The Fragility of Civil Order

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“I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Tim. 2:1–2).

Whenever men have enjoyed any privilege for any length of time, it becomes part of the framework of their minds. They take it for granted, and assume that this particular privilege, whatever it is, will rise in the east tomorrow, right after the sun does. That privilege might be clean water, which you can get by turning a tap, or it might be a comfortable standard of living, which is evidenced by the fact that you are reading this on your phone, or it might be the peaceful transfer of political power. It might be the fact that when you go to the polling places to cast your vote, you do not have to walk past riot police.

Some of you might recall that after the last presidential election, I registered my opposition to the criminal prosecution of Hillary Clinton for anything. This is not because of any belief in her innocence. I am as convinced as anyone could be that her background dealings could not survive ten minutes of honest investigation. I believe that if she were in any other position, and had any other last name, but was in possession of the same pattern of behavior, she would already be in chokey. If she had an open and fair trial and then went to prison, in other words, I don’t believe that any injustice would be done to her.

My concern is that I do not believe we should allow the ritual of our election cycle to culminate with the losing candidate being hauled off to jail. This would be an incentive for far more corruption, not less. It would encourage the elections to get dirtier, not fairer.

Yes—there are instances when punishment of crime could actually encourage crime. Suppose the honest candidate wins, and the dishonest candidate is prosecuted, as per the demand of the peasants with pitchforks. Does anyone actually believe that in our postmodern times, when truth is defined as whatever has that truthy feel, the reverse would not happen the next time around? The dishonest candidate, seeing what happened to the last dishonest candidate, pulls out all the stops, and wins the election by hook and by crook and by lots of dead people voting. When the election is over, and it comes time for the honest candidate to be hauled off to jail, the partisans of the dishonest candidate jeer at all the protests. “Sauce for the goose! Don’t like it now, do you? Ya!”

Matters like guilt and innocence, and trials, and evidence, seem like bizarre concepts to them. When people lose faith in the system, they do not lose their faith. Their faith simply transfers to their faction, to their tribe. And when one faction is bound in the same civil order to another faction, with both factions inflamed to the same degree, then that civil order is fragile. It is hard for me to evade the fact that this is what has happened, and is happening, to us.

Say you have a bunch of people in a pick-up basketball game, the kind with no refs. If one team takes the continued existence of the game for granted, and then prioritizes winning over everything else, and consequently throw all the elbows they want, the thing they are not taking into account is the prospect of the basketball game turning into something else entirely—a melee or a fistfight.

All over the world, we have seen many instances of elections being held, and the results coming back inconclusive or unacceptable—whereupon the voters go home to get their guns and ammo. The apostle Paul tells us that our public prayers should prioritize this not happening. But of course if you serenely assume that it can’t happen because “this is America,” then you won’t pray the way he instructs. And if you won’t pray that way, you won’t think that way—until the thing is upon you. And the thing, when it is upon you, will be something you are not at all prepared for.

Let us take wisdom from Herbert Stein’s Law, even as we reapply it. “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”

The current madness that is upon us is going to stop. It is going to stop because it cannot go on forever. This is because madness is untenable. Insanity is not a long-term program or strategy. I read this morning that a high school play was cancelled because a white kid got the lead role. I read the other day that a father/daughter dance was cancelled because the whole thing was Problematic. California promises jail time to waiters who give customers a straw apart from a customer’s request for one. And I will bet that some of my readers tripped over the fact that I said waiters instead of wait staff. We are trillions of dollars in debt, down at the bottom of a sea of red ink, blowing bubbles down there. Hipsters are going to fix everything with fixed gear bicycles. President Trump wants to hold a grand military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, and even the prospect is enough to unsettle the Great Solons of this Liberal Republic. But of course our military parade will be much more like the French military parades and not like the North Korean military parades. And the crowning folly is that our Supreme Court has determined that love cannot be denied, even if the love is between Dan and George.

When everything is an outrage to somebody, this is something that cannot go on forever. The thing is going to stop. Our responsibility as believers is to pray that it stop like an airliner landing in the Hudson River, and not like an airliner landing on the side of a steep mountain. But it is going to stop, and the things we have failed to protect through taking them all for granted will be at risk also.