Jun 23, 2004

Law, Democracy and Ten Commandments

Today will be less utopian. I have mentioned some time ago that Max Weber had done some interesting research on the impact of religious systems on western civilisation.

Today I'd like to discuss something not connected directly to Max Weber work, but quite interesting nonetheless. The topic for today's lecture, dear students, will be 'Democracy and the Rule of Law'. The inspiration for this was a long ride in the train and an article by dr Bogdan Szlachta - 'Demokracja a rządy prawa'.

First of all, it is important to remember the wise words of Winston Churchill: "Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
Therefore, beware of people who put democracy itself above all and say that if something has been decided by the democratic procedures, it is perfect - not least because it what we call 'democracy' today is not as much as the 'will of the people', but rather 'consensus among elites'.

Now, consider the opposite ideas of two main schools of philosophy of law.
Legal positivism theory states that law is what majority says it is and there is NO inherent or necessary connection between law and morality.
Natural law theory asserts that there is an essential connection between law and morality. This view is frequently summarized by the maxim: an unjust law is not a true law.

Which is right? It is a good question and there is no answer all agree on - hence the two schools and their opposing views, right? :)

What makes me wonder is that: if we agree that majority can decide EVERYTHING, that means that no value is perfect nor eternal. NONE. None at all. And that includes simple things like good and evil. Perhaps one needs to read some sf to really understand what it could mean. I *can* imagine such dystopian world, and even the chain of events - evolution - leading to it - but I don't have to like it. And I don't. It may be necessary, but I hope it wont happen during my lifetime (which I estimate on few thousands of years, as well as yours, my dear readers - but that is a topic for another lecture :).

So I am all for the natural law theory. Now that raises an interesting question - what values should be sacred?

There are three schools of thought here.

First one points to the constitution, as the 'law above all law'. However I dont need to give you examples of how constitutions have been ammended or scrapped and rewritten altogether. Even US constitution is not immune to change. It may delay the process, but it is just a delay, nothing more.

Now consider human rights. They are much better, but they they have one weakness. They are based on logic and reason. Becouse it is logic and reason, children of the Age of Enlightenment and Renaissance that also gave birth to the legal positivism.

Immanuel Kant wrote:

"Enlightenment is man's leaving his self-caused immaturity. Immaturity is the incapacity to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another. Such immaturity is self-caused if its cause is not lack of intelligence, but by lack of determination and courage to use one's intelligence without being guided by another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own intelligence!"

And while I am all for using one's intelligence, a great fan of scientific progress and staunch beliver in the inherent goodness of human nature - I think that if we pull out all the stops and let intelligence, logic and reason roam freely, we will end up one day in a terrible, dark place. Place were desire for greater efficiency eliminated emotions, where morality is considered to be a useless artifact impeding progress... I did mention sf literature, right? Go read 1984 by Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley or some newer anti-utopias like The Domination by S. M. Stirling I you think I am being to gloomy. As unlikely as any of those futures are in themselves, each represents a possible scanario which chance for happening greater then 0%. Small? Sure. Ever heard of gambling? EOT. :>

So what kind of balances and checks could be put on reason? There is only one that has proven to be successful. Bypassing logic and reason...the religion. Yes, I am dead serious, even though I don't consider myself to be a believer in any religion I can't see any other force capable of standing up to reason and logic. Setting aside the belief in magic and mysticism, we have to agree that there are some values that should never be changed, some laws that should never be removed - with no ifs and buts.

And believe it or not, I think there is an almost perfect set of rules. Look at the Ten Commandments. The first three put the set above all and require all to accept them without reservation and question. The rest spell the basics for human society, and are definetly wise - they ensure the happiness and well being of individuals and families. Granted, they do require some interpretation - like killing in self defence, or movement of time for rest from Sunday to some other days, and such - but those are minor nitpicks. The Ten Commandments are the father of western philosophy, with its developments of democracy, capitalism and many others.

In the end, I am not trying to convert anybody - I'd be the first to say about any religion the same that Churchil said about democracy, and I'd like you not to think that 10 Commandments = Church or any specific religions with their separate descendant (and definelty less then perfect) rules. But I think that:
- there are some values that must be forever prserved
- only religious (as in not based on logic and reson - i.e. unquestionable) belief can ensure that
- 10 Commandments look like a very nice set of rules to achieve that goal

Hopefully I made some sence. Comments, as always, unexpected :( but highly appreciated ;)

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