Saturday, October 16, 2004

Representative Judgement

Edmund Burke was one of the great orators in Parliament during the constitutional crisis fomented by King George III. He it was who attempted to voice a rational and reasonable argument against the King's violations of the "spirit" of the constitution. The King was trying desperately to anchor more power in the crown, something the previous Georges had been unsuccessful in doing.

Burke presented a speech to the Electors of Bristol outlining his own views of what it meant to be a representative of the people. His remarks stand, even today, as a hallmark from which Congress would be well instructed.

Consider this sentence:

"Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion."

This line was paraphrased in the movie "1776" by Dr. Lyman Hall of Georgia as he decided to swing his vote in favor of independence. When explaining his decision to John Adams, he quotes this line of Burke's. It is, for me, the actual climax of the movie. It shows the triumph of duty and reason over political considerations. Earlier in the movie, when asked what his views on independence might be he responds that "Georgia seems to be split down the middle on this issue. I am for it and the people are against it!"

Whether the incident is true I've not been able to ascertain. Biographical information related to Dr. Hall is sketchy at best, although he is one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and subsequently had his mansions in Georgia burned during the British occupation. He also served as Governor of Georgia.

To capture the true context of the Burke quote, of course, one should read the entire paragraph:

"Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion."

Given the current tenor of Kerry's defense of abortion in this country, it is evident that he either has never read this quote, or, if he has, does not understand it. In fact, I rather suspect he would have stopped reading after the second sentence. Taken out of context, it would appear that, to that point, Burke was stating that ceding to his constituents' wishes was the whole duty of the representative. That would explain Kerry's entire career in a nutshell.

Let's assume for a moment that he actually has read something besides "International Politics for Dummies - How to Get France and Germany to Love You." He would appear to have misinterpreted the "sacrifice" of "his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions" to mean that his religious beliefs should never be "legislated" against the people's will.

One of the primary purposes of religion, however, is to provide man with the ability to make righteous judgements. These judgements, or reasonings, if you will, have always been meant to guide our actions as well as our thoughts. For example, the law that prohibits us from shedding blood except of those who are themselves guilty of that crime has long been based on ancient religious law. We are enjoined from murdering our fellow man except in defense of our homes and liberties. I do not commit murder only partly because it is against the laws of the United States. However, my primary reason for not murdering is because to do so would mean separating myself eternally from my God. I wouldn't do it even if it were legal to do so in this country.

Abortion is abhorred by anyone who earnestly studies the judeo-christian laws. Given that life is precious, each life must be given its chance. Selective abortion denies that chance, usually for selfish reasons. Even when we make the caveat that abortion should only be considered under extreme conditions, we should also bear in mind that there have been women who would rather die themselves than deny their baby the chance to live.

I confess that I am not, and never would be in a position to determine the moral limits of abortion. However, I do not equivocate in stating that abortion solely to "erase" a selfish mistake can never be justified, no matter how legal we make it.

Most self-professed Christians would, if paying attention to scripture, agree. Which is why Kerry's arguments that his faith should never be "legislated" ring particularly hollow. According to Burke's thinking, by bending or (worse yet) denying his religious faith merely to satisfy political ambition, he has sacrificed his judgement to the opinions of those he would serve. His fear of offending women's rights supporters, gays, or athiests blinds him to the very things he supposedly learned as an Altar Boy in the Catholic church. He betrays his "trust from Providence." His abuse of that judgement will hold him "deeply answerable," and I don't just mean to the electorate.

In heaven, there is no separation of Church and state.

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