WITHOUT HONOR THERE CAN BE NO PEACE

preamble to the constitutionThere are two ways of looking at honor with respect to peace.  Pride drives us to say no peace without honor.  In other words, unless our opponent offers conditions that guarantee our self-respect, we won’t quite fighting.  That’s a frivolous way of looking at honor.

The second way of looking at honor with respect to peace has to do with honor as a virtue. How is honor a virtue? Well, there is some ambiguity in that matter.

Dr. Samuel Johnson, in his A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), defined honour as having several senses, the first of which was “nobility of soul, magnanimity, and a scorn of meanness.” This sort of honour derives from the perceived virtuous conduct and personal integrity of the person endowed with it. On the other hand, Johnson also defined honour in relationship to “reputation” and “fame”; to “privileges of rank or birth”, and as “respect” of the kind which “places an individual socially and determines his right to precedence.” This sort of honour is not so much a function of moral or ethical excellence, as it is a consequence of power. Finally, with respect to sexuality, honour has traditionally been associated with (or identical to) “chastity” or “virginity”, or in case of married men and women, “fidelity”. Some have argued that honour should be seen more as a rhetoric, or set of possible actions, than as a code. (from here)

In our society rank still exists. So people with power, because of their pride, still demand honor. For the most part, however, we expect people to earn honor by gaining a reputation for virtuous conduct and personal integrity. At least, that’s the theory. Nevertheless, we still honor the powerful. Why? Some among us do fear the powerful, but the more serious issue is that we no longer share a common code of honor. Instead of honoring virtuous conduct and integrity, many of us will just as happily honor power, wealth, and fame.

Western Civilization once shared a common ethical system based upon the Bible. Most people of European descent understood the Bible to be literally true, and they believed all of the Bible was the word of God. During the Protestant Reformation, if anything, such sentiments about the Bible grew even stronger.  However, the Protestant Reformation also set in motion an opposite trend. Instead of the Roman Catholic clergy being the sole interpreters of the faith, Protestantism made it possible for anyone to decide for themselves the meaning of Bible. In fact, these days we can decide what the Bible means without having ever read it. Hence, Western Civilization’s shared code of honor (or ethics) is slowly dissolving into gibberish.

Consider an obvious controversy.  The Bible clearly condemns homosexuality as a sin. Nevertheless, many mainstream Christian churches don’t have a problem with same-sex marriage. Is there any practical way to condone homosexuality based upon what the Bible actually says? No, but once we decide feelings matter more than the truth what the Bible actually says does not matter. We can be a Christian and even say the Bible says homosexuality is okay.

How does this sort of integrity relate to peace? Virtuous conduct, especially as it relates to integrity, requires an unwavering respect for the truth. Otherwise, peace is logically impossible because we cannot work out and maintain the compromises that make peace possible.

Consider what a compromise involves. People meet. They discuss their objectives and their differences. Then they reach an agreement that sorts out their objectives and their differences so that each party to the agreement gets most of what wants at the cost of some objectives it cedes to the other parties.

What is the key to a successful compromise? Well, good negotiators help, but the main ingredient is usually honor (that is, a high degree of integrity). Each of the parties to a compromise has to be willing to honor the agreement as written.

The Constitution, for example, is a compromise. Because of the compromises it contains, the Constitution allowed the 13 original colonies, each a small country with its own interests, to come together as a federation.  The Constitution worked because most of the citizens of each of the colonies fully expected their leaders to abide by the document as written.

Unfortunately, the integrity of our people is not exactly what it use to be. Now many of our leaders regard the Constitution as a Living Constitution.

In United States constitutional interpretation, the Living Constitution (or loose constructionism) is the claim that the Constitution has a dynamic meaning or that it has the properties of an animate being in the sense that it changes. The idea is associated with views that contemporaneous society should be taken into account when interpreting key constitutional phrases. (from here)

What is the problem with a Living Constitution? If the compromises in the Constitution are “living compromises”, then what are the compromises? Why would anyone want to be party to a compromise that can be arbitrarily changed by the “other side”? What good does it even do to put agreement on paper if after a period of time the agreement can be arbitrarily changed by unelected judges?

We can discuss how we think the Constitution has changed, but all we can know is what something in the Constitution meant the last time the Supreme Court issued a ruling. Tomorrow? Who knows? Yesterday? Well, it seems history is just so beyond us. Only highfalutin experts can rightfully have an opinion, but consider these examples. Before the Supreme Court’s decisions related Social Security, Obamacare, or to same sex “marriage”, would any of those things have been legal? Were they legal in the several decades before each suddenly became legal? Was the Constitution actually changed to make them legal?

Let me close this post with one last observation. In a very real sense, our Constitution is a peace treaty. Search The Federalist Papers for the word “peace” and you will get 175 hits. Sometimes the writers spoke of the need for a Constitution to maintain peace with other nations. Each colony on its own was too weak to easily defend itself. Often, however, the writers also worried the colonies would fight among themselves, and they were right. Because they could not agree about the issue of slavery, in spite of the Constitution there was war between the states.

What we honor matters.

6 thoughts on “WITHOUT HONOR THERE CAN BE NO PEACE

  1. The main criticism of originalism is that the Constitution does not answer Constitutional questions. So while I agree that partisan activism engaged by both sides needs to be limited, there is some credence to the loose constructionist argument in that issues such as civil rights. Cases like Brown v. Board or Virginia v. Loving would never have been decided the way they were if we took such a rigid approach.

    In point of fact, the true discussion is not actually about the law at all or even the Constitution. Rather it is an ongoing struggle between liberals of different types about how liberal they want to be. The actual questions in many of these cases are not legal i.e. matters of statute but metaphysical.

    I propose, then, a constitutional amendment that forces the court to call a constitutional convention whenever an issue of national political importance comes before the court i.e. a matter of the political thicket. That way, the issue MUST be decided by the legislative branch and no recourse can be made to the court to force social change on a whole populace by the extreme ends of the liberal ideological spectrum i.e. progressives and conservatives.

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    1. Happy Thanksgiving!

      The Constitution calls upon the States to demand a convention of the states. It has not happened, but I guess we are near the point where it should happen.

      Would it be wise to give that power to the Supreme Court too? It is a novel idea, but I doubt it would help. The Court is is creature of the Federal Government, and that, supposedly, is where the problem resides.

      I believe is that our problem is for the most part spiritual. If we repent and turn back towards God, then if a convention of the states is needed, the call for that convention must come from the People, not the government, certainly not the Court.

      Because state governments are closest to the People, that is where We the People are most able to exercise influence. If want our state leaders to call for a convention of the states, then we can elect men and women who will do so.

      Anyway, here is another post on this subject => https://citizentom.com/2014/02/22/what-does-it-mean-to-be-honorable/.

      If we are unwilling to behave honorably, there is no system we can create that will make our government work.

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      1. Giving the court that power forces the court out of the discussion. I have never ascribed to the argument that the fed was the problem since the Constitution itself was a product of the fed and, by that argument, also evil. It is less a power and more a limitation. It defines the court more than it has. If we want the court to decide matter of law instead of politics, then this would be necessary.

        Hence why every political theorist up until the modern age advocated some idea of civic virtue.

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        1. Giving the court that power forces the court out of the discussion.

          Why?

          The function of the court is to decide the cases that come before it according to the existing law. The court does not exist to change the law or tell us that it does not like the law.

          There is an old saw that goes like this: justice delayed is justice denied. If we gave the court the power punt and call a convention of the states, that would just delay a decision the court is supposed to make in accordance with the existing law.

          Let’s say, however, that I misunderstand your proposal. You still expect the court to make a decision, but you still want the court to have the power to call a convention of the states. In fact, the court already has that power. If it makes a decision that infuriates enough people, the states will call for a convention. The real problem is that we have so little trust in our legislators we fear what might happen at a convention of the states. Does giving that power to nine judges we don’t trust improve things? Probably not, but who really knows?

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        2. Right. THAT is the function of the court. The court in Baker v. Carr, however, settled a legislative and political question. Had the court instead been forced to rule that the state of Alabama needed to call a convention to settle the issue in their constitution and the the court had no jurisdiction in such matters, then the SCOTUS may be entirely different.

          The biggest problem I see in our government has little to do with evil men and more to do with lazy men. The legislature is, in theory, the most powerful branch of government and rightly so. It is the people’s voice after all. Lazy legislation has given rise to cases like the Hobby Lobby case. The legislature has the tremendous power to detail how the law is to be executed, but leaves it to the executor to do so. So the legislature slacks off and the executive and judiciary pick up the slack. We get angry about it and focus on the two branches just trying to keep the government going.

          If the court was forced to call some legislative session–maybe not a convention–and compel the legislators to solve the issue through legislation, then the people’s voice in their laws would be maintained while the court’s role of settling issues of law and not of politics would be, I think, a great boon. After all,

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        3. @Stephen

          How would you write an amendment to the Constitution that would force the Supreme Court to call a convention of the states at the appropriate time about the appropriate issue? What would you do about justice delayed?

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