Legislating morality is the wrong question

(’76 Contributor) Let me comment on the March 10 forum at Centennial Institute, “Can We Legislate Morality? Marijuana, Marriage, Murder,” which I was unable to attend.  It’s an attention-getting topic, since in my view the libertarian trend is becoming a suicidal libertine trend, demanding total freedom and a social safety net which becomes unaffordable. It’s also on its way to endorsing NAMBLA as the next step after gay marriage. Eventually the victim list will get some attention.

But “Legislating Morality” is the wrong title. It should be ‘What behaviors should society refuse to subsidize in the social contract?’. Since we legalized marijuana, must we all contribute to drug rehab programs with their low success rate? Must we tolerate rising DUID fatalities among the innocent? Voluntary self-destructive behavior must be penalized at some point. To put it in a more snarky tone, here’s a post I copied from a comment thread on Townhall:

I am one of those fiscal conservatives that doesn’t give a hoot how others live and destroy their lives- just don’t ask me to bail the idiots out. You get knocked up sweetie? Your problem-not mine. Your lunacy has screwed up your entire country? Your problem, not mine. You engage in dangerous sexual practices because ooh ooh, it felt good at the time-your problem, not mine. You paid no attention in school and turned out to be a moron because of it? Your problem-not mine. I simply don’t want to pay for other’s idiocy-otherwise, I couldn’t care less about how you conduct your life.

Our real problem is that legislators at state and national levels frequently go far beyond their constitutional limits, and the courts add in the personal feelings of judges rather than restraining legislators. But legislators have other people’s money to spend, and when they hear cries of distress they are always eager to buy a few votes and show their compassion – even when it encourages people to destroy their lives.

The most sensitive responsibilities improperly assumed by state and federal governments are precisely those most likely to cause civil unrest if discontinued; healthcare payments, welfare, unemployment. All are extra-constitutional. They are in spheres of activity that do not belong to civil government, but to the family and the church. Abraham Kuyper’s concept of ‘sphere sovereignty’ has been violated by civil government, and it will not be easily restored.

Kuyper argued that there are three God-ordained spheres of power in life each one governing a different area: church, family and government. So for example, the church has doctrinal responsibilities that include church discipline for wrong beliefs but this area of ‘sovereignty’ is not granted to the government. Nor is the church to punish murderers with criminal penalties–that is government’s job. Similarly family has responsibilities that government cannot reproduce–nor should it because if it does it is overstepping its God-ordained boundaries.”

Collin Hansen explains: “I give thanks that so many Christians look at the social decay around them and want to make a difference. We should remember, however, the wisdom of theologians who have gone before us. In particular, Abraham Kuyper’s “sphere sovereignty” distinguishes between the responsibility of the state, society, and the church. What we see now in the West is a breakdown of society, which includes families, voluntary organizations, and local communities. The government has overstepped its responsibility by seeking to occupy this sphere. Our financial crisis and political stalemate should disabuse us of any notion that the government is capable of replacing these so-called mediating institutions.”

Wikipedia’s explanation also: “In Neo-Calvinism, sphere sovereignty (Dutch: souvereiniteit in eigen kring) is the concept that each sphere (or sector) of life has its own distinct responsibilities and authority or competence, and stands equal to other spheres of life. Sphere sovereignty involves the idea of an all encompassing created order, designed and governed by God. This created order includes societal communities (such as those for purposes of education, worship, civil justice, agriculture, economy and labor, marriage and family, artistic expression, etc.), their historical development, and their abiding norms. The principle of sphere sovereignty seeks to affirm and respect creational boundaries, and historical differentiation.”

Sphere sovereignty implies that no one area of life or societal community is sovereign over another. Each sphere has its own created integrity. Neo-Calvinists hold that since God created everything “after its own kind,” diversity must be acknowledged and appreciated. For instance, the different God-given norms for family life and economic life should be recognized, such that a family does not properly function like a business. Similarly, neither faith-institutions (e.g. churches) nor an institution of civil justice (i.e. the state) should seek totalitarian control, or any regulation of human activity outside their limited competence, respectively.

Consequences of government’s invasion of other spheres: It is no coincidence that our national debt is roughly equal to the amount the government spent on our ‘war on poverty’, since it greatly expanded out of its proper sphere and began doing damage to the family structure. After FDR inserted the government into an area that families and churches had been working to handle, the churches breathed a sigh of relief and dropped out of helping people find work and hold productive attitudes. When LBJ substituted the government for fathers, the family also began to abdicate its responsibilities. Woodrow Wilson began attacking the family through the public education system. Prospects are not good.

The debt cannot be repaid except through hyperinflation, which may come when banks no longer receive their 25-basis-point interest from the Fed on the $2.5 trillion or more of ‘excess reserves’ which they derived from the TARP bailouts and other stimuli, and are holding out of the market. Those reserves will then be loaned out, vastly increasing the circulating money supply. Prices will outstrip the government’s ability to supply subsidies and entitlements. Recipients will not be happy, consequences may be severe.

This will probably end the use of dollars as the world reserve currency, and reduce it to the status of a regional currency which the federal government can mandate as legal tender within our borders. It would be devalued or worthless in international trade. Does Wal-mart’s global reach let them see his coming? Is this why they announced their $250 billion effort to restore manufacturing in America? Do they see that the dollar will be worthless abroad?

Such an economic shock would have many consequences. Food would be scarcer, gardening will be more important; there’s work for the unemployed. We could no longer afford the luxury of federal regulators. An Article V convention would then have its attention focused more tightly on the real causes of economic woes, and could get serious about removing the government from those spheres of life which are beyond its competence. It will take years for the dust to settle. I don’t even want to look at the international consequences.

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