A Lesson for the Lesser Orders

Judge Roy Moore of Alabama has at last been ordered by the U.S. Court of Appeals (11th Circuit) to remove his 2.5-ton monument displaying the Ten Commandments from his courthouse in Alabama.

The federal judges (los federales) didn't mince words or pussy foot around as to who gets to determine what the Constitution says. It's certainly not Moore. “In the regime [Moore] champions, each high government official can decide whether the Constitution requires or permits a federal court order and can act accordingly,” said the opinion.

Not so, not so at all. That say belongs by right of conquest to the federales. They alone are the arbiters of what the Constitution, that ancient, dim, and detested document, means. Ah, so.

These wonderful judges also trashed the notion that the Ten Commandments were ever of any importance in American history, a view of our history that has got to be the most ignorant and hubristic opinion yet to emerge from any of our legal snakepits. These people, it would appear, can't even read and don't think anyone else can.

What an ultimate answer to the Puritan religious demand for a "City on a Hill," a city of light! It's the same thrust, as Rothbard has demonstrated, now carrying the opposite charge, and become not religion but politics, screaming war. "You, sir, are going to do what I say, or we are going to send the troops in after you." The judges actually cited the defiance of southern governors in the era of battles over segregation as an example of utterly unacceptable behavior by anyone facing a federal order.

This, of course, is the moment the South should rise again, but it won't, except rhetorically. But as surely as God made little green apples, this regime – I mean the federal regime not Moore's – is digging its own grave. Because it is lying and tyrannical, and such regimes always go too far. I do not expect it to disappear tomorrow, but it will disappear. All our forethought should be directed to what comes after.

One of the points the judges made, a point supposed to demonstrate their commitment to fairness (judges, you know, are supposed to be fair, like Solomon, and never pursue any personal agendas) was that if Moore can put up the Ten Commandments other public officials would have the right to decorate public buildings with a cross, a menorah or a statue of Buddha (what, nothing Islamic?). They assume we would none of us like that.

I for one would be delighted. I honor all genuine manifestations of religion, defined as the worship of God. It would be nice if the these federal judges themselves would produce one that savored of something besides Old Nick himself. I can imagine a statue of Confucius (who spoke of heaven and the right way to live) adorning our courthouse in Odessa. It would raise the tone of public artwork here immensely if it were at all on the order of the Great Buddha of Kamakura that I remember seeing in Japan in 1946. As it is, we don't have much in the way of public artifacts, unless you count the statue of a striptease dancer in front of our art museum (which I admit is a private not a public building, but it is a prominent one).

The great psychologist William James, writing a century ago in his masterwork, The Varieties of Religious Experience, and casting about for a statement to make about religion that would cover that enormously diverse field, said, "Religion, whatever it is, is a man's total reaction upon life, so why not say that any total reaction upon life is a religion?" He further wrote that to get at these "total reactions" you "must go behind the foreground of existence and reach down to that curious sense of the whole residual cosmos as an everlasting presence, intimate or alien, terrible or amusing, loveable or odious, which in some degree everyone possesses."

It's interesting to think what must be the true religion, in these terms, of our three judges of the 11th Circuit Appeals Court. I suspect, to use the kind of biblical language they seem to dislike so much, it might be called the worship of Mammon. Or, to paraphrase Dr. Johnson describing an inferior philosopher, they have the air of someone "cooperating with the present system." Johnson implies that is not exactly the route to wisdom.

The parties to this case will appeal, of course. It goes now to the Supreme Court. It seems hard to imagine that the judges, whoever they are by the time the case comes up, can come out any way but in support of the 11th Circuit decision. And I do not see how they will be able to duck the issue by refusing to take the case – or even want to. Maybe there is some kind of waffle available to them, but how can they leave those ghastly commandments in place? The redneck Christians need a still further lesson in who's boss.

What's really at issue is, first, federal power over the states, to which the Supremes have learned they had damned well better be committed (shades of FDR), and second, their own eagerness to retain ultimate power within the fed complex. That is to say, they will decide in favor of the kritarchy that we have become, a nation ruled by judges. (That is also to say, a nation ruled by lawyers.)

Any other decision by SCOTUS would weaken their authority (which I think they are a tad nervous about anyway since the election of 2000) and – horrible even to think about – lead to a blossoming of hideous expressions of biblical religion all over the place. If Catholic Georgetown U. can take down its crucifixes so as not to annoy the non-Christians, surely the Christians generally can shut up.

But that is to speculate unwisely and past the need of the hour. You never know. Everything moves to some kind of crisis, here and overseas. Whom God would destroy He first sends mad. We live in interesting times.

July 3, 2003


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