It is the specific task of politics to apply the criterion of law to power, thereby structuring the use of power in a meaningful manner. It is not the law of the stronger, but the strength of the law that must hold sway. Power as structured by law, and at the service of the law, is the antithesis of violence, which is a lawless power that opposes the law.
This is why it is important for every society to overcome any suspicion that is cast on the law and its regulations, for it is only in this way that arbitrariness can be excluded and freedom can be experienced as a freedom shared in common with others.
Freedom without law is anarchy, and hence, the destruction of freedom. Suspicion of the law, revolt against the law, will always arise when law itself appears to be no longer the expression of a justice that is at the service of all, but rather the product of arbitrariness and legislative arrogance on the part of those who have the power for it.
Joseph Ratzinger, “That Which Holds the World Together: The Pre-political Moral Foundations of a Free State,” in The Dialectics of Secularism: On Reason and Religion, 58
Reflection – I have been hesitant to write anything about the welter of political scandals on both sides of the Canada-US border these past weeks. I have my reasons for this hesitance: this is really ‘not that kind of blog,’ and I don’t really like the social media peer pressure thing where everyone has to jump on the latest story and blather away about it; the scandals in America have been far more serious than those in Canada, and I am not American, although I love and respect America very much; I didn’t have anything noteworthy to say, and I’m not simply going to clutch my pearls in horror to no good end.
So the other day when I happened to read the above essay by Joseph Ratzinger, which essentially begins with this passage, I said, ‘well, now I have something to say.’ In fact, Ratzinger says it all here. Power as structured by law, and at the service of law, is the antithesis of violence.
Of all the many, many scandals that have filled the news in recent weeks, I think the one that horrifies me the most is the American one of the IRS targeting conservative and pro-life groups for harassment in what appears to have been a pretty blatant (and successful) effort to silence them in the lead-up to the last presidential election.
Because the IRS (and Revenue Canada, its north-of-the-border equivalent) has such power in our current model of governance, the subversion of that power to the agendae of partisan and electoral politics is no small thing. In fact, it calls into question the very legitimacy of the Obama administration, and will continue to do so until there is a full disclosure of evidence, which can only be achieved by the appointment of an independent special prosecutor.
Right now, it appears that the whole power of the state’s taxation apparatus was put to the task of silencing the opponents of the executive branch of the US federal government. And the very appearance of this is effectively the destruction of the American claim to be a free, democratic society. That it has occurred under a party called ‘Democrat’ is a sad irony. Law does indeed seem to have degraded to be ‘the product of arbitrariness and legislative arrogance’ instead of being at the service of justice for all. The only path open back to a coherent society ‘of laws, not men’ is a full and free investigation into the matter (and the other half dozen or so scandals), and criminal charges for anyone who has in fact violated the law, up to and including the president, if need be.
Well, that’s all I have to say. I think Joseph Ratzinger’s words are worth disseminating and reflecting on, and I hope this blog post will play a small part in that process. Talk to you tomorrow.