Several years ago I read Russell Kirk’s The Roots of American Order. Kirk argued, “The the law is revealed to save man from self destruction.”However, by “save” he meant “restrain.” For example, a paragraph later he wrote, “A conviction of man’s sinfulness, and of the need for laws to restrain every man’s will and appetite, influenced the legislators of the colonies and the Republic.”Even Thomas Jefferson, the progressive at that time, was not willing to trust in man’s so-called innate goodness, but “bind him down with the chains of the Constitution.”
When I read statements like these they remind me that our country was founded to be a republic and not a democracy. Just think of the Pledge of Allegiance, which states that allegiance is pledged to the United States of America and “to the Republic for which it stands.” Though it is true that America is a republic it is also true to say that it is a democratic republic. It might be good to distinguish an aristocratic and totalitarian democracy from a democratic republic. In the former, we have either elite rule or mob rule. However, in a democratic republic a national government is limited in power and it operates by a constitution based in large measure upon natural law.
However, it is also true that “our modern moral order, at least in what is called the West, runs back to the burning bush on Mt. Horeb.”In fact, it is not hard to find quote upon quote from our founding fathers and their high regard for the Ten Commandments and the moral and societal order they provide to a nation. However, what was implicit in their thinking did not make it into their Constitution.
The reason I raise this is because I read the Dobbs v. Jackson decision. I was struck by some of its statements. For example, Justice Alito writes, “For the first 185 years after the adoption of the Constitution, each State was permitted to address this issue in accordance with the views of its citizens.” Upon a first reading, this looks a lot like a democratic totalitarianism. In fact, a little later Alito says, “The Permissibility of abortion, and the limitations, upon it, are to be resolved like most important questions in our democracy; by citizens trying to persuade one another and then voting.” But where does the republic in our democratic republic fit in?
What is more, according to Alito, in 1973 Roe v. Wade “abruptly ended the political process.” In other words, Roe v. Wade imposed a “regime on the entire Nation, and it effectively struck down the abortion laws of every single state.” According to Alito, the decision represented the “exercise of raw judicial power.” However, the implication is that the democratic process could have found in favor of abortion but the Court of 1973 short circuited the process and simply legislated. Totalitarian democracy anyone?
Eventually, in 1992 the Court revisited Roe in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern PA v. Casey. The opinion did not endorse Roe’s reasoning but it did appeal to stare decisis which means that prior judicial decisions ought to be followed in most instances. Of course, the majority believed that Roe was a “central holding” and the nation should follow it. What is more, in the Casey ruling the Court seemed to play parent. The Court merely asserted that it had spoken and that all sides should end their division.
However, things have changed. Our present Court, and rightly so, believes that Roe and Casey must be overturned. For that we can be thankful. However, the reasoning of the court is striking. Alito argues that abortion has neither been part of our “history or tradition” nor “essential to our Nation’s scheme of ordered liberty.” In one sense, I understand what is being said. However, natural law, history and tradition and ordered liberty are not foundation enough for any country. Again, what if most of the citizenry were to persuade the majority that abortion was the correct position? Obviously, totalitarian democracy trumps natural law, history and past understandings of order.
What is needed? Some may be tempted to sigh in relief at the most recent court ruling. Some may begin to think that heavy investment in Republican politics is the right way to go. Still others may think the future of our country hinges on Trump winning in 2024. None of those things. The answer is simple: a better understanding of Christ’s Kingship over the nations. The church needs to declare the Gospel of Jesus Christ with boldness and disciple the nations. Christians must be salt and light in the world. That is to say, Christians must take the wisdom of the Gospel into their homes, work places and communities. They also must do righteousness. Chariots, Horses and politicians will inevitably disappoint us. But Jesus Christ never will. Ever.
Kirk, Russell, The Roots of American Order (Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books, 2003), 28.