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Convention of States is our Moral Rudder to Steer the Ship Right

Published in Blog on July 12, 2021 by Edward Douglas Thompson

While arriving at a home to perform landscaping work there, a man and his son were let in by the maid. The son tried to sit down on a chair.

"Do not sit there," the father said. "You have not been given explicit permission by the homeowner to sit on his chairs."

The son argued back, "But there is no written sign on this chair saying 'Do not sit here,' and I thought I could do whatever I feel like doing, as long as there is not a clearly-written rule in place against it."

The father replied, "That is not how it works in someone else's home. While in their home, you may only do what it is that they have given explicit permission for you to do.

The thinking portrayed by the son in this short story is what is called legal positivism, where the only force that holds back an action comes from explicit words that had been written down by some kind of a lawmaker somewhere.

The thinking portrayed by the father is what is called Natural Law Theory, where the force that holds back an action comes from the tenets of objective (same for all) justice in the world. While the positive law of the legal positivist is made or created, the natural law is something not created but discovered by reasoning about what is right and good for humankind.

While in another's house, it is right and good if you ask for permission to do things such as to "make yourself at home," rather than just walking in, helping yourself to his refrigerator, and then his sofa TV while putting your muddy boots up on his coffee table.

While it had been in use since the dawn of time, the official enterprise of legal positivism began with the philosophy of Chinese Legalism, as promoted by philosopher Han Fei Tzu and his more-ruthless contemporary Li Si. The top-down thinking of Chinese Legalism is simple:

The leaders make the rules, and the people follow them, or else.

Much of the tension between Jesus and the Pharisees in the Gospels comes from this kind of an "idolatry of rules" which tramples on the inherent dignity of persons. In Matthew, the most scathing rebuke from Jesus against the Pharisees would be the "seven woes" of Matthew 23.

Here is verse 23 from chapter 23 (the fifth "woe"):

"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone."

Scribes and Pharisees followed the rules, or, you could say, the "letter of the law." But as Jesus notes, they did not follow the "spirit of the law." They omitted the "weightier matters" such as the mercy and faith both of and for people of God (beings with dignity) and the objective justice that can be served in the world.

While in another's house, you must seek explicit permission for any new thing you want to do, rather than thinking you should be able to do it, as long as it is not proscribed by a written sign saying "No, you can't do that", "No, you can't sit here", "No, you can't put your muddy boots up on this coffee table," etc.

The states are the home of the residents, and they get to decide what can be done in their state.

When state governors took it upon themselves to do new things like shut down the economy during the outbreak of COVID, the proper response would have been for state residents to declare that even the state governor cannot do new things, unless and until the people have given him or her the explicit permission to do that thing.

They could then say to their own governor, "That is not how you act in another person's home."

If the governor retorted, "But there was no written rule which said that I couldn't shut down the entire economy!" The people could then reply,

"That is not how it works. You are not allowed to do whatever it is that doesn't explicitly violate our state constitution. That's legal positivism, but this isn't Communist China. Either change your tune or pack your bags."

The Convention of States movement is developed according to natural law-- that is, what is really good, and right, and just in the world--rather than following down the path of prior nations into the web of corruption derived from relying on legal positivism.

The American founders knew that future leaders may feel that they should be able to do whatever it is that they want to do, as long as there is not an explicitly-worded proscription in the U.S. Constitution against it.

For example, if the U.S. Constitution doesn't explicitly say that the U.S. federal government should not be in charge of health care in America, then it would be okay for the federal government to begin to take charge of health care in America, as it did with the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

But the Founders were wise to this type cynical opportunism, and so they added a clause into Article V of the Constitution stating that the people themselves--acting through state legislatures--would be able to propose their own amendments to the Constitution in order to keep overreaching politicians and officials in check.

Because of the omnipresence of power-lust and ambition, they knew that there would be such cracks "discovered" in the foundation of any "man-made law" (the written documents), so they added a fail-safe mechanism allowing the people themselves to right the ship-of-state when it veered into dangerous waters, such as it is doing today.

They deliberately added that clause so that the people can keep the imperfect but explicit man-made law aligned with the perfect but implicit natural law, which can only be discovered upon reflection on the inherent dignity of human beings and the absolute necessity to strive for what is right and moral and good.

Finally, the 40,000-foot view of the situation can be summed up as simply as this: legal positivism is man's rules or Rule of Man, while natural law is God's laws or Rule of Law.

You may recognize this antagonism for what it is: the battle between Good and Evil.

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