When the Wicked Rule, the People Groan

January 5, 2016 § Leave a comment

From the wisdom of Solomon: “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan.” (Proverbs 29:2)

Head in Hands

According to a year-end poll from CNN, “75% of Americans say they are dissatisfied with the way the nation is being governed, and 69% are at least somewhat angry with the way things are going in the U.S…”

The people are groaning. But are they groaning because our government is truly wicked, or are we simply chronic complainers?

I think David Shestokas, in Natural Law and the Legitimate Authority of the United States, brings light to this question. He notes that “a government lacking acceptance of the people over whom it exercises authority will not endure.”  (It’s worth reading the whole thing.)

Shestokas writes about Natural Law—the unwritten body of universal moral principles that underlie ethical and legal norms—and advocates two related schools of thought (Divine and Secular) over a third (Historic).

Divine Natural Law theory, argued popularly by St. Thomas Aquinas, says Natural Law comes from revelation by an authority greater than humanity (God). Secular Natural Law theory, whose primary exponent was John Locke, recognizes that these universal laws of nature, whether God-given or not, do not change over time. Historical Natural Law theory (or Historicism, popularized by German jurist and historian Friedrich Karl von Savigny) rejects the other positions and asserts that the basis of authority changes over time.

The United States were founded upon principals that are assumed to be self-evidently immutable, but we’ve drifted to the latter more relative views of law and authority, moving “steadily in the direction of becoming a government of men, not law.” 

This, according to Shestokas, has led to a growing dissatisfaction (groaning?) in the people. “Through the adoption the Historicism, in which a decision maker is constrained only by his own sense of history, the United States government continues to grow ever further from the Natural Law philosophy that gained and maintained the acceptance of the people.  The government runs the risk of losing its acceptance.  Control will only be maintained either through fear or propounding the idea that actions which violate the originating principles are now ‘tradition’.  In either event the end result is illegitimacy.” 

I’m an originalist who thinks that the principal of our interpretation of something like the U.S. Constitution should consider foremost the intent of the author(s) when it was written. The opposite invites meaningless subjective values and the judicial activism we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in our courts.

People are made to desire subjection to a higher authority, all of which ultimately comes from God (Romans 13:1), which is an authority we can trust (and once did to a higher degree). But when we can’t trust the authority—and such is the case when the wicked rule—the groaning begins.

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