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    Book Club: The Roots of American OrderChapter 6

    March 27, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

    I loved this chapter, probably because I pretend I live in the Middle Ages when I can, sans all the bloodshed, of course. There is a lot in this chapter, so I’m just going to pick out two ideas: the rule of law, and gentlemen and scholars. That last one is one idea, mainly because I followed one half {gentleman} better than the other half {scholars}.


    The Rule of Law
    The first thing we need to do is define the concept of the “rule of law.” In this phrase, rule does not refer to something prescriptive, like house rules or club rules. Rather is refers to a reign, or a type of sovereignty:

    The law, which is no respecter of persons, stands supreme: that is the essence of British legal theory and legal practice, and it passed into America from the first colonial settlements onward. The king himself is under the law; should he break it, his subjects would be absolved from their allegiance. And the law is not merely the creation of kings and parliaments, but rather the source of their authority. At heart, the law is the expression of natural justice and the ancient ways of a people.

    There is a lot in there, but I couldn’t bear to cut the quote down, it gives such a complete picture. Let’s summarize this in bullets. The rule of law means:

    • law stands supreme
    • law is no respecter of persons
    • even the king is under the law
    • law is viewed as a Permanent Thing, meaning it transcends kings and parliaments–rather than being a creation of lawmakers, it is a thing which all authorities are required to give due respect
    • disrespecting or disregarding the law is a forfeiture of authority
    Briefly, I would say that this explains the American War for Independence. Even though I have gladly reaped the benefits of that war, though I feel blessed to live in this country, I never understood how one could justify rebellion against a king, even a king who was breaking the law {and he was, denying the colonists their natural-born rights as Englishmen}. What I haven’t understood until now is how connected this was to the English tradition of correcting and deposing kings who had broken the laws–the king was no longer seen as king if, when confronted with his disregard of the rule of law, he did not repent.
    But that isn’t what I want to focus on here, because something else–or a lot of something elses, as the case may be–jumped out at me here.
    The something elses were the connections I made between what was–the Rule of Law–what ought to be–also the Rule of Law–and what now is or is coming to be.
    The Rule of Law is, ultimately, equity at its finest, is it not? Here we have a law above which no man can be–regardless of how rich or powerful or important, regardless of his race or religion. Before the Law, all are equal, and all are equal under the Law. This is what we used to mean by equality, and when there were disturbances over inequality, what was being pointed out was that there was a group or an individual that was not equal under the law. The problem was not the Rule of Law, but that someone wasn’t receiving the benefit of the Rule of Law.
    The law was not ruling supreme–there was some place identified over which her sovereignty needed to be extended.
    But now?
    Now I notice the conversation changing, and people want a person or a special interest group or a pet idea to be above the law. This is the antithesis of the Rule of Law, to elevate something above the Law, to draw a line in the sand and say to the Law, “Thou shalt not pass.”
    Well, let us take for instance the Supreme Court hearings currently going on over Obamacare. On both sides of the issue, I have heard a lot of “I like Obamacare” or “I hate Obamacare.” What I don’t hear from average man-on-the-street conversations is the desire to see the Law reign supreme. The conversation we have over Obamacare ought not be about health care at all.
    It ought to be about the Law, and whether or not Obamacare is in violation of the Law.
    I understand that health care is an issue in our country, but it does not logically follow that we should forfeit the thousand-plus-years of tradition of the Rule of Law, that we might “solve the problem.” In other words, this issue is not above the Law. And pragmatism is apparently the enemy of the Law.
    To give another example, I tweeted an article today about what some are calling the War on U.S. Homeschoolers. In the article, a case is discussed. A homeschooling family, anonymously accused of some sort of legal violation, refused to allow a social worker into their home without a warrant. You can read the article if you want all of the details, but essentially the conclusion that we must draw is that by refusing to hear this case, the Supreme Court has essentially communicated that the Rule of Law doesn’t apply in confrontations with social workers {or, at least, the article implies this}. In other words, the concern of social workers has been elevated above the clear application of the Fourth Amendment, which acknowledges the rights of citizens to be free of unlawful search and seizure {I would group the practice of police checkpoints in with this as well}.
    Do you know what I love about the Rule of Law, though? It keeps the emotions out of highly charged situations. It protects the weak from the strong and the poor from the rich and the humble from the person of great influence. It is the great equalizer. It could rightly be said that the Rule of Law is foundational to a just society.
    I know Emotional People, who think they Know because of their emotions. They are the types to talk about health care or “the children” rather than the Law and its proper application. And I understand that these can be emotional issues. But the best way to sort out issues that get people’s feelings all bunched up in a wad is to appeal to the neutral third party of the Law, for feelings often blind Justice rather than put spectacles on her.
    Gentility and Scholarship
    Kirk says:

    Two types of humanity were the wonder of medieval Europe: the great saint and the great knight. In later ages, their descendants would be the scholar and the gentleman.

    We could write this out as a ratio:

    great knight : gentleman : : great saint : scholar

    I found this totally fascinating, especially the correspondence between the great knight and the modern gentleman {not that there are many gentlemen these days, but the concept of the gentleman carried over into post-Renaissance times, whereas knighthood’s flower is forever locked in the Middle Ages, and modern knights are about as heroic as your average rock band {and sometimes are your average rock band, but I digress}.

    But first: the story of John of Brienne was one I had never heard before, and I found him truly remarkable. He was like Ivanhoe, but real. He seemed to possess the old Roman virtues and a Christian salvation all rolled into one.

    This, then, was my favorite sentence in the entire chapter:

    The age of chivalry was an age of wonders. Where did the actual begin and the imaginary end? No man knew.

    That might seem like a weird favorite sentence in a strange favorite passage, but stick with me for a moment. Kirk says many times that John of Brienne was only possible because of the imagination of his age. He was the literal, physical embodiment of the ideals of knighthood and chivalry. Very few men could actually attain those heights, but the ideals dictated that he could be imagined, and because he could be imagined, he could come into being.

    Have you ever thought about that? The only things that can be in our time are the things we can imagine. This is why the moral imagination is so important. If we cannot imagine a man of virtue, a man of honesty, a man of integrity, well then, we should all just throw in the towel now.

    But even though all the highest qualities are rarely united in one man, as Kirk said in a previous chapter, the fact that we can imagine him is significant.

    And every age does seem to have a handful of men and women who come close to the embodiment of the ideal.

    Do we ever stop to think that it was the ideal and the knowledge of said ideal which makes this possible?

    As chivalry faded and knighthood fell out of fashion, the remnant of that ideal became gentility. When we see the greatness of those who fought in the War for Independence and of those who framed our founding documents, it is not hard to see that they are the heirs apparent to knighthood and chivalry:

    America was no aristocratic land, but such examples were not lost on the men of colonial times and later days. Captain John Smith, commanding what force the early Virginian settlement could muster, was a kind of latter-day paladin, full of tales–half fanciful, perhaps, half genuine–of his wars against the Turks. America would have no nobles, but it would have gentlemen. And they would dare much.

    Kirk has taught us that Rome and Greece decayed both from without and within in a sort of symbiotic way. The decay of the inner man–of the morality, the religion–coincided with the fall from without–the inability to win a battle and defend the homeland. We talk about decay here at home, and we see something similar–a decay in faith, a decay in morality. When I think of one practical application, one thing that I can do, as a mother, right here in my own home, I think of something I must say a hundred times a week:

    Be a gentleman. Be a lady.

    Or sometimes it comes out as a correction:

    That was bad form! That was not ladylike.

    We can add to our list, then: cultivate gentility.

    Read More:
    Buy the book and join in the conversation
    More book club posts linked at Cindy’s blog

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  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts March 29, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    I love that! Berry is a homerun almost every time. What a great connection. I am going to think about your brilliant sentence: “…that last sentence gets at why the line can become blurry between reality and imagination – if you know it so well it can become a part of you.” I think you hit the nail on the head here!

  • Reply Pilgrim March 28, 2012 at 3:22 am

    A quote about imagination, memory and it’s role – I thought you might like it.
    “If we are to protect the world’s multitude of places and creatures, then we must know them, not just conceptually but imaginatively as well. They must be pictures in the mind and in memory; they must be known with affection, “by heart,” so that in seeing or remembering them the heart may be said to “sing,” to make a music peculiar to its recognition of each particular place or creature that it knows well. . . . To know imaginatively is to know intimately, particularly, precisely, gratefully, reverently, and with affection.” Wendell Berry, Life is a Miracle (p 137- 138)

    I think that last sentence gets at why the line can become blurry between reality and imagination – if you know it so well it can become a part of you. What you behold is what you become. Really thinking about what I want my kiddos to behold and know “by heart”.

  • Reply Go quickly and tell March 28, 2012 at 1:00 am

    Ken Follett idealized life in the Middle Ages. His Pillars of the Earth is one of my favorite novels. But I’m not gonna admit to wanting to live during that era. Go ahead and call me a wimp 🙂

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts March 29, 2012 at 8:56 pm

      Okay, I just ordered it from PBS! I am attracted to books that idealize a culture, at least usually I am.

      I will not call you a wimp because I know that I only *pretend* to live then because of castle, pretty dresses, and knights in shining armor that miraculously survive constant peril. I’m sure the reality–no plumbing, no deodorant, no central air–was much more grim! Surely modern culture has softened us! 🙂

  • Reply Kelly March 28, 2012 at 12:19 am

    I’m still in Rome, but I can’t wait for this chapter. I love the Middle Ages, and I could never understand why it’s so hated. Even if all the bad and only half the good is true, it’s still a more wonderful place than any other I know of.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts March 29, 2012 at 8:53 pm

      The architecture alone tells me there was more to that culture than I was taught in grade school!

  • Reply Pilgrim March 27, 2012 at 10:26 pm

    I agree that this is a really clear statement of why the revolution was “justified”. I was struck by the “revolution” I had never heard of – 1399. He called it a “precedent for the Americans”. Your thoughts about the law being an appropriate “neutral, 3rd party” make perfect sense – unfortunately I think we let passion dominated.

    I am also trying to help my sons imagine what it means to be truly manly – any thoughts??

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts March 29, 2012 at 8:53 pm

      I have been thinking about the same thing, and I *think* this is another instance in which N.D. Wilson’s assertion that “stories are catechisms with flesh on” comes in handy. It makes sense to me that literature that portrays chivalry might be especially important if it is true that such things birthed not only John of Brienne but also the American gentleman.

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