Gods and Caesars
One misconception commonly held about reactionaries is that our ultimate aspiration is to travel backwards in time to some mythic “golden age” of the past. The truth is actually quite different. I have no desire to recreate either the Middle Ages or the glories of Rome; among other things I would miss air conditioning on a hot summer’s day and Tylenol on the morning after a late night out. Nor do I aspire to the wholesale regression to the values of olden times either. There are certain human advancements of the last few centuries that I value quite highly, such as the right to express my views however distasteful or unpopular they may be with other people without fear of repercussion. Rather, what I advocate is the study of the past so we might learn from the ancient wisdom of those that came before us and apply that knowledge to rectify the many deficiencies of the soup of moral relativism and hedonistic materialism that is modernity. It is preserving this essence of the past that I argue for, not necessarily the appearances of times past which have been rendered either obsolete or merely passed away through the advancement of time.
Sadly, this distinction is sometimes lost even on ourselves, as can be witnessed by the recent headline news surrounding a certain Kentucky bureaucrat. Kim Davis, a minor official of no particular note in the United States Midwest, took it upon herself to decide that despite the recent Supreme Court rulings that said otherwise she would refuse to hand out marriage licenses to gay couples as this conflicted with her religious beliefs. Predictably, the powers that be took a rather dim view to Ms Davis’s decision to decide what laws would and would not be observed, and for her actions she was imprisoned. This admittedly heavy handed act has resulted in the completely predictable reactions one would expect, vengeful condemnation on the left and the elevation to martyrdom from the right.
Now, politicians ultimately are in the business of saying whatever their prospective audiences want to hear. When one’s sole goal in life is to secure re-election, one can be expected to cast aside principle and intellect and introspection in favor of whatever is necessary to achieve that goal. However, I have heard similar sentiments echoed by quite a few other individuals of other walks of life, who have given every indication they too see Kim Davis’s stance as somehow courageous or laudable. I therefore feel compelled to state my case for why applause for what has occurred in this instance should not come from any individual who calls themselves a conservative. Indeed what has occurred should be condemned in the strongest of terms.
I am not going to go into a defense of gay marriage here. I have mused on this subject before, and anyone interested in my thoughts is free to read my earlier posts on the subject. What I will say rather is this. Kim Davis, by cherry picking which duties she will and will not perform, is breaking the law. She is in effect claiming that as an individual she can choose which laws she likes, which ones she does not, and that should be the determining factor in whether or not she must follow them. That is a very dangerous precedent to be celebrated. Law is ultimately what makes civilization. It is the mutual agreement by all parties that they shall collectively have certain rules, agreed upon in a predetermined fashion, that everyone must follow. Once this basic foundation is weakened, the entire structure of society begins to collapse on itself. If you can flout the law for motivations that seem just to you, then so can everyone else, and the law then becomes meaningless; a kind of social convention that people follow when they feel like and ignore when
they do not. This idea that one’s own inner conception of justice allows one to be above the law is the same justification that has been held up by every revolutionary throughout history to license their treason, and it should not be celebrated now simply because the cause in question happens to be one certain parties of the movement like.
But wait, you may now cry, what about religious freedom? That is the rub of the issue, after all. Kim Davis is only standing up for her religious beliefs and her right to practice them. No she is not. Our dear Kentucky clerk is not being ordered to enter into a gay marriage herself (which would be a violation of her beliefs) she is simply being expected to fulfill the duties of her job which is to issue marriage licenses to those parties that are legally allowed to obtain them. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself said that we should render unto God what is God’s and Caesar what is Caesar’s, and in this instance Caesar has proclaimed that marriages between parties of the same sex are now legal. Bad laws can be changed and improper court rulings overturned, and to that end Kim Davis is certainly free to apply all her talents and time through either argument, activism and all other legal means of the political process that allow the individual to try and effect change. That is a freedom I will most certainly defend to the death. Freedom to seek to change laws we dislike is not the same thing as freedom to ignore laws we dislike; that is a road once started down that ends in nothing but darkness.
The reactionary ethos is one that elevates the importance of authority, hierarchy and law over such petty things as “feelings”, “rights”, and “equity” which is the concern of the revolutionary. Just as God must be obeyed in matters of spirit, so too much Caesar be obeyed in matters of law. The true test is our ability to do so when those laws are ones we happen to dislike; everyone follows the law when it’s convenient. However, that principle that the law must always be followed and legitimate authority must always be obeyed is central to what it means to stand on the side of tradition and conservatism. It is the kryptonite to the progressives’ belief there is an unstoppable tide of history and anything that stands in its way must either stand aside or be swept aside. Law is the damn the stops the river, the cut fire that smothers the wild fire, the chain that bound Fenrir. Break that chain and the power and anarchy and chaos is unleashed and foolish stunts like this weaken it.
This is a hard concept for others to understand. We live, after all, in an most unusual time where revolutionaries are celebrated as “liberators” and the stability of authority is decried as “tyranny.” Robin Hood, a thief, is held up as a hero, while the Sheriff of Nottingham, the symbol of law and order, is denounced as a villain. Such inconsistencies as this can be seen everywhere we look in popular culture. We have quite literally been programmed since birth to celebrate rebellion as heroic and authority as evil. Never mind the fact that if everyone acted in such a fashion it would be anarchy, and society would cease to function in any meaningful sense.
Civil disobedience is not an act of courageousness but an act of selfishness. It is you as an individual putting your own personal preferences and likes ahead of needs of generations. Civilization is what makes all that is good in man, and civilization is made by authority and boundaries. For something so important it is terribly fragile. Take that away and we once again become random gangs of brutes roaming from one foraging site and hunting ground to another, leaving no trace in our wake that we were ever there beyond the footprints and extinguished cooking fires left behind. We endanger it at our peril, and elevate those that flout it to our shame.