Core Convictions: Left vs. Right
Government under the rule of law is a cornerstone of conservative philosophy. This belief stands in marked contrast to liberals who declare that the law should serve as a mechanism for social justice. The two positions are irreconcilable. Conservatives understand that the rule of law is the bedrock of a free society. Liberals operate on a basis of constantly shifting standards of “fairness”. The first position is based in tradition; the latter on the whim of the moment. The rule of law provides guarantees of personal liberty. Social justice anoints victims and attempts to remediate on the basis of group “rights”. An analysis of each should provide reason to defend the former while denying any legitimacy to the latter.
Conservatives understand that government as an institution will always be flawed because human beings are an inherently flawed species. We are simply not very good at running our collective affairs. Rulership throughout history has been nothing more than a means by which the stronger dominate society while the weaker are required to submit. Over the past 5,000 years the most common form of government, regardless of race, geography, or civilization, has been some form of tyranny. It matters not at all what the tyrant calls himself, be he king, pharaoh, or celestial son of heaven, he rules by personal whim. Conservatives honor the rule of law as the only known antidote to tyranny. The idea is to divest power so that no group or individual can dominate the majority. The rule of law cannot guarantee good government. However, a properly designed system of law can limit the worst excesses of bad government. As Calvin Coolidge once said, “It’s more important to prevent bad laws than to pass good legislation.” And a remarkable thing happens when the use of power is held in check by the rule of law; the average citizen enjoys unparalleled freedom in his daily life. Individual freedom gives birth to material abundance, less toil, and more leisure time.
The liberal position is difficult to analyze because social justice is a constantly moving target. Interpretation is based on individual notions of “fairness”. Social justice has never been defined by statute nor codified in a body of law. The most pernicious aspect of social justice is its application by judges who usurp legislative prerogative and presume to rule from the bench. The law is cast aside on the assumption that a judge can mitigate injustice through superior moral insight. At this point society has taken a step onto the slippery slope of tyranny. We have regressed to the bad old days when law was dispensed on the whim of a despot. The application of law becomes a completely arbitrary exercise in power. Such a system is devoid of precedent and lacking in standards. When the rule of law is cast aside, the only effective bulwark against tyranny becomes debased. The result over time will be rule by judicial fiat, or mob rule based on the emotion of the moment.
A good conservative is deeply suspicious of any ruling that claims to be in the best interest of the common good. He knows that anything establishing group rights is an assault on personal liberty. Group rights confer special status on victims at the expense of individuals. Such a system of law becomes bicameral with one set of standards for the majority, and a set of special priveleges established for the aggrieved. Thus can a man be charged with homicide, but the murder of a homosexual carries additional penalties under hate-crime legislation. I black man might refer to a white man as a “cracker” without penalty, but a white man who uses a racial slur against a black man will find himself facing civil charges as a racist. A man might be denied tenure at his job based on any number of reasons, but the company that denies a woman’s tenure might faces charges of sexism. Society is quickly reduced to warring factions, each seeking redress in the courts based on group rights. Our national unity is fractured as the population becomes increasingly balkanized.
A good liberal, on the other hand, will always look to the courts for a redress of grievances. The standard tactic is to make an end run around legislation by filing suit in the courtroom of a friendly judge. The liberal expects that the law will be summarily cast aside in favor of social justice. His lawyer will appeal to the judge, not on the strict interpretation of the law, but on amorphous and ill-defined notions of “fairness”. In this way, so-called gay marriage becomes law even though a majority of citizens might have voted otherwise through referendum. But the liberal is always secure in the knowledge that he is right by virtue of his superior moral vision. He knows what’s fair, and if the local yokels don’t agree, it’s because they must be bigots and racists. Fortunately for our society, the rule of law is multi-layered, and appeals to a higher court will frequently overturn decisions not based on statute and precedent. We have checks and balances in our system of government, a final bulwark against law by judicial fiat, a final check on tyranny.
No citizen in his right mind should listen to anyone who declares “there ought to be a law,” or “the government should do something.” Conservatives should insist that all legislation be drafted with a sunset clause, more so for any legislation involving taxes. The problem with laws is that once established, it’s hard to make them go away. Again, this is especially true for taxes. How often is a “temporary” tax really temporary? The rule of law works fine, but laws should have limits. The liberal believes that government has, or should have, an answer for everything: crime, nicotine addiction, high gas prices, income disparities, and clogged toilets. The conservative answer is to buy a gun, quit smoking, drive less, work harder, and purchase a plunger. The two attitudes are incompatible and irreconcilable. We have become a factionalized society at war with itself. The conservative program isn’t perfect, but it has tradition on its side and the rule of law. The liberal program is a plan for incremental tyranny. I imagine the Bolshevik agenda probably looked pretty good to a lot of Russians at the outset. But we know better now. Or at least we should.