Friday, November 24, 2006

Higher Law and the Left

[posted by Callimachus]

Just in case you think the "Higher Law" argument is the exclusive provenance of conservative Christian groups, here are the ageing hippies of the Piecemakers to remind you it has been, more often, historically, the argument of choice for radical social reformers.

The group, led by a feisty, 85-year-old, camouflage-clad grandmother, has battled the county for years over a laundry list of code violations, claiming the law of God is greater than the law of man.

"God's laws help the people, they comfort the people. These laws bind you so that you can't breathe. They have sucked the substance right out of our country," said Marie Kolasinski, the Piecemakers matriarch.

The counter-charge, hypocrisy, is typically in the mouth of the authorities. As here:

Deputy District Attorney Scott Steiner, who prosecuted the case, doesn't believe the Piecemakers were resisting because of their religious beliefs.

"I think the primary reason for their recalcitrance is due to the almighty dollar, much more than the Almighty," Steiner said.

"They put one face to the public as being this innocent, gentle group and then they have a truly ugly side ... that is contemptuous of law, is disrespectful and has absolutely no regard for the preservation of public health," he said.

I believe it was Seward himself who coined the term, in the context of abolitionism. Seward himself was a trimmer, a compromiser, who right until the end was ready to deal with the South and save slavery. But he also was a brilliant speech-writer who so loved his own ability to turn a phrase that he couldn't see when it was the wrong one. "Higher law" was such a case. Seward's use of it branded him a dangerous radical in so many men's eyes that it kept him out of the White House he felt was rightfully his in 1860.