In the 2007 forward to a re-publication of Frederic Bastiat's essay, "The Law," first published in 1850, Thomas DiLorenzo wrote: "Socialists want 'to play God,' Bastiat observed, anticipating all the future tyrants and despots of the world who would try to remake the world in their image, whether that image would be communism, fascism, the 'glorious union,' or 'global democracy.'"
Bastiat also observed that socialists wanted forced conformity; rigid regimentation of the population through pervasive regulation; forced equality of wealth; and dictatorship. As such, they were the mortal enemies of liberty. 'Dictatorship' need not involve an actual dictator. All that was needed, said Bastiat, was 'the laws,' enacted by a Congress or a Parliament, that would achieve the same effect: forced conformity."
Today we see, of course, that it need not be a congress or a parliament at all, but an unelected Supreme Court which bestows on itself the power to enact law on the rest of the country. And not even the whole court, but only five of the members on it. These laws, we are told must be obeyed or else. This is, we are told, a nation of laws. And, we are told, we here in this country believe in "the rule of law."
Bastiat said, "If every man has the right of defending, even by force, his person, his liberty, and his property, a number of men have the right to combine together to extend, to organize a common force to provide regularly for this defense. Collective right, then, has its principle, its reason for existing, its lawfulness, in individual right; and the common force cannot rationally have any other end, (emphasis added) or any other mission, than that of the isolated forces for which it is substituted. Thus, as the force of an individual cannot lawfully touch the person, the liberty, or the property of another individual--for the same reason, the common force cannot lawfully be used to destroy the person, the liberty, or the property of individuals or of classes." (emphasis added)
Therefore law, according to Bastiat, should protect and defend and not injure or rob what is the right of the individual, not his liberty nor his property which includes not only that which is tangible, but also that which we hold in our conscience and our heart. The things we have rights to are never obtained at the expense of another.
In the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, written by Pope Paul VI in 1965, we read in section #74 the following about rights and authority:
"........political authority, both in the community as such and in the representative bodies of the state, must always be exercised within the limits of the moral order (emphasis added) and directed toward the common good---with a dynamic concept of that good--according to the juridical order legitimately established or due to be established. When authority is so exercised, citizens are bound in conscience to obey. Accordingly, the responsibility, dignity and importance of leaders are indeed clear.
But where citizens are oppressed by a public authority over stepping its competence, they should not protest against those things which are objectively required for the common good; but it is legitimate for them do defend their own rights and the rights of their fellow citizens against the abuse of this authority, while keeping within those limits drawn by the natural law and the Gospels."
The Pope was telling us that when government has legislated beyond "the limits of the moral order" and against "the common good" of society as a whole, not only Catholics but all citizens have a right to and should resist such law. The Pope is not suggesting rebellion or revolution. Not at all. But only the refusal to obey what one knows from Christ's teaching and one's own conscience is wrong for him as an individual, and for his friends, his family, his coworkers, and his fellow citizens at large.
This is further addressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in chapter 2, titled The Human Community, Article 2, "Participation in Social Life" under the heading of "Authority." This prevents us from merely saying, "I say it is wrong for me, but it may be right for you?"
The fact is we commit another sin, if when resisting an immoral action, we give occasion to sin to someone else in our place. For example, if I don't want to take an order to bake a gay wedding cake, it is not right for me to simply say, let me get someone else in the shop to take that order for you. Nor would it be appropriate for the clerk in Kentucky to authorize her subordinates to issue same sex marriage licenses in her place. Sins are not sins for some and not for others. Sin is wrong no matter who commits it. So whether other clerks or other shop employees are willing to sin is not the possibility we need to look at, but rather how we can best resist first, ourselves, and then secondly, prevent and deny the occasion of sin for anyone else, including the couple seeking the cake or the license.
If each of us and not just an occasional brave soul would say, "I stand together with those who resist this on moral grounds," we would not be tripping over ourselves and twisting our tongues trying to express why it is we respect the rule of law while refusing, in some very specific cases, to obey it. It is very clear why this is proper. Only law that is acceptable to God needs to be obeyed.
A law that says all Jews must relinquish their property and be incarcerated and exterminated need not be obeyed by anyone. A law that says you must, as a physician, sterilize women in a hospital when they request such a procedure need not be obeyed by anyone. And a law that says we must set aside the teachings of Christ to give sanction to same sex relationships need also, not be obeyed by anyone.
Bastiat said, "No society can exist unless the laws are respected to a certain degree, but the safest way to make them respected is to make them respectable. When law and morality are in contradiction to each other, the citizen finds himself in the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense, or of losing his respect for the law--two evils of equal magnitude, between which it would be difficult to choose."
So while he understood that laws are necessary for the governance of the people, for their safety and well being, he also knew, that law must be beneficial and impartial, as well as morally acceptable.
The concept of the "rule of law" has been lost on some and perverted to some extent by others. It must be recognized that there is a difference between rule OF law and rule BY law. Traditionally and under the best of circumstances, a society will attempt to develop laws that are the most respectful of individual rights and these laws are best when chosen and adopted by the people themselves through legislative bodies. The rule BY law, in contrast, is law inflicted on the public arbitrarily to please the ruler, or the rulers, or some other group that has overwhelming power over others without their consent. A good example of this would be, in my opinion, the five justices on our court that have dictated a law to the land never considered by our federal legislature, a law that in fact was rejected again and again by state legislatures across the country.
Citizens have no power to choose the members of the United States Supreme Court, nor do we have any recourse to remove the justices from their positions as we do with elected officials who can be voted out of office. Their decisions, therefore, should be limited only to interpretation of already existing law. When their actions fail to stay within this limit, we witness the troubling problem of "legislation from the bench" leaving us to wrestle with whether or not it truly is law because it is "of the law," or if it is actually opinion made law by "rule of the unelected," and therefore rule BY law. In this instance it is not only a law not chosen by the people it is a law that is unquestionably immoral and detrimental to society.
It is currently being said by many that we cannot pick and choose the laws we want upheld regardless of our personal religious convictions. I disagree. Yes we can, because morally we should and we must.
Spero columnist Chriss Rainey is a freelance writer.