By the Bible or the Bayonet?

Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) was a Dutch lawyer, scholar, theologian, and author. His most noteworthy work, The Law of War and Peace, made him famous as the foremost authority on the law of nations, which we now tend to call international law.

There is a statement attributed to Grotius that I wish I could document as actually emanating from him, but I haven’t found the source. I’ve read some of his Law of War and Peace, and the statement certainly sounds like something he might say. If anyone knows for sure if he said it, or if not, who did, I would welcome that information.

However, I’ve decided that even if Grotius didn’t write this, it’s so good that it needs to be shared. As I tell my students, if he’s not the author of this thought, then I’ll claim it for myself.

Here’s how it begins:

He knows not how to rule a kingdom that cannot manage a province; nor can he wield a province that cannot order a city; nor he order a city that knows not how to regulate a village.

Notice the progression. The concept is that one should not be given a greater realm of authority if he cannot handle a lesser realm. One must prove himself at a lower level before being granted more responsibility.

The statement continues:

Nor he a village that cannot guide a family; nor can that man govern well a family that knows not how to govern himself.

The principle keeps getting extended downward. Yet how many men and women in our day, particularly in politics, are awarded by the people with high office when they cannot even govern themselves?

Shall I insert here Senator Ted Kennedy, who drove a car off a bridge and swam away while the woman with him in the car (not his wife) was left to drown? The people of Massachusetts, in their electoral wisdom, made him a senator for life. Should that have been?

You would think the statement might end where I’ve already ended it, but it goes even further:

Neither can any govern himself unless his reason be lord, will and appetite her vassals; nor can reason rule unless herself be ruled by God, and be obedient to Him.

Will and appetite refer to desires/emotions—they need to be servants to one’s reason. Desires and emotions cannot drive one’s actions. Yet even reason, as we know, can go astray. Autonomous human reasoning is a mini-god itself. Therefore, our reason also has to submit to God and His loving rule.

I call this the principle of self-government, and I’ve devoted a chapter to it in my book, If the Foundations Are Destroyed: Biblical Principles and Civil Government.

Proverbs 16:32 tells us, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.”

There have been many “great” men in history, at least by standards other than God’s. On the outside, they may look like “winners,” but God looks at the heart.

A society with Biblical self-government at its roots, and that looks to place people in positions of civil authority whose lives reveal that self-government, will be a society substantially free from oppressive rules and regulations. Only a people not self-governed under God will turn to a strong civil government to hold themselves in check.

In truth, the people of a nation receive the type of government that their level of self-government deserves. What does this say about modern America? After all, our representatives, from local officials to congressmen to the president are merely a reflection of us.

One more quote—this one documented.

Robert Winthrop (1809-1894), who served as speaker of the House of Representatives and also as a senator, gave an address to the Massachusetts Bible Society in 1849. What he said in that address is a fitting conclusion to the thoughts I want to share today:

All societies of men must be governed in some way or other. The less they may have of stringent State Government, the more they have of individual self-government. The less they rely on public law or physical force, the more they rely on private moral restraint.

Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by a power within them, or by a power without [outside] them; either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or the bayonet.

May we be controlled by the Word of God and show ourselves worthy of self-government.

Was the American Revolution Revolutionary?

In my ongoing analysis of American history (which has been interrupted by all the crucial current events that needed commentary), I am up to the point of the American Revolution. I have to use that term so people will know what I’m talking about, but I let my students know I don’t fully agree that it was all that revolutionary. What do I mean?

Declaration of Independence Read in BostonRevolutions, by nature, try to upend the existing establishment. However, in the case of the American Revolution, what we see is colonists who desperately want to maintain the status quo, but who are constantly barraged with bad policies that tend to undermine the stability they had achieved.

After the French and Indian War, and the threat of France removed from the New World, the American colonists were quite happy to be part of the greatest empire on earth. They were pleased with their ability to make their own laws and conduct most of their affairs independently of the Mother Country.

That would soon change, and the altered relationship between Mother Country and colonies began with a changed attitude on the part of Britain’s government.

Colonists saw that some basic principles were being threatened. They were:

  • Self-government: They had their own colonial legislatures that had, in some instances, been passing laws for more than a century. As the Constitutional Debate period (1761-1776) progressed, more and more intrusions were made upon this privilege/right. Eventually, Massachusetts saw its government shut down and a military government established. Virginia’s colonial governor dismissed the legislature and refused to allow it to meet again.
  • Property: Most people recall the “no taxation without representation” cry of this era. For the first time, direct taxes were being levied on the colonies by Parliament. The colonies had absolutely no representation in that Parliament. This meant that, conceivably, Parliament had absolute control of their financial lives, and when a government has that kind of control over the economic realm, it actually controls all of one’s life.
  • Liberty of Conscience: This one is rarely mentioned, but John Adams considered it the key. The Anglican establishment actively considered sending over a bishop to make the colonies conform to the Anglican church. That was anathema to all those who had migrated to the colonies for religious liberty. A contemporary political cartoon shows what it would have been like if the landing of a bishop had been attempted:

Anglican Bishop

The rationale for the changed policies was that the colonies had to pay their fair share for the recently concluded war. It wasn’t that they disagreed with that premise, but they certainly disagreed with the manner in which it was carried out.

If we’re looking for the true revolutionaries, we need to look 3,000 miles to the east, across the Atlantic, back in Britain. All the colonists sought was continuation of what they already had.

Therefore, I don’t prefer to call this the American Revolution. I think a better name would be The American War for Continued Self-Government.

Not as catchy, I know, but it is more accurate.

Romney’s Gaffe: Otherwise Known as Telling the Truth

Since I devoted all of last week to laying out the case against President Obama’s reelection, I didn’t have time to comment on some of the happenings in the campaign. For instance, there was this big hullabaloo over a remark Mitt Romney made about how 47% of the electorate is getting some kind of government assistance and won’t be as amenable to his message. He said they were basically in the tank for Obama.

That comment brought a storm of criticism from the media—the same media that is working actively on behalf of the Obama campaign. You would have thought, given the extent of the coverage of what they considered a “gaffe,” that this was the most shocking statement ever to come from a political candidate. They did their best to put his remark in the worst possible light and create anxiety in the electorate.

I do believe Romney exaggerated the numbers a bit, simply because he also counted those who are receiving Social Security, which is primarily getting one’s money back from the government after being without it for most of our lives. However, even those on Social Security often don’t want any boat rocking. They want nothing to touch what they were forced to hand over to the government all those years. That makes some of them skittish about any talk of real change in government spending and taxation. What Romney was really doing was pointing out a sad fact of American life in the twenty-first century: we are creating a nation of people who feel they are victims and who need the government to bail them out:

Therefore, Romney was correct in principle: those who receive a benefit want it to continue; they are more closely tied to the ones who are offering the benefit. In this case, the giver is the Obama money machine. Never mind, of course, that anything he gives first came from the people of the country—or from the printing press, as we churn out more of the greenbacks to pass around. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is on the job:

Unfortunately, this bad example could become contagious:

I’m impressed that Romney hasn’t backed down on the principle. The message needs to be spread far and wide, and with passion: it’s time to turn the corner away from government paternalism. If we accept the role of government as our father and provider, we regress into helpless children. We are in deep need of maturity. It’s time to reject paternalism and regain our self-government and self-respect.

Is This a Libyan Spring or a Fall?

It’s been a while since I’ve said anything about the events in Libya, but a lot has transpired in the past week or so. It’s probably not a subject that interests a majority of our citizens; Libya seems so far away and disconnected from life here. Yet we may be seeing a change similar to what is taking place in Egypt, which can have serious ramifications.

There are still those who tout the so-called “Arab Spring” as a testimony of the desire for freedom. Look at Egypt. What we witness instead is a rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and a turn against Israel. I wasn’t the only one who warned against this back when the protests began. Take off the fantasy glasses and glimpse the reality of that situation. The same applies to Libya.

Who is really going to be in charge there? It’s one thing to get rid of a maniacal dictator; it’s something else entirely to set up a working government. What practice do these rebels have in constructing governments?

It reminds me of President William McKinley’s reasoning when, in 1898, he had to decide whether to take responsibility for the Philippines after the Spanish-American War. His prime consideration was that the people had never governed themselves before, but had been under the thumb of an autocratic Spanish regime for centuries. How then could they be expected to manage on their own? They first had to learn how to govern. A guerrilla war broke out against American control, but eventually died down due to the benign oversight provided by American governors, particularly William Howard Taft. If the guerrillas had taken over, there would have been a repeat of Spanish rule in the sense that a few at the top would have been making all the decisions. It undoubtedly would have devolved into a tyranny. Under American auspices, the Philippines became the first Asian nation to elect its own congress, and finally achieved independence.

Libya is in the same straits. The people have never governed themselves. The most likely outcome will be either an Islamist sect crushing all opposition, or the ascendance of some other tyranny. There will be a bloodbath as they fight for supremacy.

Don’t expect stability anytime soon.

Meanwhile, what has become of Qaddafi [or however you spell it]?

In one way, this is comedy; yet I fear it will be mixed with tragedy.

Reflections on American Morality

The whole Anthony Weiner incident has left me deeply disturbed about the tenor of our society. That’s nothing new, of course, since I believe man in sinful and plays out that sinfulness continually. Yet this particular episode I find particularly perturbing. Let me see if I can explain why.

Weiner himself is what I always expected him to be; I’m less concerned about him personally than I am about other aspects of this. The media, both liberal and conservative, seem to be painting the women involved as victims of a sexual predator. There’s no disputing Weiner is a sexual predator, but if these women were victims, they were more than willing to be victimized.

One of them, Megan Broussard, has conducted interviews over the past two days, one on ABC, the other on Sean Hannity’s Fox program. I watched the latter. First of all, I was not impressed with her grasp of basic morality. She thought it would be “fun,” I guess, to banter sexually with a married congressman. Only when she feared her tweets would become public, or the pictures she sent him would be displayed on the Internet did she decide to preempt that exposure by speaking up. Even now, she doesn’t seem to have any real concept of having done anything inappropriate—at least on her part. And when asked if Weiner should remain a congressman, she had no opinion, saying that it was up to the voters in his district.

She is a microcosm of the state of morality in America at this time, I fear. She obviously doesn’t represent the morality of all, but I do wonder if she is representative of the majority: morally clueless.

Even now, only a slim plurality of Weiner’s constituents think he should step down. He may be able to ride this out. His arrogance is that great.

I think back on the Clinton impeachment. Even though it was evident that he had abused the trust given him by the electorate, and that he had committed perjury, public opinion polls indicated that about 2/3 of the country didn’t want him removed from office. I recall being dispirited over that at the time.

Just who are we as a people?

I want to believe better about us, but I don’t know if I can. After all, we put Barack Obama into the highest office in the land.

There is no golden age in our history where everyone was Christian and all was well, but there certainly was a time when we, as a society, had a keener understanding of eternal right and wrong, and when we veered off course, we at least felt guilty.

Does genuine guilt exist as a force in America anymore? Only by comprehending guilt will we ever seek forgiveness and reconciliation with God. I hold the firm conviction that nothing less than an explicitly Christian moral standard, and a firm belief in the transforming power of a Spirit-filled existence, will suffice to hold our society together. Without that basis, we will spin out of control.

I’m reminded of a quote from Christian statesman Robert Winthrop, who, in a speech to the Massachusetts Bible Society in 1849, pointed out a significant truth:

All societies of men must be governed in some way or other. The less they may have of stringent State Government, the more they have of individual self-government. The less they rely on public law or physical force, the more they rely on private moral restraint. Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by a power within them, or by a power without them; either by the Word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or the bayonet.

Here’s the rub: do we still have enough people who live by individual self-government to make the difference, or are we in the process of losing all moral restraint? The reason I write and teach is that I believe there is still hope. I hope I’m right.