Last week, Ireland gave the world an example of why democracy is not a priori better or a more moral system of government than any other. Generally, Americans are taught that “we the people” are infallible and inherently legitimate as a 51% majority. If the majority agrees on something, it must therefore be right. But the unpopular truth is that democracies—and constitutional republics even—only survive the test of legitimacy when that government system operates according to fundamental, objective moral truth.
Just because a majority will of the people determined abortion on demand should be legal last week does not change the objective truth that recreational killing of unborn children is inherently wrong and immoral. We cannot legitimize evil through a legal mechanism any more than we can legislate ourselves out of the Earth’s elliptical orbit. Humans simply do not have that control. Regardless of how many tyrants a given society has, no human, singular or collective, is unlimited in power. Reality shows us that self-evident truth.
But secular humanism is the philosophy that contends humans have the capacity to determine ethics with no greater plumb line than declaratory judgments, some enforcement power, and the current point in history society finds itself on. Being on the “wrong side of history” then can change with the whim of the dominant majority ethic, rather than being a consistent, predictable, universal, and immutable truth. And when what’s right and wrong changes depends on sheer majority will, right and wrong are no longer measurably different.
The unpopular truth is that our American constitutional republic was neither founded on secular humanism ethics nor the premise that “we the people” can self-determine ethics. Our Founders instead provided a worldview statement in our unanimous declaration that reflects an objective universal standard, recognizing as a nation that truth exists, it is self-evident (not subjective to man’s whim), and one self-evident truth: that men are created by God and God, not government, endows us with our fundamental rights. One of those rights specifically and textually acknowledged is the right to life.
“We the people” are therefore not the ultimate sovereign. Nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are not the sovereign either. Our Founders recognized that the only true, just, and legitimate Sovereign is our Creator and His infallible moral truth. Our government was not built upon the idea that the sheer will of the people is infallible. Democracy, as evidenced by Ireland’s vote, can be just as evil and fallible as any other tyrant.
Why should the evil that can be foisted upon a society by one bad monarch change into good simply because that same evil is foisted upon a society by the majority? Evil is evil, whether it’s carried out by one person or one million people. A rape is still unquestionably immoral if committed by one person or a gang of evildoers. Defining the measurable difference between good and evil requires an objective standard, not subject to the whim of any legislative tyrant.
Our Founders began with the premise for government that its only legitimate role is to protect and preserve our rights that are God-given. A government’s role is not to define our rights, infringe upon them, give and take them at whim, or replace God’s measurable standard of legitimacy with any one or one million tyrants.
No political choice of government is inherently better if the government is not founded upon objective moral truth and bound to that mandate. Our Founders created this American experiment to preserve freedom and liberty for all because they understood genuine freedom and liberty cannot be protected for all absent a moral foundation.
America’s first Supreme Court chief justice, John Jay, once remarked in a letter, “Almost all nations have peace or war at the will and pleasure of rulers whom they do not elect, and who are not always wise or virtuous. Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest, of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”
Why? Why are we better off with Christians at the helm of a nation? Because a Christian by definition understands and recognizes that good and evil, right and wrong, are not defined by humans, but by an objective standard. This is also why conservatism is the best choice for a political philosophy, regardless of the precise government offices or separation of powers (which in turn have better and worse choices by way of employing wisdom). Neither big government nor man upon his own little island can self-determine ethics. We should be continuing to conserve truth and conserve objective principles of universal right and wrong.
Moreover, America as a country recognizes that we are a nation of laws, and any law made in furtherance of the U.S. Constitution must also align with our Constitution, whose power and force rests upon that Declaration mandate—preserving and protecting rights given by God, not by man. Our Founders could have given us any type of government, and John Jay was correct that Providence has indeed given us the great responsibility and duty to select our leaders, but those leaders, however they may come into power in our country (or anywhere in the world among any nation), are still bound by the universality of moral truth.
Ireland may have made abortion legal, but it did not legitimize abortion or make it lawful. No one, no government, ever can. Nor can any government legitimize any evil by its sheer power and force of law or make good any act or omission that is inherently immoral. To believe otherwise is to disregard the self-evident truth of the reality of our human existence, and to lose any ground to claim any act is good or evil.
Jenna Ellis is the Director of Public Policy at the James Dobson Family Institute. She is a constitutional law attorney, radio host, and the author of The Legal Basis for a Moral Constitution. Follow her @JennaEllisJDFI