The Way Beyond Fear and Violence — Is Representation the Key?
People like me have, for many years, warned against the careless use of the word “democracy” to describe the form of government ordained and established by the people of the United States as the Constitution of our self-government. At its root, the term ‘democracy’ literally refers to the strength, might or power of the people. In this respect, the use of the term abandons the logic of the America’s founding. According to its premises, justice substantiated by the Creator (which is to say, action that aims to do right) is the ruling principle and aim of government.
This is why the first American patriots laid out the roster of their grievances against the British King in terms of justice and injustice. They did not object solely to the material damage his actions occasioned. They first referred to the self-evident standard of right; then detailed the actions taken by the King’s government that evidently violated that standard. Their main grievance lay in the fact that the British government had taken those actions without respecting the governments the people of the original states had established amongst themselves, to represent their shared and mutual good will. Those governments derived their powers from the consent of the good people of the colonies, which is to say their agreement to respect God-endowed right and justice in their dealings amongst themselves; with their fellow subjects of the British King; and with humanity at large, insofar as all are subject to the authority of the Creator, God.
The premise that government is supposed to represent the people is cited by James Madison as the key to distinguishing the prospects of democratic, republican self-government in the United States from the dismal failures of prior “democracies”, ancient and modern. Instead of relying on the forceful passions of the people, our representative government was designed to call for and rely upon their good judgment. It aims to produce a government whose officers represent the good will of the people toward the society they constitute, much as, on account of their adherence to the laws of nature and of Nature’s God, good people are supposed to represent the good will of God toward the world of His creation, including other human beings.
Thus understood, representation is not simply a matter of representing the common interest of the people, whatever their motive. It’s about representing their good judgment in regard to the welfare (well doing, right action and activity) of their society, in accordance with the standard of well-being enacted by the Creator, whose will for the whole self-evidently takes account of the particular and mutual well-being of its members. (The Creator’s benevolence is self-evident because each element of the whole exists as such, in itself and in relation to others, only on account of the Creator’s previously determined will. Therefore, every being is rightly understood and sustained so long as the Creator’s will be not neglected or counteracted in some way.)
What difference does it make if, remembering this purpose of representation, we ponder, the horrific events that have occurred in the past week involving the police? These days we call the police by all sorts of names that effectively distract us from one most significant fact: every member of our police forces is supposed to be an officer of the law. Since, in the United States, the law is supposed to represent the considerate judgment of the people, all police officers are therefore supposed to be representatives of the good people of the community, the people whose good will authorizes the activities of the government the police are sworn to serve.
In this respect police officers are to enact the goodwill of the people, toward the community as a whole and the individuals that constitute it. They are to do so in conformity with laws whose provisions the police force exists to enforce. Every coercive action taken by a police officer ought to correspond to some provision of law. When and if it violates the law, the officer ceases to be what he is supposed to be. Instead of enforcing the law he discards or counteracts it. Each time he does so he engages in a criminal act. But if he does so in some violent way, he defames and wars against the law. He replaces the societal order he is supposed to represent with a state of war. At that point, actions undertaken to defend against his criminal attack are subject to the first law of nature which governs human action at all times, but especially in a warlike situation.
On the other hand, every officer acting in accordance with the law, and his sworn duty to uphold it, does so as a representative of the law. A violent attack against that officer constitutes an attack on the law. It constitutes an attack on the government authorized to enact and enforce the law. It constitutes an attack on the people whose good will in respect of society the government is supposed to represent. And it constitutes an offense (offensive action) against the laws of nature and of nature God, which reflect the standard of right the good will of the people is supposed to uphold.
It should give us pause that, on the one hand and the other, the fact that all police officers are supposed to act as representatives of the law means that the actions they undertake, or which others undertake against them, always affect the whole people of their community. When one who is supposed to represent the good will of the people neglects or violates the law, the whole people is implicated. In their reaction against that criminal act they will either affirm or abdicate the authority that derives from their good will. If they abdicate it, the result is not just an injury done to the individual or individuals directly harmed by the officer’s unlawful act. It is an injury done to the people’s self-government. Unchecked, it implies the eventual dissolution of that government.
By the same token, any attack on officers of the law when they are acting pursuant to their lawful duty, is an attack on the whole society. It similarly involves the people as a whole, with implications, one way or the other, for the good will from which their authority for self-government derives. By this logic, when we react against such attacks, in order to identify and deal with those who perpetrate or support them, we are not acting solely or especially in defense of the police. We are acting in defense of our righteous authority, our right of self-government, our very existence as a free people.
This reflection on the premises and principles entangled in the horrific events of the past week, has practical consequences, which fly in the face of the deep emotions those events have stirred. On the one hand, it implies that, if the facts warrant it, any police officer found to have perpetrated an unlawful attack against an individual must be tried and punished to the full extent of the law. On the other, any individual found to have perpetrated an unlawful attack against officers of the law in the performance of their duties must be apprehended, tried and punished to the full extent of the law.
Though passions will run high against doing what is necessary in both respects, those passions cannot be allowed to have their way; not in the least degree. Nor can we excuse or otherwise justify those who tolerate these defamations of lawful authority, in any way. Any such tolerance tends to corrupt our goodwill as a people. This is particularly true in our times, when it is clear that the fate of our self-government hangs in the balance. We shall either unify in the cause of right and justice, God-endowed, or we shall watch helplessly as our nation dissolves into a chaotic nightmare, a nightmare from which they only will benefit who seek the return of the very tyranny our nation was founded to refute and overthrow. That tyranny forever blighted human affairs before the offer of God’s salvation set before us a way of true self-government. Not empowered solely by material strength, it relies on the Spirit and Love of God and His justice, as they draw goodhearted people toward the only path that sets us truly free. These are the motives in which the good people of these United States may yet rediscover the integrity of their union, turning the theme and temper of our times from tragedy to good hope.
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