First, to say it again, the U.S. debt ceiling issue is a huge problem, which could become an existential threat to the nation. The worst danger is admittedly a long shot, but previous posts have attempted to outline how the possibility is still frighteningly real. In any case the need is urgent and our discourse is still far too concerned with which side deserves blame for any disruptions that a default would trigger.
There will be a sit down between Democrats and Republicans Monday. It is urgent that the immediate issue of a debt ceiling raise, and the underlying issue of permanent government debt, be resolved in a credible way. No final resolution will happen this month. But, at the least, some cobbled-together deal that prevents a US default is absolutely necessary.
Whatever one thinks of the politicians of the day, Americans should recall that they have been elected. Do our choices and our political culture validate our founding on the basis of unalienable rights?
Second, Saturday was coronation day for Charles III in the UK. The ritual liturgies around British royal ceremonies, if one listens, remind us that in many corners of the (n.b. unwritten) British constitution, the monarch is treated as an absolute dictator.
The ancient idea behind monarchical power is that the king is God’s earthly instrument, font of laws, and carrier of divinely sanctioned authority. A nation that has such a ruler, or sovereign, does not need a written constitution. The monarch’s will in itself validates any exercise of governing authority.
The Enlightenment raised another transmission channel for God’s will, in the form of reason, as a divine gift to all, a tool for people to discover God’s laws and truths. The Creator, as the Declaration of Independence says, endowed all persons with unalienable rights. And so in the Declaration a nation conceived itself in those rights, to be governed with consent of the governed. This application of reason would supplant Kings as God’s instrument – and the signers made precisely this switch.
Law, starting with the Constitution, becomes the prosaic channel for the Declaration’s conception to take institutional shape. Under it reason in an applied form, rational practice, regulates any governing authority. As America developed, so did science and technology, and those applied forms of reason, in their own rational practice, took on the aura of reason itself. That aura increasingly led many to forget the idea of reason as God’s tool for understanding, given to people as a gift.
The evolution of this view has reasons behind it. Venerable scripts do not analyze electrons and gravitational forces in the manner that has underpinned modern life. That said, scientific process has left no “replacement” for the God that explains first origins – of existence, or morality, or truth, or reason itself – and no rational tools can offer explanations on their own. In the lacuna, mortal humans have adopted lesser ideas of right or purpose, often in political partisanship, based on tangible vested interests and happenstances of taste and personal emotion. Principle gives way to partisanship.
Would a king serve people better? Even in a constitutional monarchy, a monarch offers something to fall back on, still, if only formally, the earthly font of an ultimate authority. If only because it gives a visible body to commonality underlying the contesting ideologies and doctrines, a king offers a national ethos. People have an independent standard by which to assess the politicians, rather than taking a partisan doctrine as some moral bottom line. Would we govern better under some ordained authority like a king?
So — any connection between the debt ceiling issue and the coronation just might revolve around the question: can individuals, sovereign in their rights, govern themselves?