Sunday, December 19, 2004

Colson's Law

I've found Peter Kreeft's discussion of "Colson's Law" very illuminating. Here's his description and explanation (quoting from his book How to Win the Culture War). It can take a little while for the paradigm to "click," but I think it's worth the effort. Anything in brackets is from me, the rest is straight from Kreeft:

[Colson's Law] could also be called the Law of Four C's: community, chaos, conscience and cops. It can be remembered best visually, like the square of opposition in logic:

[You can ignore the brackets for now, but they'll help once you see Kreeft's explanation.]

[Defensive Army]

[Good / Outer Shield] Cops--------|--------Conscience [Good / Inner Shield]

[Offensive Army]

Community and chaos are "vertica"l opposites of good versus evil, while cops and conscience are "horitzontal" of two goods.

Community and chaos are inherently opposed forces, like battling armies.

Cops and conscience are the two possible weapons or strategies of the defensive army (community) against the offensive army (chaos).

Both pairs of opposites are inversely proportionate, but the "vertical" opposites are necessarily opposed (chaos and community destroy each other), while the horizontal are not. In fact, cops and conscience are often complementary.

But the need for each one decreases as the supply of the other one increases: the more conscience a community has, the few cops it needs; and the more cops it has, the less conscience it needs to rely on....

...Community integrates; chaos disintergrates. Community is coinherence; chaos is incoherence. Community is construction; chaos is deconstruction....

...Social bodies as well as individual bodes [sic] need shields. Like the body physical, the body politic has two shields against chaos: the outer shielf is "positive law," that is, human law, which is enforced physically by cops.

The inner shield is "natural law," moral law not made by man but discovered, which is enforced spiritually by conscience.

The inner shield is made of freedom; the outer shield is made of force. The inner shield is love--love of the good. The outer shield is fear--the fear of punishment. And love is free, while fear is unfree.

Colson's Law dictates that a community with few "inner cops" needs more "outer cops." America's Founding Fathers saw this and repudiated an unfree state based primarily on "outer cops." They explicitly said that the free democracy they were designing was designed only for a moral people. The foundation stones for a democracy are conscience.

But the paradox of democracy is that it is founded on the premise of strong moral consciences yet tends to produce weak ones by its very permissiveness. Its maximization of freedom (that is, freedom from cops) depends on its willing submission to conscience, yet this freedom from cops tempts us to free ourselves from conscience too. And then, paradoxically, this excess of external, physical freedom requires more cops to starve off internal, spiritual chaos (which erupts into external public chaos sooner of later). Thus we get more cops and less freedom. For the two kinds of freedom--from conscience and from cops--are also inversely proportionate. The more of either one you have, the less you need the other. (Think this through!)

Colson's Law states that the only alternatives to conscience are cops of chaos. If the inner shield [natural law / love of the good /freedom] is lowered, the outer shield [human law / the fear of punishment / force] must be raised to prevent chaos. Therefore, a democracy that loses its conscience will necessarily become totalitarian.

The point should be obvious, but it sounds shocking to most Americans. And that fact itself is shocking.

The idea of America becoming totalitarian will seem absurd to most Americans, but that is because they forget that there is what de Tocqueville called a "soft totalitarianism" as well as a "hard totalitarianism," a Brave New World as well as a 1984. The dictatorship of what Rousseau called "the general will," that is, popoular opinion, can be just as totalitarian as that of any king or tyrant, and much harder to topple, especially when manipulated by a powerful and ideologically united media. For the media are more powerful than then military; the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

The cops in a "soft totatitarianism" wield pens rather than swords--for example, speech codes that see "hate speech," "right-wing extremism" and "homophobia" in more places than meieval inquisitors saw devils and witches....

Colson's Law predicts that a community's longevity is proportionate to its morality. And to its religion, for no society has yet existed that has successfully built its knowledge of morality on any basis other than religion....

From Peter Kreeft, How to Win the Culture War: A Christian Plan for a Society in Crisis (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2002), pp. 46-54.