freedomconscienceThe comments on OF TWISTED WORDS => SOCIAL CONTRACT took an unexpected twist. I received a very interesting response to these words at the tail end of this comment.

When we have a choice between God and Caesar, for the sake of our salvation and our freedom, we each must choose to love God first and our neighbor (even our leader) second, and good government allows us the liberty to do so. When we choose to abuse our liberty, good government also allows us each to suffer the consequences. That is how we learn virtue.

Here is the reply from mastersamwise.

But, as I said before, the government is us and those who represent us, our responsibility to have right ideas becomes all the more critical. I wrote a bit on that once.

If the desires of the state via the consent of the government are for virtue as Aristotle and his Scholastic successors contend, where is the issue? In other words, when Caesar is Constantine or Edward the Confessor, must there be a choice between God and government? (from here)

Don’t be tempted to blow  off. His argument is actually a very old argument, and throughout most of human history those arguing for powerful leaders have won the argument. Thus, there have been very few republics. For thousands of years at a time, there have been none. Now and then one suddenly appears and then fades into a monarchical state, but that is about it. That includes our own country, the United States. Over the years our president has become more and more powerful.  Given our present course, sooner or later, our president will become a monarch. Unfortunately, there have been few leaders like Constantine or Edward the Confessor.

Therefore, I ask. What is the appropriate response to ‘s question? What are the options? Before I offer my own opinion in a post on Monday, I believe it would be useful to hear what others think.


  1. @Matthew, taking into account I am practically a Thomist, the fourth or final cause is what I am getting at.

  2. Our Creator raises, destroys, and judges nations as He pleases (Pslms. 67:4; Prov. 21:1; Dan. 2:21). Wit that said, God commands submission to the authorities He establishes (Rom. 13:1-7); however, one may disobey if that authority compels him to commit willful and deliberate sin (Acts 5:29).

  3. The Founding Fathers discerned the true nature of both government and men.

    They then proceeded to built the American republic, the greatest, most powerful, most just, most prosperous, most technically advanced nation in all of human history.

    Their reasoning was put forth in the Declaration of Independence where they cited God, four times.

    Only God can actually, justly rule over men.

    His power to rule manifests itself as the executive (Creator), legislative (the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God) and the judiciary (God the Supreme Judge).

    But God isn’t here in person so man must somehow come to terms with the power of God to rule over men when forming a regime.

    As a result, the American Founding Fathers constructed a government where the power of God to rule over men was split into its three constituent parts and institutionally and constitutionally separated.

    Men of virtue then became free to rule over themselves and pursue happiness as one of the blessings of liberty.

    Consequently, there is no choice between God and Caesar.

    There is simply the natures of government and men and whether man has the virtue and wisdom to understand how they fit together.

    1. What is the nature of man? O if only such conversations could break out of the blogosphere and into daily conversation. Sadly, few practice metaphysics.

      In terms of relative power, the British Empire prior to WWI has been, objectively, the most powerful nation in human history. In terms of relative freedom, well, the Romans had better ideas. Indeed, I have been considering the Roman concepts of graduated citizenship and patronage. I think it could very well solve our immigration problems at least in part. America is indeed great, but does not have the history to be truly remarkable from a historical point of view.

      Even with the mention of God, I have to defer to Rome again. So intertwined was religion with public life, even if your religion was not Roman, that to be an atheist was shameful. Morality was not just encouraged, it was vital for advancement. Compare that to the plutocratic populism that pervades American politics. In Rome, a man would be judged on whether he drank too much, wasn’t generous, or took bribes. Now we expect our politicians to be drunkards, skinflints, and usurers. It is as if we are so afraid of aristocracy–that is the rule of the best–that we prefer people who are “just like us.” That would be a queer thought in the Roman Republic. Indeed, the Founders themselves wished to be a sort of new Rome; Hamilton is evidence of that.

      If God alone is the only one who can justly rule over men, that not only means that all governments are unjust, but that a government by consent is the most unjust since it would put into man’s hands the authority of God Himself. I shall put it to a syllogism. If just rule is something only said of God and man seeks to rule over men justly, then man must be God, which is absurd.

      Again, I find it strange that you talk of men ruling over themselves but still think men and government are two different entities. My contention is, especially in a representative republic like ours, the government is us. Does not the Constitution say, “We the People?”

      1. People and corporations are two different things, even though corporations, like government, are composed of people within a structure of rules and procedures. The constructed systems are not merely their parts, and the issue we struggle with is the meta-behavior of the system arising from the incentives we’ve created.

        I’ve been thinking a lot recently about “We the People.” I think it’s actually something of a misnomer, because it is incomplete. I will post more on this later.

        As an aside, Hamilton the nationalist/monarchist was a bit unusual among the Founders.

        ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

          1. Who said anything about corporations?

            Looking at the comment above, I am reasonably certain that I made the first mention. And I mentioned corporations because of (1) their similarity to governments, (2) the “governments are people” construct being discussed here, and (3) the “corporations are people” construct made famous a couple of years ago. Both of the latter constructs are true enough in a sense, but the constructed systems are not merely people. They are people plus structure, and the structure is crucial.

            ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

          2. Ah, now I see the connection. If anything, modern corporations would be similar to what Aristotle called Oligarchy and most certainly plutocratic. While they have some admirable qualities, you must admit His Holiness’s criticism that too often corporate capitalism oppresses rather than lifts up since its object is pecuniary and not humanitarian.

            Comparatively, Aristotle makes similar assertions about democracy where the voting public uses government to satisfy personal desires such as power or wealth.

            In either case, however, the problem arises not wholly in the constitution, but in the ends thereof.

      2. @mastersamwise

        Thank you for being a good sport. When I put up my post on Monday, I don’t promise to agree with you, but I will do my best to understand your position and misrepresent it.

        Author’s note: When I am tired, I have this thing about skipping over words. “Not” is not a good word to skip over.

        1. Good sport? You’ve spiked my readership such that now I don’t feel as though I am talking to myself. When you write your post, I’ll write a rebuttal and we can dialogue till the Huns invade like the academics of old.

      3. Master,

        Men are free to govern themselves only if the powers of government are separated into their constituent parts.

        Otherwise, the result is tyranny and justice becomes the advantage of the strong.

        1. But what is man’s nature? Surely if we can determine that, then the nature of government would be easy.

          1. Master,

            The nature of man is such that he cannot wield the power of God to rule over men (government) without instituting brutal tyranny that forces the great majority of men into destitute poverty.

          2. @mastersamwise, who wrote:

            So man is not God. Ok I agree with that. But what is man?

            Two points occur to me:

            — The answer to “what is Man?” is subject to endless variations, arguments, semantics, not to mention viewpoints. For example, you could approach this evolutionarily, theologically, philosophically, mechanically, cosmologically and so on. While these musings may produce an answer that you find personally satisfying, none of them than can lay claim to being the answer in the sense of being empirically, demonstrably, repeatably and uniquely true. In this, we approach the question a bit like the manner in which the six blind men approached the elephant. (Speaking of evolutionarily, though, I did have some fun with the “six blind men” poem with paleontologists looking at an ancient creature back here.)

            — The second point is that it seems unnecessary to resolve the question “what is Man?” to approach the issue of designing and building a system of governance that will suit our purposes and maximize individual liberty. (And this just spun off a new thought.) The Framers did an extraordinary job, the best that has been done in the world to date, even if the wiggle-room they left in has been used to erode the design.

            This erosion process began within months, unfortunately, with arguments for five different ways of interpreting the Constitution advanced during the very first session of Congress. The erosion accelerated during (and because of) the Progressive Era that began a century later.

            If we set ourselves the task of determining the nature of Man before we proceed to determining the nature of and best design of and repair process for our government, we’ll never get the real work done. As an aside, Jeff Rutherford is writing under “Necessary and Proper” and is working on a series on the design and purpose of government, focusing on the due process of law.

            ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

          3. So the difficulty of a question requires it to be left unanswered?

            No, your second point makes no sense. Even the Framers had an idea of man’s nature otherwise they wouldn’t have thought he had “certain unalienable rights.” I would contend that their very definition of man led to such an erosion. I think the whole question in the OP revolves around the answer to the question that has stood the test of time as the most common and most important question in human history: what is it?

          4. @mastersamwise, who wrote:

            Even the Framers had an idea of man’s nature otherwise they wouldn’t have thought he had “certain unalienable rights.”

            They very likely did. However, they did not agree on this nature, nor discuss it except in side references such as Madison’s famous “if men were angels” quote.

            Of course, they didn’t likely agree on what Man’s nature is. Or if they did — the Christians and the Deists and the atheists, following any of several philosophers and including Thomas Jefferson who re-wrote the Bible to exclude any references to a divine nature for Jesus — they never explicitly said so.

            The issue of unalienable rights, with its inconsequential “typo,” could be and has been arrived at by the deeply devout and the completely non-religious. Thomas Aquinas wove these two paths together and showed that they reached the same place. But even that prodigious thinker and writer who spent 3,500 pages musing on the nature of Man wasn’t done when he died, and he shared much of your religious perspective.

            In the meantime, we have a government to fix. And all of the unprovable word games about which person has the “true” nature of Man (as if you could now, in the 21st century, convince everyone of this) does not move us toward that crucial goal.

            The core and relevant aspect is clear enough, it seems to me, and it underlies what divides conservatives from progressives: Progressives think that Man just needs statist masterminds (like them) running everyone’s lives. Conservatives want to have the minimum necessary governmental structure to provide basic order and maximize individual liberty.

            From that understanding, we can move forward. The US Constitution was and remains the best attempt yet to create such a minimum necessary government. But like the little baby alligator in the fishbowl who became a fourteen-foot man-eater, the government so thoughtfully created almost a quarter-millennium ago has grown ever more threatening. How do we get it back into the fishbowl?

            That process is likely to be perilous, and painful, but it must urgently be undertaken if we expect to live as a free people. And this is true for all of us, religious and non-religious alike.

            I don’t disagree that the nature of Man is worth musing upon; I enjoy such pursuits. But the constraint of “we must solve A before we can approach B” is incorrect, in my view, especially considering the philosophical (i.e., untestable by nature) aspect of question A.

            ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

          5. On the contrary, the question of man’s nature is critical to the end of just government. Essential to it in fact.

            The founders considered man to be an individual while the Christian humanists–the predecessors of the secular ones that made up the bulk of the Enlightenment–considered man to be rational animal, expressed most completely by the word person. One may argue these are mere semantics. They are not. I am writing a post now arguing for the removal of the word individual from the vocabulary of all rational creatures.

            Borrowing their ideas of liberty mainly from Locke, Kant, and De Montesquieu. What resulted was self-referential perception; everything, be they rights, liberties, marriage, human life, was subject to the perception and subsequent definition of the individual. The ultra-empiricism required and demanded forced out any deductive or even dialectic truth. Only what is observed through the five senses can be relied upon and accepted as true.

            Consider that for a moment. On the face it sounds rational. Only those things that we can see, feel, hear, etc. are real and true. Now apply that to concepts such as liberty and you found the source of your governmental woes. Liberty is what is perceived as liberty, especially if you define it as mere governmental inaction. From there you are able to argue that the government has no business messing with a woman’s liberty with her body. From there you are able to argue that the government has no business messing with a gay couple’s relationship. From there you can argue just about anything. Funny how such “conservative” ideals of liberty are identical to movements that are not conservative. It is almost as if both sides argue for the same thing, because they totally do.

            What does the left want? Civil liberties for minorities like women, blacks and latinos, and the LGBT as as the environment. What does the right want? Civil liberties for gun owners, property owners, families, and businesses. What makes one side’s interests better than another? Or do you just object to the methods? Why do the individual liberties of the gay man come after the individual liberties of the gun owner? There must be more to it than that.

            That is where the metaphysics come in. That is why we must understand man if we are going to understand government. One necessarily proceeds from the other. Any action taken to “fix” the system will be just as arbitrary and just as subjective as the trend you seek to eradicate.

          6. Master,

            Your hallucination of the Enlightenment and Classical philosophy that led to the founding of America is absurd on its face.

            The Declaration of Independence mentions God, four times.

            And according to the Declaration of Independence, all men are created by God as equal to each other, by nature, their human nature; and all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.

            Clearly you haven’t read the Declaration or any of the Enlightenment philosophers yourself and that’s why your comments are hallucinations from some leftist alternative reality.

            You just had everything explained to you by some hallucinating leftist half wit and didn’t bother to use your own God-endowed brain to actually think and understand for yourself.

            Also if all you gleaned from my comments is, “that man is not God,” you haven’t bothered reading my comments either.

            Consequently, my earlier determination that you are here simply arguing with yourself and losing.

          7. Is it now? Was Montesquieu an Enlightenment philosopher? Well his works were published during the time that the overwhelming majority of philosophers and historians agree was the Enlightenment. You have said elsewhere, “Montesquieu was the first political philosopher to actually explain the nature of government.” Now if Montesquieu was the first to explain the actual or true nature of government and, as you said before, “The Founding Fathers discerned the true nature of both government and man” then the Founding Fathers MUST have been influenced by Montesquieu. For if not, then Montesquieu would not have been the first to conceive of the true nature of government and that statement would be false.

            Oh, on the face eh? Well, the facts must be presented then.

            “The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions. Locke, Second Treatise of Government, Ch. II, sec. 6

            Now, that maxim can be diluted to one principle: do no harm. Simple enough correct? This is the only law of Nature Locke gives. Is this the “Nature” Jefferson talks about? If Locke influenced him at all–which Jefferson’s other writings bear out quite well–then you are to do no harm to a persons life, liberty–that is the right to live by no other laws but that of nature and those you consent to which can be found in the beginning of chapter four of the same book–health, or possessions.

            Now, how does something like gay marriage violate the law of nature? Who does it harm? Does it affect your life, liberty, health, or possessions? The answer is a resounding no. Marijuana? Really, pick anything and apply Locke’s idea of the law of nature to it. It devolves all human interaction to dollar signs. Don’t believe it? Take taxes. Why should taxes be kept low? To foster economic growth and prosperity of course. In other words, to ease life, increase liberty, preserve health, and expand your possessions. Same with healthcare, the environment, etc. So in the end, Locke reduces man to mere money relations. Voltaire was of much the same mind. “Enter into the Royal Exchange of London, a place more respectable than many courts, in which deputies from all nations assemble for the advantage of mankind. There the Jew, the Mahometan, and the Christian bargain with one another as if they were of the same religion, and bestow the name of infidel on bankrupts only. There the Presbyterian gives credit to the Anabaptist, and the votary of the establishment accepts the promise of the Quaker. On the separation of these free and pacific assemblies, some visit the synagogue, others repair to the tavern. Here one proceeds to baptize his son in a great tub, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; there another deprives his boy of a small portion of his foreskin, and mutters over the child some Hebrew words which he cannot understand; a third kind hasten to their chapels to wait for the inspiration of the Lord with their hats on; and all are content.”

            What are we left with? The great unifying principle that binds a people together? Locke says it. “Government has no other end but the preservation of property…” So there you have it. Money really does make the world go round.

            Add these thoughts in with Kant’s Prolegomena and Critique of Pure Reason, any a priori conclusions are shot. In a word, the foundations for morals are gone. We can arrive only at the “don’t take my property” rule. Tocqueville mentions this as well. “The Americans, on the other hand, are fond of explaining almost all the actions of their lives by the principle of self-interest rightly understood; they show with complacency how an enlightened regard for themselves constantly prompts them to assist one another and inclines them willingly to sacrifice a portion of their time and property to the welfare of the state.” So Americans were, at that time and today, institutionally self-interested. Tocquiville points out the obvious problem in the same chapter.

            “The principle of self-interest rightly understood is not a lofty one, but it is clear and sure. It does not aim at mighty objects, but it attains without excessive exertion all those at which it aims. As it lies within the reach of all capacities, everyone can without difficulty learn and retain it. By its admirable conformity to human weaknesses it easily obtains great dominion; nor is that dominion precarious, since the principle checks one personal interest by another, and uses, to direct the passions, the very same instrument that excites them.

            The principle of self-interest rightly understood produces no great acts of self-sacrifice, but it suggests daily small acts of self-denial. By itself it cannot suffice to make a man virtuous…”

            Basically, it is a cop out. They can’t bear to think of an interest outside of their own because, according to Locke, your property–which includes you life by the way–is what matters. If giving a bit to the poor here and there benefits you, then ok. They accept they are fallen beings and justify not changing themselves into selfless creatures by pointing out the selfish acts of good they do.

            The Declaration does indeed mention God, but God is largely absent, according to Tocquiville and later Christopher Lasch because Americans are narcissistic and proud of it. Where is God in that? Where is the profound humility of the Incarnation? As St. Athanatius says, “But for Him Who came to heal and to teach the way was not merely to dwell here, but to put Himself at the disposal of those who needed Him….” Where is the glory of the Cross in self-interest? Did Christ give himself up for his own benefit? No, that is absurd. If one would be the greatest of all, he would be the servant of all. Why? Because the self is to be no more and instead be Christ through it. The desires for the self are what St. Paul call the desires of the flesh and sinful things. Yes, the Declaration mentions God–the word is used only once by the way if you don’t interpret Providence to mean God–but he is not present in it. You said elsewhere that “Men are free to govern themselves only if the powers of government are separated into their constituent parts.” If that is so, then every government God set up for the Israelites was unjust because it was not divided into three equal branches. If we went by the Bible, we would be divided into tribes and have autocratic judges ruling over us. Or we would have a king.

            Also, I find it strange how you devolved to ad homina, especially since everything I have said so far is so entirely against modern liberalism that I’ve been banned from the HuffPo comments section. If anything, I am more conservative than you. I honestly have never encountered someone who accuses a person–whose philosophical views can be best described as an amalgamation of Chesterton, Kirk, Aquinas, Augustine, Thomas More, and MacIntyre.

          8. Master,

            Going into a discussion about the nature of man is essentially changing the subject and scale of our discussion.

            However, political science is a grand arena in which we can see the nature of man at work for the purpose of our discussion:

            What is justice? and How does man construct a governing regime that is just?

            Nevertheless, the nature of man is best understood in relation to God and universe.

            And the Bible is THE great book of our Western Heritage that sets about answering the question, “What is the nature of man?”

          9. On the contrary, it is essential. If the American government is formed from the Constitution and the the Constitution says–along with its framers–that the people are government so to speak and people is merely the plural of persons and a person is a man, then to understand the American government, it is necessary to understand what man is.

            Political science is all well and good but if we are going to make any determinations about political science, it is necessary to have the terms defined from prior sciences–in this case metaphysics–to be plainly displayed. How you define man is necessarily going to affect how you define anything man is involved in, like politics.
            Justice can be said in many ways. It could be actualization of lawfulness as opposed to injustice which is unlawfulness. Whatever the type of justice you must mete out, one general principle remains: it must be proportionate.
            So what is man in relation to God?

          10. That man is not God? That is the only essential thing? Nothing about how man is to relate to his fellows based on the fact they are men? Nothing about how man relates to himself and therefore acts in civil society? Just the fact that he is not God?

        2. @mastersamwise

          But what is man’s nature? Surely if we can determine that, then the nature of government would be easy. . . . So man is not God. Ok I agree with that. But what is man?

          The question ought to be: what is the chief end of man?

  4. Interesting discussion, Tom. I really do like what mastersamwise has said and the post that goes along with it. Also, this is something I focus on a great deal, “our responsibility to have right ideas becomes all the more critical.”

    I really believe that many of the issues we face today in our country are not about God versus government, or Dems versus Republicans, or even conservatives versus liberals, it is about bad ideas versus good ideas and we the people’s inability or unwillingness to differentiate between the two. There is so much disunity, such a “you’re with us or you’re against,” attitude that it is virtually impossible to win hearts and minds right now. People are not even looking at good ideas versus bad ideas, but rather, if it’s coming from my side, it must be a good thing and if it’s coming from “the enemy” it must be bad.
    I really do believe we put people in office, even people we didn’t vote for, if for no other reason than we didn’t work hard enough to win over hearts and minds.

    1. The amount of truth you wrote has given me hope that I am not as crazy as I have been led to believe. Thank you. I sincerely thank you.

    2. Thank you for starting off the discussion.

      People are not even looking at good ideas versus bad ideas, but rather, if it’s coming from my side, it must be a good thing and if it’s coming from “the enemy” it must be bad.

      Because we are all less than perfect, we each have our own less than perfect version of the Truth. That statement, even though it is obviously true, is an idea many have trouble grasping and accepting. What makes that especially true is the simple fact we want so much, and we are inclined to accept any Truth that gives us what we want. When we do that, we are not looking for the best ideas, we are looking for the best excuses.

      1. “For of what use is existence to the creature if it cannot know its Maker? How could men be reasonable beings if they had no knowledge of the Word and Reason of the Father, through Whom they had received their being? They would be no better than the beasts, had they no knowledge save of earthly things; and why should God have made them at all, if He had not intended them to know Him? But, in fact, the good God has given them a share in His own Image, that is, in our Lord Jesus Christ, and has made even themselves after the same Image and Likeness. Why? Simply in order that through this gift of Godlikeness in themselves they may be able to perceive the Image Absolute, that is the Word Himself, and through Him to apprehend the Father; which knowledge of their Maker is for men the only really happy and blessed life.”
        ― Athanasius of Alexandria, On the Incarnation

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