"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Death of Law

In the words of Brecht's Galileo, "Happy the land that has the rule of law, but sad the land that needs it." And few nations have starved for it more that the U.S. does at present. Barbaric as are Cheney's ideas about the necessity for torture, he is at least correct in declaring that there can be no middle ground regarding political commitment to the security state. Either one believes that national security is more important than the rule of law, as does Cheney, or one believes that the loss of the rule of law is a disaster beside which a dozen 9/11s pale into insignificance. Obama seeks a "centrist" path in this debate. This choice involves treating some people as without legal rights, specifically, "...even as he paid repeated homage to 'our values' and 'our timeless ideals,' he demanded the power (albeit with unspecified judicial and Congressional oversight) to keep people in prison with no charges or proof of any crime having been committed".

But there is no centrist path in this debate or rather moral crisis. Either one believes that all human beings have essential rights, no matter how "evil" they might be or one believes that national security concerns trump such legal rights. The centrist strategy results in focusing on the job of deciding who is "evil" enough to lose all their human rights. In time, legal ethicists will weigh in on the question and precise degrees of threat will be defined beyond which persons will lose all their humanity, and with it, our obligation to refrain from torturing, starving, or murdering them.

Much as I regret the conclusion, the "centrist" path of Obama may turn out to be far more degrading to our humanity that the open brutalism of Cheney. While the former vice president prioritizes the physical security of our citizens over human dignity, Obama exalts these values rhetorically while degrading them in practice in a way far more insidious, but probably much more to the purpose.

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