Sep 3 2015

Law, Love, and George Christoph Lichtenberg

bookbread pencil shavings

Law, Love, and George Christoph Lichtenberg

Over at The American Conservative, Rod Dreher challenges readers:

Traditionalist, orthodox Christians are a minority in this country, and are going to become ever more despised. The day is coming when the only protection many of us can rely on is the law, and the willingness of government officers to obey the law, even though they hate us. And so, my final question … Is the principle that the [Thomas] More of Bolt’s play powerfully elucidates really something we can afford to take lightly?

The majority of Americans, that is, those who don’t happen to be traditionalist, orthodox Christians, hate hypocrisy. And those who hate hypocrisy are the most hardhearted of hypocrites. For as the German sage taught us at the dawn of the Enlightenment:

I am convinced we do not only love ourselves in others but hate ourselves in others too.

–George Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799)

So America hates hypocrisy–and if Herr Lichtenberg’s dictum carries any merit it comes from our country’s evident embrace of those most notorious species of hypocrite: cheaters and liars. Tom Brady has been exonerated for flat footballs, over 300,000 U. S. died in the last 14 years (the Bush-Obama Era) because they were denied (via bureaucratic procrastination) the  healthcare promised them, and Ashley Madison appears to be the most successful ponzi scheme since Madoff.

Speaking for the minority of traditionalist, orthodox Christians over at First Things, Carl. R. Truman gets it exactly right today:

I have no reason to doubt [Kim Davis’] sincerity or the significance of her conversion. But the fact that she has only been a professing Christian for a few years scarcely defuses the power of the question. The politics of sex is the politics of aesthetic and rhetorical plausibility and a multiple divorcee understandably lacks such plausibility on the matter of the sanctity of marriage. The only way in which her defense could be deemed plausible would be if the church in general had maintained in practice, not just theory, a high view of marriage. Then the move from outside the church to inside the church would perhaps have more rhetorical power. In fact, at least as far as Protestantism goes, the opposite is the case. The supine acceptance by many churches of no fault divorce makes the ‘I have become a Christian so it is all different now’ defense appear implausible, even if it is actually true in specific cases.

But as Victor Hugo and Ronald Dworkin have pointed out, the law will not save us:

“Everything is legal.”

–Thénardiers, Les Misérables. 1860. IV, vi, 01

In fact, people often profit, perfectly legally, from their legal wrongs. The most notorious case is adverse possession—if I trespass on your land long enough, some day I will gain a right to cross your land whenever I please.

–“Is Law a System of Rules?” The Philosophy of Law (1977)

And if the law will not save us, we must then turn to love.