A guilty pleasure, that I surrender to occasionally, involves quizzing my fellow conservative compatriots about the core historical knowledge that is often taken for granted. Long before the Tea Party came along there was a burgeoning conservative movement in America that sought to rediscover and recover ancient principles and ideals of man’s relationship with government.
From Goldwater to Reagan, Limbaugh to Levin, and talk radio to the limitless font of internet information, historical truth is making a comeback.
Let’s start at the beginning. Before Caesar came the Republic. Res Publica, correctly translated, means “the public thing.” In a Republic the public thing is: The Law. This seems to be simple enough to understand, but in a society that has promoted the notion of democracy for a century, republican theory can be confusing to some. Make no mistake, and most conservatives agree, we live in a republic, and democracy is in no way a friend to its continued existence. But, I digress.
So if a republic refers to law, which law is it referring to? Is it referring to a constitution? Is that what a republic is? A nation with a constitution? Question: If the Constitution disappeared tomorrow, would the Republic disappear also?
Our Republic rests on ancient law that has its roots in the Old Testament, and its branches in the New Testament. This law gained a stamp of approval with the Magna Carta, and since the printing press it has acquired an ever-expanding iteration in what is often called “case law.” Our republic, and any republic for that matter, sits firmly upon the law of nature, and nature’s God. In America this universal denominator is called English Common Law.
The foundation of English Common Law are the twin pillars of contract law and criminal law.
Contract law finds its basis in the Ten Commandments’ admonition: Thou shalt not lie. Therefore, contract law is designed to promote the simple notion to do everything that you agree to do. All government descends from contract law. The Constitution is a contract between the States, civil statutes are local social contracts etc. Civil law is colorable, which means it can be illegal one day, legal the next.
The famous, or more correctly infamous phrase, “ignorance of the law is no excuse,” has no relevance in contract law. A traffic violation is not the sort of law that is referred to when this ancient concept was adopted. Ignorance of the law is an excuse in the adminstrative arena, it is not however an excuse with regard to basic common law precepts, because those are considered to be universal and understood by all.
(Note: illegal and unlawful are very different concepts. It can be illegal to turn right on red one day, legal the next. But unlawful things are always unlawful regardless of any statute on the books. You cannot make it lawful to kill someone for instance.)
Unfortunately, truth is seldom a high priority for government, so civil codes often subject citizens to untenable positions. People are seldom able to use adminstrative, civil, or statutory law to behave badly, governments do it all the time. Contract law is at its core though, a handshake with a “so help me God” imprimatur.
Criminal Law also finds its basis in the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not kill has become the common law precept: Do no harm to another person. Statutes have sprung up to codify this notion, but regardless of regulatory availability the common law rules supreme in this arena. There cannot be statutory relief for harming another person without cause. Criminal law can be enforced with or without the written word because the ancient law, or the common law, is always in force regardless of circumstance.
The Republic can exist without a constitution, The Constitution cannot exist without a republic. In other words, for a contract to have force, it must be built amongst a people who recognize the value of a handshake that has its roots in God’s law. Without that trust words are meaningless, law becomes worthless over time, and the rule of law is slowly replaced by the abitrary rule of men.
When Benjamin Franklin famously informed a lady that a republic was being formed, what he was actually saying was that the rule of law was being codified. Res publica is not an aberation of the state of man, it is a recogniton of universal truth. All men are created equal, they are endowed by their creator with unalienable rights, etc., is the The Law.
The Constitution is a mere recognition of that natural truth, and an attempt to prevent the rule of man over men.
The Constitution is mere form, res publica is the public thing which never changes that our Constitution is founded on. We call our country a republic because we promote the truth of man’s relationship with God. God gave us life and liberty, and all law that doesn’t protect life and promote freedom is contrary to a republican form of government.
Our elected leaders should spend 98% of their day studying the law, and 2% of their day considering public policy changes. Instead they do the exact opposite, and promote public policies that undermine the very law that they have sworn to defend. Indeed, the Constitution itself insists that every State in the Union also recognize that republican government, or rule of the law reign supreme.
Elected leaders in America do not rule, the law rules. Politicians are mere custodians of the law, and when they promote notions such as a “living constitution” what they are really wanting is the rule of law to be replaced by the rule of man. Our Republic rests on the universal truths espoused by The Declaration of Independence.
The Constitution was an effort to promote the ideals of liberty and justice. Liberty and justice brings prosperity. Every nation that maintains a rule of law that promotes liberty and justice will have prosperity. Any nation that substitutes rule of law for rule of man will soon find poverty, despair, and finally tyranny. Ergo, choose leaders who first look to The Law, otherwise The Republic will soon die…
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
The sum of a republic, is The Law. Amen.