A Society Without Rules
A prosperous and free society is possible only when each individual is, by rule of law, protected from force imposed by others, especially those in his own government. The Founders created a nation based on the fundamental principle that the state is subservient to the people. As Clint Eastwood put it to an imaginary president:
"We own this country. We...we own it. It is not you owning it and not the politicians owning it. Politicians are employees of ours."
"We own it" is what is remarkable about the Constitution as originally written. "We own it" is our most fundamental rule.
As the nation moved into the twentieth century, that rule began to be weakened by those who, like the old barbarians, have no use for any rules which might get in their way. Rules such as "we own it" prevent them from forcing their fantasy of utopia onto others, which is possible only if the state owns us.
When the rules of civil society are tossed aside, brutality, plunder, and tyranny come in. Such an outcome is never but one individual away. When "we own it," each individual is responsible for his share of "ownership." The moral standards that each individual decides for his share determine a civil society or a barbarian society. Failure of individual ethics is beautifully illustrated in William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies. The author says of his work:
The theme is an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature. The moral is that the shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system however apparently logical or respectable.
As in Lord of the Flies, individuals who reject existing standards without a plausible replacement end up with a defective society. Without an ethical foundation, they become followers and inevitably strike out with hatred and cruelty when their ideas cannot be defended, as with the sloganized and quick-to-hate left of today. Later, they may come to the frightening realization that the rules which once protected them are no longer there. Few examples are more dramatic than 1930s Germany, where Hitler led an entire cultured nation into barbarism. How was this possible? In Hitler's own words: "How fortunate for leaders that men do not think."
Only by critical thinking can one be more than a follower or even a unique individual, but a moral individual with a rational set of rules to live by. A society with thoughtfully derived, realistic moral standards will not decline into barbarism.
The generation coming of age in the '60s rejected the old standards without a thoughtful replacement. They wanted no rules limiting their behavior. Their slogan was "If it feels good, do it." In order to be unique, they became "anti-establishment" by picking up the views of the left, already opposed to the standards of American culture.
The influence of this anti-rules generation have spread throughout society -- the universities, the media, the entertainment industry, and the courts. From these positions, they pressure the rest of us to not only tolerate, but give legitimacy to whatever they want to do, even behaviors we find repugnant or immoral.
In the age of the anti-rules generation, an ex-president can still be held in high esteem by his party despite a string of sexual peccadilloes stretching from the state house to the Oval Office. The sad fact is that that party no longer seems to hold to anything resembling traditional American moral values.
In the age of the anti-rules generation, media personalities and politicians can lie, smear, and slander without limit. Entertainment media encourages sex and profanity. Films can be made featuring extreme violence, as lamented by Carol Platt Liebau:
"Unconstrained by any sense of morality -- and wholly untrained in any sort of systemic moral reasoning -- it is impossible for film makers to understand why it matters whether they expose the young and the vulnerable to a level of evil and sadistic brutality that would once have been unthinkable on-screen."
Without rules, marriage vows can be discarded at the first inconvenience, despite the effects on the children. It was different in grandfather's time, as in the Judds' plaintive song:
Grandpa, tell me 'bout the good old days.
Sometimes it feels like this world's gone crazy.
Grandpa, take me back to yesterday
When the line between right and wrong
Didn't seem so hazy.
Did lovers really fall in love to stay,
And stand beside each other, come what may?
Was a promise really something people kept,
Not just something they would say?
Oaths taken by elected officials to protect and defend the Constitution have become equally meaningless. John Locke warned us about a president who sees no reason why the rules of the Constitution should apply to him: "Wherever law ends, tyranny begins."
Law is already ending. Unconstitutional presidential actions are allowed to stand. Generations of Supreme Court "interpretations" have eroded the Constitution, and "precedent" has overruled the intent of the Founders.
Since rules limiting government power have been discarded, American citizens have ironically become burdened by more and more laws and regulations. Thousand-page monstrosities like ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank have become acceptable. Rep. Paul Ryan says of ObamaCare:
"Obamacare comes to more than two thousand pages of rules, mandates, taxes, fees, and fines that have no place in a free country."
No living American remembers a time without an IRS, when government did not have unlimited power to confiscate the fruits of one's labor. None of us remember limited government as the Founders intended, when there were not all kinds of alphabet-soup agencies sticking their noses in our daily lives. A few can remember when government was not arrogant and coercive. Can any of us remember when such a government would not have been tolerated?
Some of us can remember when it was shameful to be "on the dole," and citizens didn't vote to bring home somebody else's bacon. Some of us can remember tasteful and restrained films, and marriage "'til death do us part." Some can remember when the irresponsible were not "entitled" to support from the responsible. All of us can remember when there were no 2,000-page laws.
All this derives from an abrogation of personal moral standards and the rise of a ruleless society. Personal standards set the direction of a nation and are more important than an election. Only when rational ethics are restored and civil society renewed by freeing it from the no-rules barbarians will our children or grandchildren will be able to remember such times.
Gary Horne is the creator of barbershopvalues.com.