Two Realms and the New York Times

David Brooks is like the one eyed man in the land of the blind.

The people who pioneered democracy in Europe and the United States had a low but pretty accurate view of human nature. They knew that if we get the chance, most of us will try to get something for nothing. They knew that people generally prize short-term goodies over long-term prosperity. So, in centuries past, the democratic pioneers built a series of checks to make sure their nations wouldn’t be ruined by their own frailties…Neither the United States nor the European model will work again until we rediscover and acknowledge our own natural weaknesses and learn to police rather than lionize our impulses.

I say one eyed man because David Brooks understands the law. Not the civil law, but the natural law or the religious use of the law. He understands 1 John 1:8, “if we say we have no sin the truth is not in us”. Many politicians of the left and the right think that if only we could implement out program we would get it right. That is a form of denying the truth. Because as St. Paul says all the law does is increase sin. (Rom 5:20). But David Brooks only has one eye. That part after the ellipsis in the quote gives it away. He thinks that just acknowledging original sin or our inclination to break the rules will restore good government. Now turning from complete falsehood to truth might lead to better government, but it might just as well lead to another rash of “men of iron” who would seek to impose that better way. Since all men are rule breakers we need that “strong ruler” to keep them in line. That thinking lead to Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and every homicidal dictator of the 20th century left and right. Hitler won elections. Stalin was popular.

The second eye is the gospel. Those founders understood that law only leads to sin. They also understood that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness had political dimensions, but were largely spiritual in nature. For a democratic government to survive required citizens of private virtue (4 Cardinal: Prudence, Patience, Fortitude and Temperance; 3 Theological: Faith, Hope and Charity). And the only way to sustained private virtue is conversion and the indwelling of the spirit. You can have the best system set up with complete understanding of the law, but absent private virtue it will come to naught.

What the democracies of the west are reaping is the coming to naught. Virtues are not built and practiced because the Spirit has been denied. The Spirit has been denied because the Spirit testifies to Christ alone. And we do not want Christ. We can do it ourselves. We can perfect our democracy and our safety net and our war machines. We do not want the grace. Especially a grace given from a cross. Empire always looks better than the cross, until you live in it or under it as the case may be.