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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Dostoyevsky–Crime, Punishment, And The Unification of Church and State

Ivan in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov has written a paper on the the question of the ecclesiastical court, and the scope of its jurisdiction, and in a discussion with Father Zossima and Miusov presents his case that the State must be subsumed within the Church, for only with a combined moral and secular authority, can government rule. Rome and religion co-existed, Ivan says, but when the Church resides within a fundamentally pagan and corrupted State, it cannot retain its absolute moral authority and risks being coopted by secular forces.

Father Zossima continues and reinforces Ivan’s argument, suggesting that antisocial and criminal forces can only be controlled if not eliminated by moral suasion, subscription to the authority of God, and acceptance of human responsibility in the face of the Almighty:

“Why,” began Father Zossima, “all these sentences to exile with hard labor, and formerly with flogging also, reform no one, and what's more, deter hardly a single criminal, and the number of crimes does not diminish but is continually on the increase. You must admit that. Consequently the security of society is not preserved, for, although the obnoxious member is mechanically cut off and sent far away out of sight, another criminal always comes to take his place at once, and often two of them.

If anything does preserve society, even in our time, and does regenerate and transform the criminal, it is only the law of Christ speaking in his conscience. It is only by recognizing his wrong-doing as a son of a Christian society—that is, of the Church—that he recognizes his sin against society—that is, against the Church. So that it is only against the Church, and not against the State, that the criminal of to-day can recognize that he has sinned. If society, as a Church, had jurisdiction, then it would know when to bring back from exclusion and to reunite to itself.

Ivan is an intellectual provocateur, and Miusov later comments that one should not take him seriously; but the central principle of his argument – that right and responsible action, obedience to civil law, and respect for man and community can only be assured if there is a universally accepted moral code – is valid.

Ivan’s argument is dismissed by today’s ‘progressives’ who argue that community, family, and individual dysfunction is not a matter of a lack of values or an erosion of moral authority, but an indifference on the part of society.  The problems of the ghetto are not due to a lack of rectitude, they say, but of social inequality.  If government would only seriously address the issues of economic disadvantage and social exclusion, crime and abusive behavior would diminish if not disappear.

At the same time these same ‘progressives’ demean values, ignore their religious roots, and suggest that they are used only as means of cynical control.  Family values – respect for family, church, country, and community – are antiquated notions that deny women’s liberation,support patriarchy, encourage unquestioning faith and obeisance to middle class norms.  Only in a secular society governed by an enlightened leadership and caring government can individual aspirations be fulfilled.  Society will become more harmonious and unified if parity exists between the governing and the governed.

Conservatives speak more about the importance of moral values, but focus almost exclusively on individual freedoms, free enterprise, and personal achievement. They seem to understand the essential role of fundamental values, but fail to present a model in which they and individual self-interested economic betterment can co-exist.

Although there has been a noteworthy drop in crime rates since their historically high levels in the 1980s, there is no doubt that the values-centered 1950s experienced very little crime.  The number of serious crimes reported to the police was 5.0/100,000 in 1950 and 17.7 in 1994.  Some critics have used ex post facto reasoning to explain the increase.  The tendency for crime always existed, but the likelihood of capture, conviction, and punishment has decreased over the years.  This is in large part largely because of key legislative acts protecting the rights of suspected criminals, a more disciplined judicial system which by law excludes certain indirect but incriminating testimony, and a variety of courtroom loopholes exploited by aggressive and ambitious attorneys.  In 1994, according to the same FBI statistics, the probability of serving any time for burglary was 2.6 percent, and 3.8 percent for assault.

In the 1950s communities were smaller and more internally vigilant. Neighbors, shopkeepers, ordinary citizens were unafraid to report suspicious behavior and were not intimidated by lawsuits or recrimination. Aberrant behavior, crime, arrest, trial, and punishment are very different in metropolitan America than they were in small town, rural America in the 50s.

Crime rates were lower because America was largely homogeneous – white, Christian, American-born, and largely middle class.  Blacks were still an intimidated, discriminated-against minority and crime – as in the days of slavery – would be treated summarily and often extra-judicially.  Blacks still knew their place.  White, middle class norms were the rule, and they were enforced by church and community.

In the 60s this social ‘harmony’ began to collapse.  Minorities felt an empowerment they had never had before, and the majority community, driven by white radicals and a growing progressivism, backed their struggle.  However without economic and social empowerment, rapid assimilation into the mainstream could not be assured.  Minorities remained ghettoized, restive, and angry; and crime rates increased.

The drug epidemic of the 80s hit the ghettoes and poor white rural communities very hard, and crime rates soared.  It took almost a decade for crack to loosen its hold on the inner city.

Crime rates have been going down since the 90s, thanks largely to more intelligent and aggressive policing, enhanced surveillance, and longer prison sentences.  Recidivism is high among the US criminal population, and the longer they are locked up, the longer the community is spared their crimes.

While all this is understandable – social disaffection, discrimination, excessive progressive tolerance, etc. – it does not explain why ordinarily respectful, temperate, and modest citizens left their world of values to the antisocial world of crime and disrespect.  The black community especially, despite its long and troubled history, was always profoundly religious; and yet within a generation young black men discarded the ways of their elders.  Why?

One reason is that they had a legitimate grievance against white society which had enslaved and oppressed them for centuries; and once violent protest became the norm for whites in the 60s, it became acceptable for blacks. All institutions became suspect in an era of individualism and revolutionary social thinking.

I helped to produce a television series for young people in Poland shortly after the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and met a wide range of influential leaders of the business, religious, and public sector communities.  The President of the Warsaw Chamber of Commerce, a new organization representing new entrepreneurs, said that one of the biggest problems in Poland was to get young people to stop lying, cheating, and stealing – acts which when committed against the State were courageous if not heroic.  Under Communism, he said, the violation of human rights and the oppression of the individual were so great, than any anti-social act was a blow against the enemy. The same might be said of the restive black community in the early Sixties.

While Martin Luther King preached nonviolence and progressive, reasonable accession to full rights and civil benefits, Malcolm X and others said that violence was justified, necessary, and inevitable. The jump from political violent activism and crime is not a big leap.

Another reason given for the increase in crime is poverty which has always been a breeding place for violence, crime, and dysfunction.  Desperate people do desperate things.

All the above is well and good; but the legacy of such social disruption and disregard for norms, traditions, and institutions is moral insolvency.  Young people in disadvantaged neighborhoods do not go to church; and if they did they would not hear calls for a return to moral values.  The culture of entitlement, reparation, and victimhood is still alive and well and preached from the pulpit.

Crime is, of course, not limited to the inner cities or meth-addled white trash. Year after year outrageous abuses by already wealthy Wall Street bankers are reported; and it is only surprising that in an age of low arrest probability, high financial sophistication, and multi-million dollar legal teams, that there is not more white collar crime.

Multi-culturalism has made the issue of values even more complicated.  Public schools are ordered not to teach values because they are supposedly culturally loaded.  Teachers must be concerned about not offending Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists, and any reference to overtly Christian values is discouraged.

The point is – and what Ivan Karamazov espoused – was a unification of Church and State. Governance without divine moral authority is impossible because all secular laws are subjective and relative.  As Father Zossima said above, it is only a concern about divine punishment and retribution which keeps the moral order and which keeps the potential criminal from violating social rules.

There is no way that a secular State which values pluralism, diversity, and individual enterprise can govern effectively. The venality of the political process and the lack of principle, honesty, and selflessness which characterizes it sets no example, offers not even a scintilla of moral guidance.

America is not only a secular State but on its way to becoming a non-religious one.  Those reporting ‘No Religion’ increased more than 100 percent between the 1990 and 2010 censuses. While Fundamentalism remains strong and influential, it too is losing members; and what was the most religious country in the world behind India, is now losing the one and only foundation of moral values.

Progressives believe that values can exist without religion; that they are social constructs based on natural selection and preserved, protected, and promoted by the State; but Dostoyevsky disagrees as he expresses here through the voice of Ivan Karamazov.

Ivan Fyodorovitch solemnly declared in argument, said Miusov, that there was nothing in the whole world to make men love their neighbors. That there was no law of nature that man should love mankind, and that, if there had been any love on earth hitherto, it was not owing to a natural law, but simply because men have believed in immortality. Ivan Fyodorovitch added in parenthesis that the whole natural law lies in that faith, and that if you were to destroy in mankind the belief in immortality, not only love but every living force maintaining the life of the world would at once be dried up.

Moreover, nothing then would be immoral, everything would be lawful, even cannibalism. That's not all. He ended by asserting that for every individual, like ourselves, who does not believe in God or immortality, the moral law of nature must immediately be changed into the exact contrary of the former religious law, and that egoism, even to crime, must become not only lawful but even recognized as the inevitable, the most rational, even honorable outcome of his position.

America’s increasing lack of values can be seen from top to bottom. President Obama is a good example. He, unlike, Vladimir Putin, has no clear vision or foreign policy goal.  Putin wants to restore Imperial Russia and feels that not only that the territories of the former Empire should be reincorporated into the motherland, but that the values of Christianity, nobility, and patriotism espoused by the Tsars and their courts should be reinvigorated and reestablished.  Obama has only a vague sense of ‘democratic values’ but fails to understand the very subjective and elusive principles that characterize them.

Individualism has no moral foundation without social responsibility; and if Dostoyevsky is right, social responsibility comes only through religious principle.  The Founding Fathers, deeply respectful of the religious traditions of the Enlightenment although not all practicing Christians, assumed that the new Americans would understand what Locke and Rousseau knew – that individualism without social responsibility is a vain and useless enterprise.

It is far to late to restore any semblance of the Enlightenment or any renewed commitment to common moral values, absent the Church; but every historian knows that history is cyclical, that societies expand and contract, become more liberal or more conservative, and that change alone characterizes human events.  So, we have to wait for any moral regeneration; but then again, we have had Aimee Semple McPherson, Billy Sunday, Jerry Falwell, and Rick Warren to tell us what to do, so it won’t be long before a real messiah will show up in a revival tent.

 

 

 

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