"The welfare of humanity is always the alibi of tyrants" - Albert Camus

Friday, January 6, 2012

Of Virtue and Tyrants

One of my favorite philosophers happens to be the 18th century French philosopher Charles de Montesquieu, who also happened to influence many of our founding fathers.  As quoted in Thomas Jefferson's "Common Place", Montesquieu said "when virtue is banished, ambition invades the minds of those who are disposed to receive it..."

Edmund Burke, the father of classical conservatism, also spoke eloquently about virtue.  Two of his famous quotes are: "It is better to cherish virtue and humanity, by leaving much to free will, even with some loss of the object , than to attempt to make men mere machines and instruments of political benevolence. The world on the whole will gain by a liberty, without which virtue cannot exist" and "Among a people generally corrupt liberty cannot long exist."

John Adams said: "Public virtue cannot exist in a nation without private, and public virtue is the only foundation of republics."

Whether it is Montesquieu, Burke, Adams, or any one of our founding fathers; they all understood one simple thing: In a constitutional system, virtue is essential for its survival.  In other words, when virtue is lost, the system is dead.  Theirs was a philosophy based on the principle of virtue and dedicated to fighting against arbitrary power.

Political virtue, or moral excellence in the public arena, has been gradually strangled since the early part of the 20th century.  The election of Barack Obama dealt the final blow as the past three years have clearly shown us. 

Obama believes in power - not virtue.  His latest display came on Tuesday with his unconstitutional recess appointments.  Appointments require the triggering of the Advice and Consent provision under the U.S. Constitution.  Although the U.S. Senate is in a pro forma session, the President decided on his own that they were on recess.  By doing so, he not only violated Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution, but also the rules of the U.S. Senate - an independent and co-equal branch of the government - and over a century of precedent.

Earlier displays of Obama's use of power over virtue are too numerous to cite.  Let it suffice to mention the drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico, disregarding a federal judge's order to stop implementing provisions of ObamaCare, and overturning state laws to enforce existing and common sense immigration and election laws.  More examples can be found here and here.

The question remains: Can our Constitutional republic survive this slaughtering of whatever remained of virtue in our political landscape, or are we reliving the final days of the great Roman Empire all over again?  Only time will tell.  Spirits of Montesquieu, Burke, and all of our founding fathers must be shedding tears over the tragedy of the on going destruction of the one and only constitutional republic ever established which cherished individual liberty and virtue as its foundational raison d'etre.


Tel said...

The Constitution is fundamentally nothing more than a scrap of paper. If people choose to feel that scrap of paper has significance and the words have meaning -- then and only then will the Constitution have power.

If people choose to ignore the Constitution, then once more is becomes a scrap of paper.

IMHO, to make something worthwhile, you need a good system... and you need good people. With bad people and a good system they will gradually bypass the system and fall through the cracks. With good people and a bad system you soon turn all the good people to bad, because what's the point of being the only guy doing the right thing when no one else is?

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