Tired, yet, of liberal legalism? The last time in history the law was held in such superstitious reverence, the Pharisees were the party of enlightened opinion in ancient Israel.
At a recent dinner party, when I questioned the new progressive sacrament of same-sex “marriage”, a fellow guest replied, with admirable succinctness, “It’s the law; it’s in the Charter”; which meant, apparently, that the issue was now finally (and correctly) decided, and any criticism of that decision was beyond the pale. What has come of the liberal injunction to “question authority”?
Lex loquitur; lux caliginem vicit: Once the law has spoken, the truth has conquered the darkness. Such an idolatrous attitude ought to strike even liberals as odd, in that they have always regarded the law as a capricious, changeable, and self-serving construct of the “power structure”. (The Ten Commandments were once The Law, but no courtroom is currently permitted to display them because they evoke a “bigoted” past that liberalism has superseded; besides, nothing is more risible to post-modernists than the claim of revelation to embody the final truth.) Yet today, when the law suddenly inverts an ancient and perennial moral norm, progressives invest its latest decrees with papal infallibility.
As I pointed out to my interlocutor, the law that currently recognizes same-sex “marriage” denied it but a few short years ago. The same law that was wrong yesterday can hardly be credited with apodictic rectitude when it changes its mind today. Mutability and self-contradiction are scarcely indices of infallibility, let alone a servile obedience to the faddish enthusiasms that serially take possession of the group-mind.
Don’t liberals know that the distinction between positive law—understood as the changeable instrument of temporal power—and the unchanging ideal of Justice is one of the longest running topoi in human intellectual history? In his De legibus, Cicero argues that “the science of law is [not] to be derived from the praetor’s edict, as the majority [now] thinks…but from the deepest mysteries of philosophy”. In popular usage, men
give the name of law to that which in written form decrees whatever it wishes, either by command or prohibition. For such is the crowd’s definition of law. But in determining what Justice is, let us begin with that supreme Law which had its origin ages before any written law existed or any State had been established.
For Cicero, the Law that antecedes (and thereby relativizes) the mutable legal codes of historical States is the eternal and unchanging Law of Nature, which is “implanted universally in the human reason”.
Some version of Cicero’s doctrine of an innate and universal “natural law” has been regnant in the West (amongst Platonists, Aristotelians, Stoics, Skeptics, and Christians alike) for nearly two and a half millennia. Predictably, natural law doctrine is in bad odour amongst post-modernists (in part because it has been embraced by the Church); but it plausibly explains what remains an indubitable empirical fact: that all men, regardless of nation, culture, religion, or historical epoch, have found certain human activities instinctively repellent.
For at least two millennia, and until remarkably recently, mankind has felt an innate and universal revulsion at such self-evidently contra-natural practices as have recently been made “legal”. (Grounded in “natural law”, “conscience”, “psychic instinct”, or whatever one chooses to call it, opposition to abortion, homosexuality, and gender re-assignment has had nothing to do with divine revelation or Christian dogma, whatever progressives prefer to think.) Even militant feminists often find themselves ambushed by remorse after an abortion, nor are they ostentatiously proud of having had one, in the way in which they publicly exult in the other dubious blessings bestowed upon them by their sexual liberation. And as Joe Sobran has observed, parents may wish for boys or girls, but no expectant couple has ever been heard to say, “I hope the baby turns out to be gay”.
But these are individual judgments, reflective of a stubborn moral autonomy that cannot be allowed to prevail by the State archons of progressive ideology, and are hardly likely to prevail against an ideology that so shamelessly exploits the well-known infirmities of the mass mind: the psychological need to regard oneself as one of the morally enlightened, to have one’s opinions confirmed by the group, to be in the majority and on the winning side; conversely, the fear of being labeled “old-fashioned”, “misogynist”, “homophobic”, or worse, by the virtuous mob.
Thus it is that on the subjects of abortion and homosexuality we have moved from two millennia of universal opprobrium, to societal approbation and promotion, in the twinkling of an eye. The oracles of Enlightened Opinion have spoken, and the herd of independent minds, amongst the media, the academy, and Hollywood’s deep thinkers, has lowed its assent and fallen into line. As Tolstoy has observed, modern man changes his views in the way he changes his clothes: according to fashion. And there is nothing more embarrassingly unfashionable than being out of step with the Spirit of the Times.