The Acoustic Candidate

Chesterton remarks in the Everlasting Man:

One of my first journalistic adventures, or misadventures, concerned a comment on Grant Allen, who had written a book about the Evolution of the Idea of God. I happened to remark that it would be much more interesting if God wrote a book about the evolution of the idea of Grant Allen. And I remember that the editor objected to my remark on the ground that it was blasphemous; which naturally amused me not a little. For the joke of it was, of course, that it never occurred to him to notice the title of the book itself, which really was blasphemous; for it was, when translated into English, 'I will show you how this nonsensical notion that there is a God grew up among men.' My remark was strictly pious and proper; confessing the divine purpose even in its most seemingly dark or meaningless manifestations. In that hour I learned many things, including the fact that there is something purely acoustic in much of that agnostic sort of reverence. The editor had not seen the point, because in the title of the book the long word came at the beginning and the short word at the end; whereas in my comment the short word came at the beginning and gave him a sort of shock. I have noticed that if you put a word like God into the same sentence with a word like dog, these abrupt and angular words affect people like pistol-shots. Whether you say that God made the dog or the dog made God does not seem to matter; that is only one of the sterile disputations of the too subtle theologians.

I am reminded of this when I read the following from one of our GOP candidates, a Christian no less:

Well, let’s remember that all law establishes morality. That’s what law does. The law of speeding is saying that it’s immoral to go at 85 miles an hour. The morality is that we have established a 65-mile-an-hour limit. So that’s what all law does: It establishes that it is wrong for me to murder you. ~Mike Huckabee

I think this wins the prize for Stupidest Thing Said by a Candidate This Month, perhaps This Year.

Here's the thing: law does not establish morality. Morality is the basis of law. And morality is derived from that fact that men and women are creatures made in the image and likeness of God. It is not derived from what Caesar happens to approve or disapprove.

To say "law establishes morality" is to say "If Caesar says it's good or evil, then it is." This particular moral theory was tried out with some vigor in places like Hitler's Germany, Stalin's USSR, and Mao's China. It didn't pan out. More recently Law established abortion as a Good Thing and Rosa Parks sitting in the front of the bus as a Bad Thing. Does Mr. Huckabee agree? By all reports, no.

Huckabee means well, of course. Stumblebum politicians usually do. He’s responding to the stupid complaint trotted out by postmodern dunces like an old nag ready for the glue factory: the idiotic sentiment that “You can’t legislate morality”. He's trying to say that law is (or is supposed to be) rooted in the Good, including the Common Good: that law, properly understood, is nothing but legislated morality and that the only question facing a society is not whether we shall legislate morality but which morality we shall legislate, on what basis, and with what limits.

But that's not what he said. He was trying to parrot "values talk" but his carelessness (not to say recklessness) led him to say the exact opposite of what a Christian would actually say.

Now, I'm one of those picky people who thinks this matters. Some people are genuinely puzzled by this. “He meant well,” they say, “Isn’t that enough? And besides, he’s a Christian!” This reminds me of nothing so much as Mark Twain’s remark, “The music of Wagner is better than it sounds.”

The reason this matters so much is that words are a politician’s stock and trade, just as sound is a musician’s. Sonny Bono may have had the soul and good intentions of Beethoven, but what came out was still the music of Sonny Bono. As a picky person, I believe two things about the bumbling use of the one thing a politician is supposed to be good at using:

First, it’s vital for somebody who claims to articulate “Traditional (i.e. Judeo-Christian) Values” to actually be able to coherently do so, precisely because there are so many postmodern dunces running around who believe that morality is simply and solely whatever the strongest declare it to be. Huckabee’s remarks are a complete and total confirmation of this postmodern lie rather than, as they should have been, a refutation of it.

Second, I believe it's rather important for a statesman and a crafter of laws to actually know what the hell he is talking about since the laws he makes will be composed, not of good intentions, but of words—words that mean things. It matters whether the law is the ground of morality or morality is the ground of the law, just as it matters whether God made the dog or the dog made God. I don't expect Lady Macbeth or Giuliani to be honest enough to care about the relationship of law and morality and I don't expect most of the rest of the field on either side to much know or care either. The Dems have made clear since Roe that they have no interest in the matter beyond expedience and the GOP embrace of torture and the widespread and ongoing Giulianification of the party indicate things are going south in that sector as well.

But a Christian who consciously flaunts his Christian faith as Huckabee does should really have some clue what he's talking about. Otherwise, he winds up saying demented things like "law establishes morality". And such demented ideas can have grave consequences.

Copyright 2007 - Mark P. Shea