As Aquinas
teaches, “the chief concern of the ruler of a multitude… is to procure the
unity of peace” (De Regno, Book I,
Chapter 3
).  All other social
goods are subordinate to that, because they all presuppose it.  Without peace, no social good is secure.  Without unity – and in particular, without a
shared commitment to a common set of laws, procedures, cultural norms, and the
like – no peace is possible.

Now, what we
are seeing metastasizing around us in the United States in recent months is a
direct assault from the Left on the unity of peace, and thereby on the fundamental prerequisite of any just
social order.  The methods and goals of
the left-wing mobs looting, rioting, burning, and harassing their way through
American cities amount to a seditious assault on the peace of the community.  The intention of some left-wing politicians
to abolish the Electoral College, pack the Supreme Court, eliminate the filibuster,
and in other ways secure indefinite one-party rule amounts to an attempt to
impose a factional tyranny.  These are extremely dangerous trends, and it is
delusional to think that the faults of Donald Trump or the justice of the cause
of opposing racism can excuse them or make them any less dangerous.  In the name of social justice, the far Left
is attacking the very preconditions of all social justice.

As always, the
teaching of St. Thomas illuminates the darkness of our times.

Lawful authority

Let’s go
back to first principles.  Why do
governments exist?  Well, again, to
secure the unity of peace.  But how are they to secure this?  Aquinas’s answer is that of common
sense.  He writes, in the Summa Theologiae:

Since some are found to be depraved,
and prone to vice, and not easily amenable to words, it was necessary for such
to be restrained from evil by force and fear, in order that, at least, they
might desist from evil-doing, and leave others in peace, and that they themselves,
by being habituated in this way, might be brought to do willingly what hitherto
they did from fear, and thus become virtuous. 
Now this kind of training, which compels through fear of punishment, is
the discipline of laws.  Therefore in
order that man might have peace and virtue, it was necessary for laws to be
framed
.  (Summa
Theologiae
I-II.95.1)

Similarly,
in Summa Contra Gentiles, he says:

Since some people are not so disposed
internally that they will do spontaneously what the law orders, they must be
forced from without to fulfill the justice of the law… [T]his is done only from
fear of punishments…

Since some people pay little
attention to the punishments inflicted by God, because they are devoted to the
objects of sense and care only for the things that are seen, it has been
ordered accordingly by divine providence that there be men in various countries
whose duty it is to compel these people, by means of sensible and present
punishments, to respect justice.  It is
obvious that these men do not sin when they punish the wicked, for no one sins
by working for justice.  Now, it is just
for the wicked to be punished, since by punishment the fault is restored to
order, as is clear from our statements above. 
Therefore, judges do no wrong in punishing the wicked
. (Summa Contra Gentiles III.128,
146)

Note two
things about this teaching.  First, it flatly
rejects the proposal that police protections would not be necessary if only the
right social services were in place, the notion that if only communism were
achieved then the need for a coercive state would wither away, and all other such
lunatic fantasies running contrary to all human experience.  It is simply part of the human condition that
some people will not be restrained from evildoing except by force, so that the need
for and legitimacy of the police power of the state is a matter of natural law.

Second, the
legitimacy of this police power is backed by divine providence.  Aquinas
develops this theme as follows:

Again, in various countries, the men
who are put in positions over other men are like executors of divine
providence; indeed, God through the order of His providence directs lower
beings by means of higher ones, as is evident from what we said before.  But no one sins by the fact that he follows
the order of divine providence.  Now,
this order of divine providence requires the good to be rewarded and the evil
to be punished, as is shown by our earlier remarks.  Therefore, men who are in authority over
others do no wrong when they reward the good and punish the evil
. (Summa Contra Gentiles III.146)

Here Aquinas
is recapitulating the teaching of scripture no less than of natural law.  As St. Paul famously writes:

Let every person be subject to the
governing authorities.  For there is no
authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by
God.  Therefore he who resists the
authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur
judgment.  For rulers are not a terror to
good conduct, but to bad.  Would you have
no fear of him who is in authority?  Then
do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for
your good.  But if you do wrong, be
afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to
execute his wrath on the wrongdoer
.  (Romans 13:1-4)

This is also
the consistent and binding teaching of the Catholic faith.  For example, Pope Leo XIII teaches in Immortale
Dei
:

To despise legitimate authority, in
whomsoever vested, is unlawful, as a rebellion against the divine will, and
whoever resists that, rushes willfully to destruction.  “He that resisteth the power resisteth the
ordinance of God, and they that resist, purchase to themselves damnation.” To
cast aside obedience, and by popular violence to incite to revolt, is therefore
treason, not against man only, but against God
.

Of course,
this by no means entails that governmental authorities and police are not themselves
sometimes guilty of injustice.  When they
are, they must be punished accordingly and existing institutions reformed.  But that is very different from opposing
coercive governmental power as such.  Hence, calls to “abolish the police” or “defund
the police,” the claim that “all cops
are bastards,” and the like, are contrary to natural law, divine revelation, and
indeed (as St. Paul and Pope Leo teach) the divine government itself.  They are not merely ill-advised, like this or
that regulation or tax or foreign policy initiative.  They are subversive of the very social order.  Into the bargain, such rhetoric is gravely
unjust to the majority of police officers, dehumanizes them and, predictably,
has resulted in an
increase in murders of police officers
.  And the citizens for whose sake the insane
defunding proposal would purportedly be implemented would in fact be harmed the
most by it, and are
overwhelmingly opposed to it
.

Public
officials who do not unequivocally reject such evil opinions, and especially those
who positively sympathize with such
opinions, act directly contrary to
the most fundamental preconditions of a just social order.  They are ipso
facto
manifestly unfit for office.

Sedition

The leftist mobs
who have, in the name of this anti-police position, been attacking governmental
buildings and otherwise seeking confrontations with police are guilty of the
grave sin of sedition.  (Some among the mainstream press have tried
to pretend that this mob violence has been exaggerated, but the pretense has by
now gotten too
ridiculous even for them
.) 
Contrasting sedition with war in the usual sense (which involves
conflict between different countries) and strife (which involves conflict
between individuals), Aquinas characterizes it as follows:

Sedition may be said to denote either
actual aggression, or the preparation for such aggression… when, to wit, a
number of people make preparations with the intention of fighting… Sedition, in
its proper sense, is between mutually dissentient parts of one people, as when
one part of the state rises in tumult against another part… [S]edition is
opposed to a special kind of good, namely the unity and peace of a people…

A seditious man is one who incites
others to sedition, and since sedition denotes a kind of discord, it follows
that a seditious man is one who creates discord, not of any kind, but between
the parts of a multitude.  And the sin of
sedition is not only in him who sows discord, but also in those who dissent
from one another inordinately

Sedition is contrary to the unity of
the multitude, viz. the people of a city or kingdom… Wherefore it is evident
that the unity to which sedition is opposed is the unity of law and common
good: whence it follows manifestly that sedition is opposed to justice and the
common good.  Therefore by reason of its
genus it is a mortal sin, and its gravity will be all the greater according as
the common good which it assails surpasses the private good which is assailed
by strife.

Accordingly the sin of sedition is
first and chiefly in its authors, who sin most grievously; and secondly it is
in those who are led by them to disturb the common good.  Those, however, who defend the common good,
and withstand the seditious party, are not themselves seditious, even as
neither is a man to be called quarrelsome because he defends himself
. 
(Summa Theologiae II-II.42.1-2)

Let’s note the
various aspects of this account.  First, sedition
involves one part of a society putting itself into a state of war with another
part, by attacking the unity, peace, law, and common good of that society.  The left-wing rioters have done exactly
this.  They do not seek to work within
the legal and institutional framework they share with their fellow
citizens.  Rather, they condemn that
framework as inherently racist and therefore illegitimate, and anyone who
upholds it as complicit in oppression.  Hence
they boldly violate the laws by destroying public property, looting, burning
down businesses, and even taking over whole city blocks.  They routinely resort to other forms of intimidation,
such as forming mobs outside of private homes, harassing people in restaurants
and other public spaces, doxing their opponents and seeking to make them
unemployable, and so on.  And in some
cases they boldly attack governmental buildings and police themselves, not in
the way ordinary criminals do (merely as a means of avoiding capture and punishment
for other crimes), but precisely as acts
of insurrection
, as attacks on the
state itself
. 

Second,
Aquinas tells us that it is not merely those who actually engage in violence
who are guilty of sedition.  Those who merely
prepare for such conflict are guilty
of it too, as indeed are even those who simply “dissent… inordinately” from
their fellow citizens.  Anti-police
activists who show up at protests armed with shields, helmets, bats, fireworks,
lasers, pepper spray, etc. – and in some cases guns – are obviously preparing
for violent confrontation.  Aquinas’s
term “inordinately” is a bit vague, but I submit that someone who thinks that the
basic institutions of American society are so
deeply and irredeemably evil that any fellow citizen who disagrees with that
judgment is worthy of being doxed, publicly hounded, made unemployable, etc.
“dissents inordinately” from his fellow citizens.

Third, as
Aquinas says, those who “withstand the seditious party, are not themselves
seditious,” any more than a person defending himself or others against attack can
justly be called an aggressor.  Now, it
certainly does not follow that armed vigilantism is morally unproblematic or advisable.  In general, it is not.  But it is ridiculous to pretend, as some
have, that those who have stood up to the rioters are themselves somehow
morally on a par with them, especially in contexts where local governments have
refused to suppress the riots themselves. 

But whatabout

Now, Aquinas
also goes on to say that armed resistance to a tyrant can be legitimate, and
that “consequently there is no sedition in disturbing a government of this kind”
(Summa Theologiae II-II.42.2).  Does that mean that left-wing violence is
justifiable after all, given that Donald Trump has violated “democratic norms,”
as his critics are always piously averring every time he tweets out some trash
talk?

The very idea
is preposterous on its face.  Say what
you will about Trump, he is not literally a tyrant.  He has no more power than other presidents
have had, and his will, like theirs, has frequently been thwarted by Congress,
the courts, and the federal bureaucracy. 
He is in so weak a position that he will be lucky if he’s able barely to
squeak out an Electoral College victory against a mediocrity in cognitive
decline.  You can criticize Trump as loudly,
harshly, and frequently as you wish, will be widely and openly praised for
doing so, and Trump himself will do nothing in response but send out a nasty
tweet or two.  Twitter mobs will not get
you fired from your job, and in-person mobs will not descend on your home,
harass you in public places, or loot and burn down your business.  (The people who engage in and get away with this
kind of thuggish behavior are all critics
of Trump.)  It is supporters of Trump, and not his critics, who
are most likely to find that
they have to keep their views to themselves
for fear of retaliation.  A tyrant would
see in the coronavirus crisis and lockdowns an ideal “national emergency” pretext
for increasing his power.  Instead, Trump
has resisted lockdowns and is constantly accused of minimizing the threat of the virus. 
A tyrant would use the riots as an excuse to impose martial law.  Instead, Trump has mainly confined himself to
photo ops and tweeting out the phrase “Law and Order!”  Rather than doubling down on the federal presence
in Portland in order to repel the lunatics who have besieged the courthouse
there for months, his administration pulled the federal agents out. 
Some “tyranny”!

Nor does the
latest lame excuse
for pearl-clutching lend any credence to the
“tyranny” charge.  Even if Trump had
really meant to say that he will not give up power if he loses the election –
which he
clearly did not mean

there is zero chance that the federal bureaucracy in general, the
military
in particular, or even his
own party
would support him. 
(Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s recent
remarks
that Trump would try to “steal” the election and that if it
is close Biden “should not concede under any circumstances” were not met with
similar horror by the pearl-clutchers – even though what she meant was
essentially the same thing that Trump meant.)

Furthermore,
even if Trump really did have tyrannical designs, that would not justify the
violence of the woke mob in the least. 
For one thing, as Aquinas writes, a tyrannical government can be
legitimately resisted by force “unless
indeed the tyrant’s rule be disturbed so inordinately, that his subjects suffer
greater harm from the consequent disturbance than from the tyrant’s government”
(Summa Theologiae II-II.42.2,
emphasis added).  Those whose businesses
have been looted and burned down by rioters have suffered far more from them than from anything Trump has done.  Nor can violent resistance to a tyrant be
justified when there are peaceful alternatives – elections, recourse to the
courts, etc.

Then there
is the fact that, for the most part, it has not been federal agents that the
rioters have been attacking but local police under the authority of left-wing local governments.  It isn’t really Trump that these people are attacking.  It is lawful
authority as such
that they are attacking. 
They are engaged in sedition pure and simple, and as a matter of basic
justice such action should be put down by governing authorities with whatever
force is necessary.  Governing
authorities who
refuse to do so
and even minimize and
excuse
these actions thereby facilitate sedition.  That is, I submit, far more contrary to
“democratic norms” than anything Trump has done.

Factional tyranny

When we hear
the word “tyranny,” we are inclined to think of a single individual despot, but
as Aquinas makes clear, that is by no means the only kind of tyranny, nor the
worst kind.  In De Regno, Book I, Chapter 2, he writes:

If an unjust government is carried on
by one man alone, who seeks his own benefit from his rule and not the good of
the multitude subject to him, such a ruler is called a
tyrant… If an unjust government is carried on, not by one but by several,
and if they be few, it is called an
oligarchy, that is, the rule of a few. 
This occurs when a few, who differ from the tyrant only by the fact that
they are more than one, oppress the people by means of their wealth.  If, finally, the bad government is carried on
by the multitude, it is called a
democracy, i.e. control by the populace, which comes about when the plebeian
people by force of numbers oppress the rich. 
In this way the whole people will be as one tyrant
.

End
quote.  So, on Aquinas’s account, a
faction within society, or even the people as a whole, could rule in a
tyrannical fashion.  Notice that he says
that it is possible even for the common people to be perpetrators of oppression, not just victims of it; and that it is possible
even for the rich to be victims of
oppression, and not just perpetrators of it. 
No one can claim that he has justice on his side merely because he belongs to a certain group within society, and no
one can be accused of injustice merely because he belongs to some other
group.

Aquinas says
more about the nature of factional tyranny, in particular, in Book I, Chapter 6
of De Regno.  Indeed, he says that a “polyarchy” or equal rule
of multiple individuals or competing interests is more likely to degenerate into tyranny than a monarchy is:

Group government [polyarchy] most
frequently breeds dissension.  This
dissension runs counter to the good of peace which is the principal social
good.  A tyrant, on the other hand, does
not destroy this good, rather he obstructs one or the other individual interest
of his subjects – unless, of course, there be an excess of tyranny and the
tyrant rages against the whole community. 
Monarchy is therefore to be preferred to polyarchy, although either form
of government might become dangerous…

Now, considerable dangers to the
multitude follow more frequently from polyarchy than from monarchy.  There is a greater chance that, where there
are many rulers, one of them will abandon the intention of the common good than
that it will be abandoned when there is but one ruler.  When any one among several rulers turns aside
from the pursuit of the common good, danger of internal strife threatens the
group because, when the chiefs quarrel, dissension will follow in the people…

Moreover, in point of fact, a
polyarchy deviates into tyranny not less but perhaps more frequently than a
monarchy.  When, on account of there
being many rulers, dissensions arise in such a government, it often happens
that the power of one preponderates and he then usurps the government of the
multitude for himself.  This indeed may
be clearly seen from history.  There has
hardly ever been a polyarchy that did not end in tyranny
.

End
quote.  Now, Aquinas suggests that
“dissension” between the people of a society and “abandon[ment]…of the common
good” are more likely with polyarchy than with a single tyrant.  Why would that be?  Here’s a way to think about it.  The classic individual despot is primarily
concerned simply with staying in power for its own sake.  He will interfere with any actions among the
citizenry that might pose a threat to that power.  But once it is secure he may be willing to
advance the common good, even if only because it will facilitate his staying in
power.  He may well rule pragmatically
rather than ideologically, and in a way that is neutral between the interests
of the various groups subject to him.

By contrast,
a faction is typically concerned to secure power not for its own sake, but
rather for the sake of advancing the interests of some group – a cabal of
ideologues, an economic class, a tribal faction or ethnic group, a party, or
what have you.  And such interests
naturally tend to conflict with those of other groups.  Thus the dissension and abandonment of the
common good that Aquinas speaks of.  And
thus the greater tyranny.  It’s bad when
some despot refuses to give up power, but leaves you alone as long as you don’t
challenge him.  But it’s much worse when
a one-party state wants to impose its ideological vision on the whole of
society, or a tribal faction or ethnic group gains control and seeks to avenge
its grievances against other such groups. 
In the nature of the case, the common good is abandoned, and one faction
simply attempts to impose its will on the others – not “from below,” as in
sedition, but “from above” by way of the apparatus of state power.

Now,
proposals that have become mainstream within the Democratic Party – including abolishing
the Senate filibuster, packing the Supreme Court, and eliminating the Electoral
College – would, if implemented, effectively
secure a one-party state
and thus a factional tyranny.  Certainly they too entail far graver violations of “democratic
norms” than anything Trump has done.

Court-packing
amounts to an abandonment of even the pretense of interpreting the law rather
than creating it by fiat.  True, both
parties have increasingly tried to get onto the court people they hope will
rule the way they want them to.  But because
the parties have respected the precedent that the Court has no more than nine justices
at any time, chance has played as
much of a role as which party happens to hold power in determining who those
justices will be.  If by chance a seat on the Court happens to be vacant because of
death or resignation, and if a party
holds the presidency, and if the
president can get the Senate to confirm his candidate, only then can that party can get its candidate
onto the Court.  Being neutral between
the parties, chance has kept either party from being able entirely to make the
court its plaything. 

Court-packing
would eliminate that first, crucial element of chance.  It would allow the party that controls the
presidency and the Senate to appoint as many justices as it needs to in order
to ensure that the Court will decide that
the Constitution says what the party wants it to say
. 

The
remaining elements of chance would be removed by the abolition of the Electoral
College, along with other left-wing schemes in play, such as granting statehood
to Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. 
The Electoral College is a bulwark of subsidiarity and political
moderation, and an obstacle to the tyranny of the majority.  It requires presidential candidates to take
account of the diverse interests and circumstances of rural and urban
localities, states with large populations and those with small ones, more
traditional communities and more modern ones, and so forth.  Now, if presidential candidates had, for
example, to appeal to mostly rural voters, it would be very difficult for a
Democrat ever to win; whereas if they had to appeal to mostly urban voters, it
would be difficult for a Republican ever to win.  But abolishing the Electoral College would
create exactly that latter sort of situation, allowing the Democratic Party to
win presidential elections and formulate policy by appealing primarily to the
high-population urban centers where it is at its strongest, while largely
ignoring the concerns and interests of the rest of the country.  That is a recipe for factional tyranny.

As Marc
Thiessen points out
, the Democrats could, through apportionment,
effectively “pack” the House of Representatives as well, and thereby realize a one-party
state by increasing their strength in the Electoral College (since the number
of electors reflects the number of representatives) rather than abolishing
it.  Granting statehood to D.C. and/or
Puerto Rico, which would be Democratic strongholds, would also make it difficult
or impossible for the Republicans ever again to control the Senate. 

And this is
to say nothing about the intolerant
and indeed totalitarian
woke ideology that is sweeping away more sober and liberal elements on the Left
– the ideology that will determine how a Leftist one-party state will govern.

Again, these
departures from democratic norms have become mainstream within the Democratic Party – so much so that, whether
out of fear of alienating his base (who favor such proposals) or out of fear of
alienating most voters (who don’t
favor them), Joe Biden refuses to tell us whether he will try to pack the
Supreme Court or abolish the filibuster. 
Without any protest from the mainstream press.  While they all accuse Trump of having dictatorial inclinations.

Hammer and anvil

The
toleration of sedition and other
trends which keep the population off-balance and demoralized
are
like an anvil, and the move toward ideological one-party rule like a
hammer.  Distracted by the manifest failings
of the sitting leader, the people do not see the greater evil that is coming
down upon them once he is gone.  It
all sounds so depressingly familiar
.

Related
posts:

The
rule of lawlessness

Plato
predicted woke tyranny

The
popes against the revolution

Envy
cancels justice

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