The codification of caprice and its aftermath of rule by whimsy
John Daniel Begg
These words from Washington are occasioned by the ongoing, serious and very distressing rift between the Administration and the Church the flash point for which respecting issues of contraception. There are a number of levels at which this debate can be joined but it strikes the writer that the Administration’s position that the Executive can, by fiat, simply ordain changes in private Church policy because he feels like it,suggests logical consequences likely not anticipated or intended by the Executive and his supporters. Regarded properly, this debate is not about a particular disagreement. Properly understood, it is, by extension of logic, about morality.
Fiat rule, among other very nasty things, smacks of Royalism, dictatorship and governmental absolutism.Fiat rule is itself governed by caprice, seasoned by mere whimsy and sparks the harrowing abnegation of civilized legal process and of morality itself. All of these things, in turn, obviate against the possibility of having a civilized society. And, that’s not good news.
The merits of the particular argument lines thus far put forth by the opposing sides left to one side for a moment, it appears clear enough that, for the Executive to lay claim to such powers of fiat governance, occasions the observer to think a bit about both historical and present day parallels that are troubling indeed.
Fiat government is government by caprice and raw force. Lamentably, history is replete with sad and alarming parallels. The reader is asked to consider carefully the instant and longer term ramifications of Executive intervention based upon the notion that “I’ll do it because, well, I feel like it.” This is not a new affectation. Absolute monarchs lived, and effectively do yet live, by the credo “I will it therefore it will be done.”
Consider please the implications of a society in which from the top down the message is that my actions are in the main governed by the dictum: “I will do what I feel like.” Man generally agrees not to rob banks and shoot the girls behind the counter. Such agreement is part of a generally accepted social compact between the government and its citizens. Yet, some clearly think that if they feel like doing so, it’s perfectly fine. Daily evidence that this is so can be seen in the newspapers. Banks are routinely robbed and the girls likewise routinely shot during the robberies. All right-minded men would agree that a social construct such as that, driven as it is by mere caprice, is both dangerous and invidious to society. That is why the flip side of the prevailing social compact harshly punishes cavalier bank robbers and murderers. Yet, many men feel they are law unto themselves. It’s perfectly fine to rob money in Wall Street, to cheat, to lie, to lay waste to other nations in savage war and exploitation because, put to the quick, well, “I just feel like it.”
The rule of whimsy has harrowing historical connotations stretching back to man’s abrupt, and jolting, egress from the Garden. Comparatively recent flights of whimsy are downright frightening. Consider, Russia. In that great, yet often very sad, country, I am sure that the last Czar of the Russians, Nicholas II, smitten with the heady elixir of absolute, unchecked and “divine” power, thought it just the right move to unleash his Cassocks to butcher the Jews and other innocents of his Empire to quiet social unrest when the population was visited, as it very often was, with flood, famine and pestilence. Quite clearly, he felt likedoing that. Later, Mr. Stalin appeared to think it his prerogative to butcher and enslave virtually everyone in sight. I am absolutely sure he felt like doing that. The Americans today fret and make faces about Mr. Putin behaving in a manner tyrannical, and perhaps he does, but I am sanguine that Mr. Putin feels unfettered to do so because it catches his fancy and he “just feels like doing it.”
While the incumbent American Executive does not appear to us Czarist, Stalinist or a Mr. Putin, we feel it necessary to issue this cautionary: His recent, and apparently serious, flirtation with the notion that his office confers upon him the authority to codify his caprices and to be unfettered in his whimsy is very dangerous territory to enter. To cultivate such vanities comes at a very high social price. He ought to consider the logical corollaries. They are these: If you act in a manner suggestive of the mindset of these three mentioned Russian leaders, in logical construct, what is really to prevent any citizen of this Republic from doing whatsoever he “feels like?” Surely, the Executive is sage enough to know that people learn lessons from observing the actions of their elders and leaders. After all, the Executive has young children and must daily see that they watch their parents carefully and draw conclusions from what they see their parents doing.
Children, we all know, need very little coaching to adopt with alacrity a keen and ready aptitude for doing just what they “feel like.” We do live in a democracy, lessons are noted by the citizen and, most particularly by youngsters, and those lessons ought appropriately be sound lessons involving making good, and not selfish, choices.
Respecting democracy, the incumbent Executive and, most particularly his supporters, would do well to consider this element of the case if they are unmoved by listed arguments of logic against their codification of caprice: what happens when their caprice no longer stirs the drink? What happens when they are out of power? Do they feel cheered by the notion of their opponent’s fiat, whimsy and caprice holding sway in another day–not too far off? You see, when one opens the ball on the sort of capricious and whimsical mindset cautioned against here, one must make serious consideration of what will happen when men who one finds disagreeable hold all the high trumps. These men likely will not “feel like” wearing the current fashions. Then, the incumbent and his followers will have to adjust to what it “feels like” to wear outdated cloth. Will they like that—I doubt it? Yet, gravy is, as for the goose, so for the gander.
This last is perhaps the most important lesson here. If the precedent thus far established by the Executive to codify his caprices is left to stand, the Americans would do very well to consider what the logical corollaries and logical extensions of codifying those caprices are. Specifically, where does letting such a precedent stand untested end? I assume no other answer but that it leads to a tyranny of caprice, whimsy and fiat government, weather that is the intention of the Executive in the instant case or not. If the American citizens clearly do see future tyranny in the present over-reaching by the Executive in the codification of his caprices and his rule by whimsy and fiat, and the citizens do nothing about these miscues, what rejoinder will they have when such encroachments are visited on their own sacred soil? That is why this is not, at core, a Church versus State issue, but rather a moral concern for all of us.
This is a serious moral issue that, by extension of proper logic, involves all issues of interest to every citizen. No citizen can rest easy in his comfort thinking “well perhaps this exercise in fiat governance,codification of caprice and rule by whimsy in the instant case is wrong-headed and a bit overdone, perhaps even dangerous and surely ill-advised, but it does not apply to me and mine directly in this instance, so I’ll just let it go unremarked for now.” No! Wrong move! Wrong move for anyone in our country to allow such unbridled power grabs go unremarked. If for no other reason than the future projection of enlightened self-interest, all citizens appropriately ought to be very much alarmed by the injection of fiat rule into our democratic system.
I confess that it was through utter inadvertence that recently I stumbled upon a clip of a Mr. George Stephanopoulos on the television speaking at Speaker Gingrich as Speaker Gingrich spoke at George. The level of discourse in American politics has deteriorated to the point that, what were once intended to be serious discussions have become, in the very best of cases, cheap and seedy game shows. In the illustrated case, the two men spent all their allotted time talking to themselves and at the other.
At events, Mr. Stephanopoulos’ game show that day was likely no more or less informed than any other, and, frankly, these vapid modern press conditions are not George’s fault. The news says that things are bleak out there these days and George is, I suppose, rather well paid, as far as that goes, for a reporter, to be vapid, and, vapid he is. Besides, it’s just a job and he, apparently, feels like doing it.
It is only as the ostensible subject, at least in part, being talked at between the two men was this regrettable disharmony between the Church and the Executive, that I recall it here. And I ask Mr. Stephanopoulos and Mr. Gingrich both this: is not the logical corollary of fiat governance, a generalized societal fiat behavior in which all the members of the society are moved by this same dictum: “what do I feel like doing today?” Further, do these gentlemen agree that the logical extension of such a dictum is chaos and, far more seriously, a still further extension is the abnegation of any and all morality?
Our society, devoid of morality, will not survive. It is quite that simple. It is from morality that springs personal freedom and its attendant possibilities and responsibilities. Hence, the true glory of America is amoral glory. I ask Mr. Stephanopoulos and Mr. Gingrich to comment on what sort of society we will have when all strata of men abnegate morality. It would be most unpleasant. Suppose specifically that, after their game show, Mr. Stephanopoulos and Mr. Gingrich go off together to celebrate their individual and collective brilliance with a swell meal and a bottle of Petrus. You lucky fellas! Suppose further that afterwards, Mr. Stephanopoulos, in high good spirits, is headed to his flash car where, astounded, he encounters a young ghetto urchin who decides, by fiat, to shoot Mr. Stephanopoulos in the head and take his car because the urchin “feels like it.” Such a tragedy would likely cause a stir on the television for quite some time, but, logically, the urchin has a sound license in a society that has codified caprice, rules by whimsy and abnegates all moral responsibility.
It is my fervent hope that all right and fair minded men can agree that the codification of caprice in the instant case of this most sad discordance between the Executive and the Church is a very bad path to tread. I hope such men can also agree that men governed by mere whimsy and fiat cannot be free and civilized. I most particularly hope that such men can come to peaceful comity of opinion that the concomitant abnegation of the rule of law and proper process that flows through logical extension from the primacy of caprice, fiat and whimsy, ushers in an immoral society in which men are diminished in stature to the point that they are not men any more at all but have rather repaired back to the jungle as savages.~~
Where in America today is our Saint Thomas a Becket?
–JOHN DANIEL BEGG
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