Why Morality is the Only Thing We Should Legislate

Here is Selwyn Duke writing at American Thinker:

“You can’t legislate morality!” is a common battle cry today. It’s thought to be a quintessentially American idea, even though the Founding Fathers never expressed such a sentiment. Nor did the early Americans who would unabashedly enforce a biblically based code of morality in their localities, both via social pressure and governmental laws, with transgressors sometimes spending time in stocks — or worse. No, our common battle cry is a modern idea, and one of modernism. It also betrays a fundamental, and dangerous, misunderstanding of law’s nature.

In reality, the only thing we should legislate is morality. The only other option is legislating whims or immorality.

One problem with addressing this issue, which I have done several times, is that many readers have a reason-clouding emotional reaction induced by the assumption that I’m advocating big government. So I’ll preface what follows by saying that even if we enact just one law — let’s say, prohibiting murder — we have legislated morality. The only people who could credibly say they wouldn’t legislate morality are those who wouldn’t legislate at all: anarchists.

I’ll start by putting this simply. Could you imagine a legislator saying, “This law doesn’t prevent something that’s wrong, but I’m going to impose it on you anyway”? What if he said, “This other law doesn’t mandate anything that is a good, but I’ll compel you to adhere to it simply because I feel like it”? Would you suppose his legislation had a sound basis? Or would you think that, unlike a prohibition against murder or theft, the imposition of something lacking a moral foundation (“rightness” or “wrongness”) was the very definition of tyranny?

Generally speaking, a law is by definition the imposition of a value (which can be positive, negative or neutral), and a just law is the imposition of a moral principle (good by definition). This is because a law — with the exception of laws for naming post offices and such (which don’t constrain us and which won’t be included henceforth when I speak of “laws”) — states that there is something you must or must not do, ostensibly because the action is a moral imperative, is morally wrong, or is a corollary thereof. If this is not the case, again, with what credibility do you legislate in the given area? There is no point imposing something that doesn’t prevent a wrong or mandate some good. This is why there will never be a powerful movement lobbying to criminalize strawberry ice cream or kumquats.

As an example, what is the possible justification for speed laws? Well, there is the idea that it’s wrong to endanger others or yourself, and, in the latter case, it could be based on the idea that it’s wrong to engage in reckless actions that could cause you to become a burden on society. Of course, some or all of these arguments may be valid or not, but the point is this: if a law is not underpinned by a valid moral principle, it is not a just law. Without morality, laws can be based on nothing but air.

Read more: American Thinker

Image credit: Wikipedia.