Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Universal Recognition of Right and Wrong: Self Evident Truth and Man

On January 31, 2009, an event gave evidence to the equality of all men. The media, obsessed with fluctuations in economies, football games, and the misbehaviors of celebrities, chose to all but ignore it; there was a short AP story; buried on page A7 in the my local newspaper. As a student of History, I have hope that the significance of the day will be recognized and celebrated when the politics of “hope” and “change” return to the governance of reason. The event – the peaceful and democratic provincial elections conducted throughout Iraq - demonstrates the existence of Truths which are self evident to all reasoning beings. In spite of years of terrorist atrocities, decades of brutal dictatorship and centuries of superstitious indoctrination: given their freedom, the Iraqis behaved, quite naturally, like humans.

While the Iraqi miracle gives empirical evidence that neither geography, climate, race, religion, culture, nor language can override the common nature of men, it is in the study of our history that we can find proof of our common mind and expose the truths reason reveals. Faced with the horrific evil wrought by those whose glory and power rested on the thralldom of others, George W. Bush proposed that, given freedom, people would choose the right. President Bush followed up his words with deeds, crushing oppressive terror states in Iraq and Afghanistan to let in the light of truth and gave fifty million the chance to be human and thus humane.

His distracters, sadly more interested in political power for themselves and their causes than in the safety of Americans or the freedom of mankind, have actually gone so far as to argue that democracy and freedom are American ideas not suitable for Muslim states or necessarily desirable for all nations. I actually heard an MSNBC talking head equat bringing freedom to Iraq and Afghanistan to British Imperialism, and the emergence of democracy; a right for which thousands of Iraqis gave their lives to procure for their fellows; compared to the imposition of puppet monarchies by the French and British in their mandates carved out of the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire. Such opinions are either disastrously uninformed or dastardly deceptive. The unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not an expedient concoction scribbled down by Thomas Jefferson to justify war; they are an incantation invoking eternal truths.

In spite of the universal failure of Marxism, and the exposition of the abominations perpetrated in desperate attempts to impose communism on mankind, it is still fashionable, in some circles, to cling to the baseless myths of historical determinism, the pseudo-social science that Marx invoked in his attempt to bind all things to his phantasm of economic progress. Marx claimed that new truths come into existence marching lock step through history with his arbitrary truncations of human existence. Such a view shows a simple lack of study. It is still fashionable about the halls of academia to ascribe the ideas of capitalism and democracy to the “age of Enlightenment” and claim that the “natural rights theory” was crafted by European men: Hobbs to Lock to Montesquieu to Voltaire to Jefferson; linked to Adam Smith. Once this silliness appeared in the text books and became enshrined in the generationally regurgitated lecture notes of professors; now dutifully posted on Wikipedia; it became accepted by those whose learning is limited to listening to lectures. It is far from the truth. None of these men would have claimed to have invented the ideas attributed to them any more than Copernicus would have claimed to have originated the idea of the heliocentric model, nor to have himself, placed the sun at the center of the world. The truths which Lock and Jefferson evoked not only predated their time, but have quite simply always existed, and have been recognized, if not realized, by humans as long as they have had the capacity to reason.

Words allow the communication of ideas and writing allows for the communication of ideas over time and space. From the day when the most ancient of oral traditions were put down in written words, the historic evidence of the universal existence of human reason and the reasoned recognition of universal truths has been documented.

The events recounted in Homer’s Iliad, as attested to by the archaeology of Schliemann and records found at Nineveh, occurred about 1200 BC; approximately the same time that Moses climbed Sinai. In this “oldest of books”, a poem four hundred years in the making, we clearly see the truths recognized by Jefferson and aspired to by the free peoples of Iraq. The day came when Agamemnon, King of Men, unjustly took the woman Briseis from Achilles. The words of Achilles, the archetypical hero, demonstrate his understanding of the natural laws which enable justice and underpin all good governments. His affirmation is the same as Jefferson’s. Any king who does not fulfill his duty to protect the rights of his people is no king. It is the right and the duty of free men – of heroes – to desert such tyrants. Achilles speaks:

"Why must we battle Trojans, men of Argos? Why did he muster an army, lead us here, that son of Atreus? Why, why in the world if not for Helen with her loose and lustrous hair? Are they the only men alive who love their wives, those sons of Atreus? Never! Any decent man, a man with sense, loves his own, cares for his own as deeply as I. I loved that woman with all my heart, though I won her like a trophy with my spear. . . But now that he’s torn my honor from my hands, robbed me, lied to me – don’t let him try me now. I know him too well – he’ll never win me over!"

Three hundred years after Homer’s poem recorded Achilles’ “revolution”, Sophocles wrote the tragedy Antigone. Neither the story recounted in the play nor its Truths were original to the poet. Sophocles tells of a princess’ act of civil disobedience; the justice of which rang as true to the Athenian audience then as the acts of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela made sense to reasoning minds in the twentieth century. It is this universal recognition of justice, this conscious acceptance of Truth that is demonstrably common to the experience of all free people. The two brother kings of Thebes had fought for power. Eteocles defended his city with his warriors; Polyneices attacked his own people with foreign troops. At the end of the battle, both kings lay dead. Creon, their uncle, took the throne. Eager to demonstrate his power and judgment, he decreed that his nephew, Polyneices, should be left unburied; his purpose was to damn the young man’s soul. Whether one believes that leaving the body of the dead to the dogs condemns the soul to eternal wanderings was not the issue – it was that Creon believed it would and determination to usurp that power; placing his man-made law at odds with Laws of nature and nature’s God. Antigone defied injustice and buried her brother. Dragged before her uncle, Antigone confronted the tyrant with reason, the unfailing and logical proposition that one must place eternal Laws above the whims of men. When Martin Luther King defied the statutes of segregation, thinking people knew he was right and that the legislators and sheriffs who decreed otherwise – even though they represented the will of the majority - were wrong. The wrong opinion of the many collapsed before the power of the Truth. Sophocles gives voice to reason:

Creon (to Antigone): "You – tell me not at length but in a word.
You knew the order not to do this thing?"

Antigone: "I knew, of course I knew. The word was plain."

Creon And still you dared to overstep these laws?

Antigone: "For me it was not Zeus who made that order.
Nor did the justice who lives with the gods below
Mark down such laws to hold among mankind.
Nor did I think your orders we so strong
That you, a mortal man, could over-run
The gods’ unwritten and unfailing Laws,
Not now, not yesterday’s, they always live,
And no one knows their origin in time."

Confucius, contemporary with Sophocles but a world away, admonishes his disciples, “Faced with what is right, to leave it undone shows a lack of courage.” Confucius brings his wisdom to bear on unjust government and the obligations of all men to recognize tyranny and act. “If what he [the ruler] says is good and no one goes against him, good. But if what he says is not good and no one goes against him, then is this not almost a case of leading the state to ruin?” The inclusion of Confucius as a none-western example of “world wide” recognition of these Laws may be rather skimpy. May I suggest another?

After the over through of the Grand Magus (522 B.C.), the Persian revolutionaries met to discuss the future government they would craft for their empire. In the end, Darius was chosen king by the neighing of a horse, but the debate, as recorded by Herodotus, is instructive. The actual leader of the rebellion, Otanes, after outlining the evils of monarchy and oligarchy, begged his cohorts to choose democracy. His words, “A tyrant disturbs ancient laws, violates women, kills men without trial. But a people ruling – first, the very name of it is so beautiful; and secondly, a people does none of these things.” Note the phrase “disturbs ancient laws”. It is instructive to note that we now call Persia, Iran, and that the center of the Persian Empire was Babylon – just down stream form Bagdad. It seems that a long time ago, someone from Iraq could comprehend freedom.

At the same time, the wisdom recognized in China and Iran was stirring action in Rome.
Confident of the power his position gave him, the son of the king of Rome raped Lucretia. Once she had revealed the crime to her husband Lucretia killed herself. Lucius Junius Brutus, the savior of the Roman people, took action. With the bloody knife in hand, he brought the truth to the oppressed people. They would recognize the same natural Laws that were self evident to Achilles, and would inspire Jefferson. Livy recounts Brutus’ words:

"By this girl’s blood – non more chaste till a tyrant wronged her – and by the gods, I swear that with sword and fire, and whatever else can lend strength to my arm, I will pursue Lucius Tarquinius the Proud, his wicked wife, and all his children, and never again will I let them or any other man be king in Rome."

In the waning days of the Roman Republic, Cicero appealed to the same reason in his defense of Justice in his dialogue On the Laws. He and his brother Quintus discuss the nature of natural and eternal Law as opposed to the often unjust statues of men. They conclude that one can actually judge a state and its laws by their agreement with universal Truths. Cicero also makes the same conclusion I am seeking to espouse; that the Truths upon which just nations are based are eternal and recognized naturally by all men. When men are free to choose, they will naturally choose justice and right.

Marcus: "Ever since we were children, Quintus, we have learned to call, “if one summon another to court”, and other rules of the same kind, laws. But we must come to the true understanding of the matter, which is as follows: this and other commands and prohibitions of nations have the power to summon to righteousness and away from wrong-doing; but this power is not merely older than the existence of nations and states, it is coeval [of the same age] with the God who guards and rules heaven and earth. For the divine mind cannot exist without reason, and divine reason cannot but have this power to establish right and wrong . . . Even if there was not written law against rape at Rome in the reign of Lucius Tarquinius, we cannot say on that account that Sextus Tarquinius did not break the eternal Law by violating Lucretia, the daughter of Lucretius! For reason did exist, derived from the Nature of the universe, urging men to right conduct and diverting them from wrongdoing, and this reason did not first become Law when it was written down, but when it first came into existence; and it came into existence simultaneously with the divine mind. Wherefore the true and primal Law, applied to command and prohibition is the right reason of supreme Jupiter."

Quintus: "I agree with you brother, that what is right and true is also eternal, and does not begin or end with written statutes."

Cicero wrote before the birth of Jesus, before the reign of the first Roman Emperor, before the Anglo Saxons reached England, before Muhammad, the invasions of the Huns, or the Mongols. An ocean of time and space separate Cicero and the people of Iraq, but they recognize the same truths. Clearly, Cicero predated the Enlightenment philosophers of the 18th century. But, there can be little doubt that all of these men had read their Cicero, and it is just as certain that when he is read in Bagdad his words will ring as true. I have a friend in Bagdad today, a Coast Guard officer, instructor of military law, and a lawyer who is teaching the Rule of Law to the Iraqis. It will not be easy – the Achaeans, the Romans, the Chinese and the Americans have often fallen short of their duty to the Truth, but after so much sacrifice and so much wisdom, we can hope they too will choose the right, they will realize their humanity. For as Cicero says:

"Law is the highest reason, implanted in Nature, which commands what ought to be done and forbids the opposite. This reason, when firmly fixed and fully developed in the human mind, is LAW. And so they believe that Law is intelligence, whose natural function is to command right conduct and forbid wrongdoing . . . Now if this is correct, and I think it to be in general, then the origin of Justice is to be found in Law, for Law is a natural force; it is the mind and reason of the intelligent man, the standard by which Justice and Injustice are measured. . . But in determining what Justice is, let us begin with that supreme Law which had its origin ages before any written Law existed or any State had been established."

A new state has been established in Iraq, its constitution crafted by the will of the people, its freedom bought by their blood. If it succeeds, it will be a great victory for justice and reason; if it fails it will be a harbinger of man’s inability to reach his divine potential. Either way, that so many have tried so hard and achieved so much is empirical proof of the ancient arguments that reveal the eternal nature of Truth, Justice and the human way!


Anonymous said...

With Iraq pressing forward and working towards a better nation and moving continually forward, then why are we (a nation willing to give the most precious gift of life to establish their freedoms) moving backwards in our own? Why do we feel our government needs to control more of our lives, and our paychecks, and everything around us; to be safe?

If mans universal knowledge will tell him freedom is to be sought after, why are we giving ours up a piece at a time under the false pretense of protection?

Lysis said...

Excellent questions about which we should all think. Perhaps we have not yet begun to feel the loss of our freedoms. The story of frogs cooked to death in slowly heating water comes to mind, but we are not frogs. I am reminded rather of a description I have read of the Mongol hunt. As the animals were driven toward the final killing ground, at first, they went without much protest, as they did not realize what was happening, as they began to feel they were being driven – they began to become dangerous. Fortunately we are not animals either. I am hopeful that Americans will recognize – even has you already have, that we are being driven where we do not want to go, and very soon the “Mongols” will find their hands full.

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Anonymous said...

You can also compare Antigone to Susan B. Anthony. They are similar in many ways. They look to their own conscience and thoughts to direct their actions. Antigone is not afraid to "forget what the world thinks of (her) stepping out of (her) place".