Secular legalism: the conviction that “the best people” can use agnostic government to solve all perceived problems by compelling public obedience.
Secular legalists use legislation, regulation, taxation, and litigation, ultimately enforcing these rules and court or agency orders by penalties, fines, military and police forces, and jail to compel obedience to secular legalist beliefs. The principal manifestation of secular legalism is myriad rule-making, carried out by massive bureaucracy. Secular legalists use persuasion also, but they are unconstrained by truth, since secular legalists believe themselves to be their own sufficient moral authority. Finding, researching, discussing, and publicizing perceived problems is a major activity of the secular legalist movement. Jealously guarding their authority over government offices, money, news, and the individual power of weapons-ownership, also characterizes their operations. Where secular legalists cannot yet outlaw competing powers (for example, the right to keep and bear arms, the right to speak and write ideas freely, the right to pray and practice any non-statist religion, and the right to exercise dominion over personal property), they propagandize, form committees boards and movements, develop secret agendas, and insinuate their ideas to suppress competing movements through any means of compulsion available.
Secular legalism is distinguished from religious legalism in that religious legalists seek relationship with a higher power by obedience to elaborate constructs of religious rules, moral codes, or rites. ”Earning your way to Heaven” is a description of a religious legalist’s belief and life. Striving to earn God’s approval by ‘doing better’ or tithing illustrate the point. Just like secular legalism frustrates its believers in the system’s failure, so does religious legalism frustrate its believers who can never do good enough.
Secular legalism is similar to dictatorship by committee. It may maintain and present a form of elected representative government. However, where secular legalism permeates a society, the elected representative government is largely subsumed by massive layers of permanent bureaucracy, fueled by taxes and debt. The movie quote, “I’d rather be ruled over by one tyrant 3,000 miles away, than 3,000 tyrants one mile away,” elaborates the practical day-to-day reach of a secular legalist government.
What does the collapsing secular legalist temple look like? Picture layer upon layer of cut stones reaching high into the sky, with legions of priests and priestesses in perpetual motion up and down the temple’s steps and throughout its passages. Armed, uniformed guards stand watch at every doorway, permitting those who brandish the badge and trappings of the secular legalist order; others are turned away except from “designated public areas.”
Each stone is a rule. Groupings of stones are statutes. Levels represent the enormous collection of land, equipment, and people necessary to inflict all of the rules on “the public.” During the age when the temple was much smaller, and its priesthood few in number, “the public” was defined generally as the people of the nation; with the growth in numbers and the seemingly boundless scope of the religious order’s power, the meaning of the word has transformed gradually to mean those of the “non-priesthood,” with connotations of derision and suspicion.
Tithes are extracted by force.
And the temple of this religion is collapsing onto the people who make up its religious order. The falling stones tumble outward onto its worshipers. Some get crushed; some watch and marvel.
For, in the end we see, they worship themselves, and “they” are no better than the rest of us.
I will refer to the scandals of this administration simply as “the scandals” because they are now almost too many to keep up with. Besides, rather than representing individual government parts-corrosion and breakage, President Obama’s scandals represent the very nature of government permitted to go wild. Believers in secular legalism who think must be in dismay; their people populate the government; their ideas are preached by the press every day; crises—they think—cry out for “solutions” and solutions come from their ranks and priesthood. Don’t they?
Government at best is a misbehaved child. At its worst, it is an island ruled by the Lord of the Flies—run by bullies.
From crime control to jobs, it has become manifest even to America’s secular legalists that their gods are false. Some, of course, will never acknowledge their temple’s deterioration, demanding instead that every crumbled corner be re-constructed and that the temple and priesthood be expanded. Dissenters in the public must be watched and suppressed. Other, more sober people in the crowd of secular legalist worshipers look on with wide eyes, finally beginning to comprehend that the old order was no marvel of human achievement after all. Their religion is shaken: they see their temple as beyond repair, their god perhaps even nakedly grotesque. They have been taught so long to shun “them” (those non-government people in “the public”) but, some of the ideas from “the public” actually start to make sense. Some of the old religion’s key tenets now threaten imminent disaster. And, some of the priesthood’s responses become downright scary.
And so, we witness the collapse of western secular legalism. You and I are privileged to see it. Deception, corruption, arrogance, absurdity, bankruptcy and outright seizure of ever more and more power are finally so out in the open that the tide is turning against the intoxicating religion that made little gods of “us.” Our founders knew this, and handed us our constitutional republic bought in blood. Though the lessons of history confirmed them, we somehow lost their knowledge. The collapse of the temple of the religion of secularism should be no surprise. But it is, both to its worshipers, and to those who are pleasantly surprised by the demise of secular legalist power that seemed so inevitable.
Never gloat: “we” have nothing to gloat about. It is the nature of man given the power to govern over man, that we must guard against, whether “our men” or “their men.” The taste of power works ugly changes on whomever drinks the wine too fully. And, it is an enticing wine, indeed.
Limited self-government: because life without government is anarchy on the short march to tyranny, but we create our own tyrants when we trust our government too much.