted courts of justice, the response must be made progressively lower down even to the formation of groups representative of those wronged, namely, ‛...we the people’.
We obey Caesar only for as long as he fulfils the office of Caesar. A government may fail in its duties by equally also exceed its limitations, take to itself authority to which it has no right, and has been given no right by the people it rules. We do not expect government to intervene in the upbringing of our children where there is no criminal abuse. Nor, for that matter is it the duty of government to educate our children. It has no right to confiscate our property, or tax at will imposing upon us impossible burdens. It is not the duty of the State to look after our health or provide healthcare. Nevertheless, it should ensure that those who cannot care for themselves are cared for by others and assisted to do so. It is its duty to see that we are protected from incompetent or fraudulent practitioners. When the State fails or would induce us to do wrong, it then quite reasonable not to obey, even if initially this amounts only to passive resistance.
Is it then not right for private individuals to take up arms? That which is required of the people as a whole cannot generally be performed by individuals except in immediate self-defence. Individuals who draw the sword in other circumstances make themselves delinquents. If magistrates fail to use the sword when they should, then they too are guilty. Is it ever lawful to resist a ruler or government that oppresses or ruins the State with force of arms? There are numerous occasions where this has occurred in the past with some legitimacy even here in Britain.
Only by the consent of all the people can a government be chosen and rule. No political authority should rule without the full consent of the people. The whole body of the people is above the government, above the rulers. The people should choose and establish their rulers – and remember, the one who is established by another is under him. Those who receive authority are under those who give it. The people may live without a ruler, but there cannot be a ruler apart from the people. Those who are raised to rule do not do so because of their own wisdom, birth, excellence or status, but because of the mass of the people. When the people forsake a government, it falls and must be removed. To lose the people is always to lose power and the right to rule. Officers of government receive their authority from the people and this can only be removed by those who gave them that authority. Where it is not feasible for all the people to meet together, then the principle members of society should be gathered as representatives of the whole.
Are rulers above the law as Hobbes suggests? Does a ruler have in his power to determine everything merely according to his own will and pleasure? Is he himself subject to the law or does the law depend upon him? Certainly, governments ought to be the guardians of the law. Just in case the ruler should go against the law, the people of ancient empires invariably also appointed associates, counsellors. Nothing in the office of a ruler exempts him from obedience to the law. Before there was a king in Israel, God gave the civil and sacred laws through Moses. After the choosing of Saul and being established by the people, Samuel delivered the law to the king that he might carefully observe it. No succeeding king was received before having sworn to keep the Law of God. In a nominally Christian country such as Britain, this has also been the case up until our present Queen. The likelihood of this continuing under subsequent monarchs now seems remote. Under God, rulers receive laws from the people. A government may make new laws and abrogate the old, but only by common consent.
The arrangements prevailing in the ancient Persian Empire are interesting; seven magi or sages enjoyed equal dignity with the king. Kings never dissented from the judgement of the sages. At a similar time, in Egypt people chose and gave officers to the king to prevent encroachment and usurped authority contrary to the laws. Writing on politics, Aristotle does not recognise as lawful rulers those who have no officers, advisers or counsellors.The alternative is a barbarous tyranny. In Rome senators and magistrates were created by the people. The tribune is made up of those called celeres, the prætor or provost of the city and others. So there was an appeal from the king to the people. At the time of the Emperors there was the senate made up of consuls, prætors, governors of the provinces and the people, all of which were called magistrates and officers of the people of Rome. By decree of the senate, the Emperor Maximus was declared an enemy of the State. Maximus and Albinus were created Emperors by the State. Why were Emperors created in Rome and what was there principal duty? They did not receive power and authority from the people in order to make it serve or pander to their own pleasures. Augustine of Hippo said this: “Those are properly called lords and masters who provide for the good and profit of others.” Those who govern in this way serve those over whom they have command. To govern is nothing other than to make provision for those whom they rule. The only duty of rulers is to provide for the peoples’ good. A ruler who applies himself largely to working for his own profit and pleasures, perverts the law, makes cruel use of his subjects and can be regarded as nothing better than a tyrant and should be called to account and ousted.
Does a government have the power of life and death over subjects? Some think so. However, the ruler is but a minister and executor of the law and may only pull the sword from its sheath and use it against those whom the law also condemns. To do anything other than this goes beyond what is permitted him. In which case he is no longer a ruler but a tyrant; no longer a judge but is a criminal himself; not a conserver of the law, but a violator of it. Can the ruler then pardon those whom the law condemns? No, he cannot. Only cruel pity supports thieves, robbers, murderers, rapists, and others who plague us. Where this happens offences will only increase and provide the wrongdoer with yet more ammunition against the law. They become wolves among the sheep.
So it is that subjects or citizens must be regarded by their governments as their brethren not as their inferiors or slaves. Subjects or citizens taken as a whole body are themselves lords. They ought not to lift their hearts above those from whom they were chosen. Servile fear is a bad guardian, for whom we fear we also hate. Affection maintains authority; love preserves the foundation of greatness. Those who govern as brethren live securely. Those who rule men whilst treating them with contempt must themselves live in constant fear to which recent history testifies.
Does the property of the people belong ultimately to those who rule? Can he expropriate at will for his own or the perceived common good? Some believe the blood, sweat and tears, the industry of fellow citizens is their proper revenue. In such a situation the miserable population is here little more than kept beasts to till the earth for their master’s good and profit. On the contrary, rulers are in the place they enjoy for the benefit of the people and those in government who work for private ends and pleasures are once more little better than tyrants. Instead of extorting goods from their true owners, they ought to be defending them against those thieves and oppressors who deprive them of what is their own. What difference is it if some foreign invader, gangsters or the State, or some dreadful conman takes all I possess from me and leaves me a beggar? Is it not all the same?
Under Roman law a compulsory purchase order of private property was not possible, although at first glance this seems to have been the case. According to civil law everything belonged to the king. Caesar was lord of all things. Although the dominion of all belonged to Caesar, particular persons maintained the right of possession and commanding and the right of inheritance. A king may claim a right to a kingdom, but has no right to appropriate an honest man’s belongings, should he do so it is an injustice. Is not the government the proprietor of public revenue? The distinction between private and public expenditure must be rigidly maintained. It is simply wrong to employ public funds for anything other than the public good. Is the government the usufructor of the realm? (Usufruct is the right of enjoyment, profit from property, title to another or held in common ownership.) Clearly, not. That which is used by government for other uses than the public good has been unjustly extorted. Governments are neither proprietors nor usufructuaries of patrimonies, but solely administrators. They can by no just right attribute to themselves the property, use or profit of private men’s estates, nor of public revenues. It is simply wrong to do so. Most governments these days tend to believe anything thing that their own appetites suggest to them must be lawful. It is a dangerous thing to put power into the hands of any weak-minded person with a perverse disposition who believes his authority is unlimited.
Where professing Christian Churches forsake the faith this is referred to as religious apostasy. All too often our modern ‛democratic’ governments appear to have gone far beyond simply breaking the compact, covenant, or contract. They have become essentially civil apostates. Their power is built on political doctrines that are inimical, hostile, antagonistic to the welfare of the people over whom they rule. It includes tyranny, deep seated corruption and hidden goals that benefit only faceless élites. We must understand that as an apostate church is beyond reformation or recovery, so an apostate State cannot be reformed or repaired. The only solution is for it to be dismantled piece by piece and rebuilt once more from the bottom up.
That governments lie and lie again can be disputed only by those who are themselves lying. Jean-Claude Junker, current president of the European Commission, recently had the effrontery to admit, “When it becomes serious, you have to lie.” When politicians lie, then it is always serious. Since the 2008 bailout of bankers, the populace no longer believes that governments work on their behalf, but are daily faced with examples of how every effort is directed towards preserving the power and wealth of their cronies and powerful élites. Narratives supported by dubious statistics are designed to ‛manage expectations and perceptions’. Perpetual and hardly concealed lying propaganda about everything from Putin to alleged paedophilia in high places has eroded all popular trust in politicians in Britain. When a politician opens his or her mouth, we expect a lie to pop out and usually we are not surprised when it does. Government legitimacy has evaporated like mist in the sunshine. The yawning gulf between the perpetual political blather about how well we are all doing, how the improved economic situation is making us all feel better, and the reality we each face day-by-day has been stretched to a breaking point of credibility.
Anyone publicly challenging the narrative of lies are at risk of being entrapped, investigated, and brought before the courts on lunatic charges. The propaganda and threats will increase, becoming more and more strident against dissent. The limitations on State power are expressed as rendering unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar - and not more than that. The tyrannical modern governments expect and demands utter compliance to all its laws and regulations, but also absolute obedience to its narratives and policies. They talk, we grovel. To withhold such obedience is to be deemed a traitor.
A tyrannical government is not necessary always one that gains power directly by violence; it can also be by some other peaceful means, as demonstrated by the Nazis in 1933. A tyrant may initially be lawfully invested by election or succession, but then govern contrary to the law and the equity to which he obliged himself at reception. Tyrannical governments oppress by calumnies and fraud, using corrupt officers of state. They will give out false reports of conspiracies against himself as a pretext for his actions. They will invent scenarios involving imaginary enemies, or provoke to action those who actually wish them no harm through bellicose rhetoric. A corrupt ruler will gather around him corrupt officials, who act in self-interest but are absolutely the other’s creatures. A corrupt and tyrannical ruler keeps acolytes on side by working to their benefit as well as his own. The tyrant hates, suspects, and fears wise, honest and virtuous men like no others. He sees his own security as best served in the corruption of officers of state.
We have said, the people are obliged to governments under a condition, but governments are obliged to the people unconditionally, pure and simple. If the government fails, breaking the covenant, then the people are exempt from obedience the contract is void, the right of obligation has no force. People who publically renounce the unjust dominion of a tyrant or seek expulse him by force are not guilty of any crime. It is permitted for officers of the kingdom to suppress a tyrant, it becomes not only lawful but a duty. The government holds first place in the administration of the state, and the officers the second. The officers of state are also guilty if they connive in a government’s wickedness. All discharge their duties under a solemn oath.
D. William Norris
"Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made" Bismarck