Today is October 11th, 2020. One month from now will be after the election in the United States of America. But is this the United States of America anymore? I feel as though we are living in divided states. We are a broken nation in many respects.
Are we strong? Undoubtedly. And there is nothing whatsoever which says we cannot be both strong and broken. Yet we know intuitively that the nature of all things is that they are not so strong when they are broken as when they are of a piece.
We have always been many states. But ‘E pluribus unum.’ The Latin phrase is meant to convey that we are one nation formed of many parts and persons.
There is nothing terribly original about that as far as it goes. Every single nation since people began organizing themselves into groups has been formed of many parts. Yet the aspiration to be united on some things is not unoriginal. Rather, this aspiration is timeless. It is tried and true. It is necessary, even.
In contrast, we know that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” This is a familiar phrase to many. Yet when President Abraham Lincoln first stated it in contrast to the present time, every American recognized the phrase as a quote by a man about whom many were divided in their opinions and judgments, of a man who was infinitely greater.
It was Christ who first said those words. Yet if you ever knew, remember in what context Jesus spoke.
After having cast demons out of those who had been oppressed their whole lives by them, those who felt threatened by Jesus made an outrageous accusation.
“He casts out demons by the prince of demons.”
The ninth commandment of the Ten states it flatly. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
But God would not have had to prohibit that which men do not do. That sin which man is not tempted by requires no forbidding.
And the appeal of slander and libel is too obvious. Someone else has an object, condition, or status you desire. Rather than striving to acquire – to earn that thing for yourself honestly and rightly – you resolve to destroy the person who has it.
Once they are destroyed, you will either seize what you coveted, or else it will be destroyed with its original possessor. Either way, you will be free of wanting it.
Or perhaps you already took that which did not belong to you. Now you seek to cover your tracks. Confronted by someone seeking to hold you accountable to truth and justice, you deflect. Rather than confessing your crime and repenting, restoring the property to its rightful owner, you endeavor to cast the adjudicator as the villain, and yourself as the victim.
All your maligned motives, you project onto your opposition.
You are not the selfish thief. They are the thief.
You are not the liar. They are the liar.
You are not the bad guy here. You are the aggrieved party, and they are harassing you.
Karl Marx once famously advised accusing your enemy of doing that which you yourself are doing so as to create confusion. Or was it Niccolo Machiavelli? Then again, perhaps it was Joseph Goebbels. Or maybe I am thinking of Saul Alinsky.
No matter. The important thing to note is that no virtuous person ever advised it.
Lies and deceit and character assassination are effective strategies for achieving very narrow objectives in the short-term. They are not, however, recipes for long-term or comprehensive success.
“Too clever by half” has never been a compliment. And those who earn a reputation for duplicity eventually find that their luck runs out. They are not trusted. They are not believed. And they lose their power over people when their ability to deceive is terminated.
Alternatively, we guard ourselves best against lies by firmly apprehending and affirming the truth. And we protect others from deceivers by not just knowing the truth ourselves, but also by telling the truth.
Therefore, the second greatest commandment – to love our neighbor as we love ourselves – requires that we tell the truth. No one who loves themselves well tells themselves lies, nor do they suffer themselves to be deceived when they can help it. Nor do they passively permit themselves to be falsely accused when they can provide testimony which exonerates themselves.
So also, then, we do not love our neighbor well unless we extend the same courtesy to him. If he is slandered and we have evidence that exonerates him, we present it. If he is being deceived, we tell the truth so as to deliver him from those who would entrap and exploit him for selfish purposes.
In Thomas Sowell’s ‘A Conflict of Visions,’ he explains something remarkable. At the core, what we know as the Left-Right political divide is not actually due to partisanship for its own sake. Rather, fundamentally different premises – about human nature, reality, truth, and goodness – lead to starkly contrasted positions on every issue.
There are two competing visions, according to Sowell. The one is the unconstrained, the other is the constrained.
In the unconstrained vision, man is inherently good. External factors – like unjust political systems, religious bigotry, and economic inequality – corrupt him. Therefore, the goal is to mitigate or eliminate those external factors which corrupt man, and to perfect all these systems so that man himself can be his best self and live his best life now. In this unconstrained vision, man is infinitely perfectible. All that is needed is to get the artificial biases out of the way.
In the constrained vision, by contrast, the nature of man is to do what is in his best interest. The insistence of good intentions is beside the point. Man pursues his own well-being instinctively, and that is that. There is no perfecting this away, and it is not due to external influences. Man possesses an innate selfishness. We must therefore organize and conduct ourselves with the expectation that such is the case and make the best of it.
Looking at the conflict in this way – as being of two competing visions of the nature of man – is illuminating. Suddenly puzzle pieces fall neatly into place.
On the one hand, we appreciate why the Left wants Big Government to replace and mitigate self-determination, the free market, the family, and religion. On the other, we see the root of the distrust the Right feels for all the Left’s messianic ambitions.
The Truth About Human Nature
One of the factors which the Left consistently seeks to counteract – not only in America, but in every country which has embraced Marxism, and before that in the French Revolution – is religion. In the West specifically, the one to beat has been Christianity.
Whether Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant, Christianity has rightly been recognized by Leftists as making fundamentally competitive truth claims to the unconstrained vision of man at the core of Leftist political philosophy.
Central to the second greatest commandment – “love your neighbor as yourself” – is the principle at the heart of the constrained vision of political philosophy. God says we already love ourselves. The goal is not to stop loving ourselves. Rather, the goal is to love those others around us who are made in God’s image so well as we love ourselves.
But before this, the first and greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God” with all of everything that is within you. And so we find ourselves loving God by trusting Him, obeying Him, and serving Him faithfully.
As we read from Genesis on through the rest of the book, we find repeated evidences that man is not inherently good. God is inherently good, and we all as a fallen human race descended from Adam are born with a fallen nature.
We are perfectible, but not by our own power. Man cannot do this, no matter how clever or well-intentioned his system. Only God can perfect us.
Therefore, claims by others that we should empower them to institute a perfect system so that we can be perfected are misguided at best because they fundamentally misapprehend human nature and reality. At worst, they are wicked, fraudulent, dishonest attempts by selfish men to enrich and empower themselves at our expense.