Liberty, Virtue, and Tyranny

Patrick Deneen, Georgetown Univ. political philosopher, quoting Aristotle, says, in a speech given at the Ignatianum Academy in Krakow, Poland, that to “live as one likes,” is the very definition of tyranny. “However, realizing that no one of us can achieve the condition of all-powerful tyrant, we agree instead to the second-best option of living under democratic forms. In such a condition, we outwardly exhibit the appearance of citizenship, but such [people] harbor a deeper desire to “live as one likes.” Such [people] have the souls of tyrants.”

Deneen, following Aristotle, describes two species of democracy. The sort that works is rooted in the belief that political life rooted in liberty must begin with individuals who seek self-control and virtue. The other begins, not with virtue and self-control, but rather the desire to “live as one likes.” This second, corrupted form of democracy (which is tyranny veiled as group cooperation) is what Deneen was describing above. In contrast, authentic liberty calls upon “the widespread presence of virtues that are required by self-government, including moderation, prudence, and justice.”

This gets at the heart of my ongoing critique of the Federalist Papers. The Federalists assumed this latter definition of liberty and were completely confident that the American people would not elect political leaders who were not virtuous. But in the same breath they called for a secular state which left no basis for virtue and assumed a balance of vices to keep both the citizenry and leaders in check.

What this great political experiment has shown is that you cannot have it both ways. Virtue cannot exist in a void. Liberty cannot exist without virtue. Tyranny in the guise of democracy is the only other option.

This is precisely what Deneen goes on to say:

If America was founded according to a spirit of liberty that encouraged the practice of Aristotle’s first understanding of democracy, centered especially on the practice of self-government among citizens, America also had a subsequent Founding in which the second understanding of liberty dominated. This is the Founding that drew especially upon the understanding of the social contract philosophy of John Locke, and informs the core documents of the American government such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. According to Locke, by nature human beings are born free into a State of Nature in which law and government are absent. Our natural condition is one of complete freedom and lawlessness, and only in order to escape the “inconveniences” of the State of Nature do we form a contract and abridge our natural freedom. To live under government and law is a second-best option: the first best option would be for everyone else to abide by the terms of the social contract while I would be free to transgress against those terms. But, being informed by reason as well as constrained by law, we abide by the terms of the contract in spite of our inner desire to “live as we like.”

Alexander Hamilton on the Necessary Extent of Federal Authority

Here’s another interesting tidbit from the Federalist Papers (in this case, Federalist No. 23 by Alexander Hamilton):

The question at hand is whether the proposed federal government (that is, the proposed constitution which was subsequently ratified) should be “intrusted [sic] with the care of the common defense.” Hamilton answers in the affirmative. The common defense is, after all, one of the obvious purposes of a federal government (and I would agree, by the way). But Hamilton takes it much farther than just that.

It must be admitted, as a necessary consequence [of an effective national defense], that there can be no limitation of that authority which is to provide for the defense and protection of the community, in any matter essential to its efficacy that is, in any matter essential to the FORMATION, DIRECTION, or SUPPORT of the NATIONAL FORCES (emphasis in original).

Limited government was anathema to the Federalists because limited government equaled ineffectual government. (Limited government as we think of it today is a function, by the way, not of the US Constitution proper, but of the Bill of Rights, which were allowed by the Federalists as a compromise with the anti-federalists, in order to get the U.S. Constitution passed.

Hamilton goes on to observe that it was presumed by the Continental Congress (our governmental structure from 1776 to 1789) that “the dictates of good faith” and a sense of “duty to the federal head” by the states would be enough to make the government work. Unfortunately, the Continental Congress demanded far more money, and obedience on the part of the individual states and their citizens than seemed either necessary or appropriate by the states themselves. In other words, the states and individual citizens resisted the massive increase in taxes and the power grab attempted by the Continental Congress.

(Is this sounding familiar?)

This situation, in Hamilton’s estimation, was totally untenable. Thus, Hamilton explains very clearly in Federalist No. 23 that an effective federal government must have “no limitation of [its] authority.”

In other words, Presidents Bush 43 and Obama, far from exceeding their constitutional power, are living up to the expectations of Alexander Hamilton (as well as John Jay and James Madison) by exercising the federal government’s limitless authority.

Or at least this is true of Bush 43 and the unlimited power of Homeland Security. Since President Obama’s power grab is in the areas of the financial and industrial markets and health care rather than national defense, it could be argued that Mr. Obama is exceeding even Hamilton’s expectations. But I’m pretty sure that some attorney in the administration can make a convincing case that the rescue of General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Fanny, Freddy, and the creation of nationalized healthcare is a matter of national security.

As Hamilton clearly explains, it’s not enough for the respective states their citizens to have “good faith” in federal authority, it’s also necessary for the federal government to be able to define the extent of that authority, even if that extends beyond the “good faith” of the respective states and their citizens.

Another Word on the Federalist Papers: What about Virtue?

After a highly critical essay on the Federalist Papers, I do want to say something more about them, but in a more positive light, focusing on Federalist Papers No. 18 & 19. Written by Madison with the assistance from Hamilton, these two essays offer an historical perspective and critique on European politics in the decades leading up to what would become the Revolutionary War in the United States. They go through the history of Germany, France, and Great Britain, explaining why (in Madison’s view) the feudalistic system (Germany), the modified monarchial system (France) and the developing Republican system (England) failed to work. Madison claims they didn’t work because of the series of wars (both internal and external) that plagued Europe through this whole period.

This is an overly simplified explanation, but in a sentence, European government failed, in Madison’s view, because the central government was not strong enough (this was especially evident in Germany) and/or the representatives (whether dukes, landowners, or appointed officials) didn’t have enough influence to make the system work. What Madison fails to deal with was the growing moral failure of the ruling class in Europe and the possible causes of that moral failure.

It is clear, given the character of Madison’s critique, that the American federal Republic was crafted specifically with the European failures in mind. (Of course, the influence of Montesquieu, especially in the three branches of government, is also quite evident, but the European intellectuals, whether Montesquieu, Locke, or others, aren’t given credit for their influence.)

In the previous essay I said that it was obvious that the authors of the Federalist Papers didn’t take European history seriously. Am I contradicting myself in this essay? Not at all. Madison and Hamilton were clearly very careful students of history (Greek, Roman, Italian, and European history). But because they believed that it was possible to build a secular republic, they failed to understand (and thus, take seriously) the root cause of democratic breakdown throughout history.

And this brings me back to Madison’s failure to deal with the moral failure of Europe’s ruling class. The Reformation was a small part of what might be called a fracturing of religious sensibilities in Europe. There were a variety of reform movements and religious revivals which undermined the traditional religious authority. At the same time, as a result of the Renaissance, Europe (or at least the ruling class) was becoming more wealthy. So it is the ruling class became increasingly self-satisfied (and thus corrupt) and, at the same time, were able to distance themselves from religious oversight. Systems of governance that used to work began to break down because of this lack of virtuous leadership.

Human liberty is not guaranteed by an adequate system of governance, it is rather rooted in an understanding of the human predicament (sin) and a commitment to dealing with that predicament by the only means possible. In other words, human liberty is only possible when a nation has the spiritual liberty that comes from a commitment to God. The problem in Europe was not the form of government nor the specific bureaucratic structures; the European problem was a spiritual breakdown.

What Madison and Hamilton should have realized (but failed to) is that every form of government, no matter how perfect, when left in human hands, will be twisted to give more power and wealth to the powerful while taking liberty away from the common man. Once ultimate authority was taken away from God (for that’s where the ultimate authority was placed in twelve of the thirteen state constitutions) and given solely to “we the people,” it was inevitable that the structures of the Republic would be used to pervert liberty into servitude. Why? Because that is the fundamental nature of sin, and in a secular republic there is little to nothing to stand in the way of sin.

As our system of governance continues to break down, it’s important, as Christians, to understand what the Federalists did well and (far more importantly) what they failed to do well. Returning to constitutional principles will fix nothing that is currently wrong. As I observed in the previous essay, the Federalists preferred a very strong central government. Strong central government with an internal separation of powers, answered many of the problems that they saw in Europe at the time.

But that has nothing to do with the need for virtuous leaders, and there’s nothing in the constitution to encourage virtuous leaders. In fact, the Federalists unwittingly discouraged virtue and assumed a government built on a balancing of various forces of vice because they rejected the idea of true religion altogether and called for a secular government.

Once that decision was made, our history was largely written. The government would become increasingly corrupt and increasingly messianic in its relationship to its people. It was not a matter of what would happen, only when it would happen. As it turned out, it didn’t take long at all. In a matter of 22 decades we have witnessed the loss of liberty and have willingly turned in our preference for freedom because of our new posture of fear.

Returning to the constitution changes none of that. The only thing that can is a change it is a radical spiritual change in the hearts of the people, and more importantly, in the hearts of America’s ruling class.

Expanded Federal Power … That Would be too much Bother (according to Hamilton)

One of my current reading projects is the Federalist Papers. I became seriously aware of their significance when I taught U.S. History, and what I learned about them disturbed me a great deal. I downloaded a copy (available at Project Gutenberg) and finally have made the time to read them.

I know many conservatives adore the Federalist Papers and the Papers’ defense of the constitution. I can’t figure this out because Hamilton, Madison, and Jay are calling for massive centralized power and an overthrow of (what had been normative prior to the constitution) any real sense of states’ rights.

In short, now that I’m actually reading the Federalist Papers, I’m discovering that I had good reason to be disturbed by them when teaching history. I have a hard time making a case that Hamilton, Madison, and Jay were friends of liberty at all in this set of writings.

That being said I am amused by their naivety about human nature. (This is probably why they didn’t see the contradiction between a nearly all-powerful central government and the loss of liberty. Being Deists or proto-Unitarians – if not in name, clearly in thought process – they failed to understand the inherent evil that coinheres with the inherent good of a sinful human that was created in the image of God.)

Hamilton, in # 16, says the following:

Allowing the utmost latitude to the love of power which any reasonable man can require, I confess I am at a loss to discover what temptation the persons intrusted [sic] with the administration of the general government could ever feel to divest the States of [their proper sphere of authority]. The regulation of the mere domestic police of a State appears to me to hold out slender allurements to ambition. Commerce, finance, negotiation, and war seem to comprehend all the objects which have charms for minds governed by that passion; and all the powers necessary to those objects ought, in the first instance, to be lodged in the national depository.

… That someone in the federal government wouldn’t be tempted to usurp power from the states? Can any modern American read that with a straight face? Could it be that Hamilton was merely naïve about “the love of power”? I suspect it goes far beyond that. It was not “the love of power,” but the human condition about which Hamilton was naïve. Given the opportunity, sinful humans will usurp whatever they can usurp apart from divine intervention.

Hamilton’s confidence is rather charming if viewed as a statement by a founding father who assumes that we are a noble people founding this new country in a new land. But no matter how noble or charming the sentiment is, history has shown that it is a dangerous attitude. As noble as the old Deist would like us humans to be, the fact is, we are driven by sin more than nobility when historic Christianity is marginalized by a secular document like the U.S. constitution. That noble “love” to which Hamilton alludes is actually a lust for power. The Federalists should have realized this as they considered what had been going on in Europe for the last 100 years. But Hamilton continues in this same vein:

It is therefore improbable that there should exist a disposition in the federal councils to usurp the powers with which [state jurisdictions] are connected; because the attempt to exercise those powers would be as troublesome as it would be nugatory; and the possession of them, for that reason, would contribute nothing to the dignity, to the importance, or to the splendor of the national government.

This is why the U.S. constitution built in the potential for nearly unlimited federal power overseen by a judiciary-for-life that had no realistic checks on its power: It was beyond his noble imagination that we might have people in the federal government that found nothing “nugatory” at all about absolute power. Unfortunately, Hamilton, Jay, and Madison convinced the voters of New York, and we Americans gave up the opportunity for limited government and personal liberty for the sake a new constitution that centralized power and created the potential for almost unlimited expansion of the federal government.

And it didn’t take long for Hamilton to be proved wrong. Thomas Jefferson, who opposed a strong federal government and promised to dismantle much of what the first two power-grabbing, big government presidents (George Washington and John Adams), had created, ended up reneging on his “no new government” promise and expanding the government at an astonishing rate.

The same thing happened with Andrew Jackson, except it occurred with a level of vengeance and evil that could not have been imagined by any of the founding fathers (even the big government crowd), because the founding fathers truly were honorable men. Jackson was probably the first truly wicked and power-thirsty president our country produced, and the incredible breadth of power which he squeezed out of the constitution, and a willing electorate and congress, allowed him to not only carry out his very deliberate genocide against the native Americans, but both expand federal government and beat down state and local governments with abandon. The honorable Jefferson and the embarrassingly dishonorable Jackson were precursors to what was to come after World War II: What we politely call the “nanny state,” but what is in fact a government systematically usurping the very powers of the Kingdom of God.

And how could this happen? If political theorists don’t understand the magnitude of the sin problem (and in a state that presumes to be secular, founded on the sole authority of “we the people” rather than the authority of God, it is impossible for the political theorists to understand the magnitude of the sin problem) they simply cannot propose a government that is up to the task of keeping wickedness in check.

Lent, The Wilderness, and Spring a Bit Sooner than Back Home

Tomorrow is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, so we are now well into the Triodian (the three Sundays before Great Lent). How better to prepare for Lent than spend 40 minutes in The Wilderness?

“The Wilderness” referred to here isn’t the Sinai, only the wilderness at the boarding school where we are temporarily living. (Yes, they really do call it “the wilderness.”) It is a several acre wooded area complete with various obstacle course pieces of equipment where the cadets do both physical and military training. There is a beautiful trail that skirts the edge of the wilderness and it takes a bit over a half hour to walk around it. Since this region just east of the Mississippi has loess deposits (just like Sioux City) it’s very hilly.

It even has a little stream you have to cross (just like the Jordan?) and there is a cement bridge over the spillway of the lake (just like the Red Sea?). I also suspect that during physical training, when the school military leadership is pushing the cadet corps hard the cadets might even “harden their hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in The Wilderness” (Psalm 95:8). There’s no Mt. Horeb in the middle of this wilderness though, just a fenced compound where the cadets sometimes spend the night. No reports of God talking to them, but the Colonel has been known to point his finger and give them a good talking to in the compound. If it’s part of an in-school suspension, it means they’re spending the night in the wilderness with only bread and water. The bread they get probably isn’t as good as manna, so no doubt they pine for life outside the wilderness, just like the Israelites: “We remember the fish we used to eat in [the dining facility] for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic …” (Num. 11:6).

But our wilderness experience was not that difficult. In fact we headed for The Wilderness because it was a gorgeous spring morning. The afternoon high was 81°. The grass is green. A few trees are starting to bud. The daffodils were waving in the breeze.

I saw in the Sioux City Journal this morning that officials in South Dakota are strongly recommending no travel because of a winter storm that will drop 8″ to 14″ of snow (along with freezing rain) across the state, mostly north of I-90.

Brrrr! I think that maybe I’ll extend my stay in The Wilderness from 40 minutes to 40 days or so.

School’s Out (almost)

Quarter finals – marking the end of my semester at CHA – begin today. I will be heading back to Nebraska at the end of the week. Brenda and I will be returning to Port Gibson in January for some family business, so my time here isn’t quite finished, but my stint as a school teacher is, for now.

So, what did I think? First, I suspect one can’t get a good education at the high school level in a class larger than twenty. My largest class was fourteen and that was too large to provide any real personalized help; more than a dozen, and teaching is reduced to classroom management unless all the students are very similar in academic ability. Second, I suspect my fundamental weakness as a teacher is that I loved school. The cadet’s blasé attitude is so foreign to me I have no real sense of how to overcome it.

Third, our educational system sets up an unfortunate dichotomy between classwork, sports, social activities, etc. I had students who missed class once a week or more for nearly a whole quarter, which drove me nuts as a teacher. But I would be the last to say that sports or social activities should be secondary to education. Contemporary education (which mirrors contemporary society) so bifurcates our lives that well-rounded wholeness is nearly impossible. This is probably an argument for some sort of home schooling or education that uses a tutor system rather than a class room system. But I have no idea what that might look like. (I think the current home schooling options are not particularly good, based on my limited experience.)

Will I pursue full accreditation as a teacher? I doubt it, although the jury is still out on that one. I would enjoy teaching in the right setting, but I suspect I would truly hate it in the real life settings that would be available to me. It seems foolish to spend the time and money necessary to become accredited at something I would hate.

Spreadsheet Paradise

I’m about two-thirds of the way through my first semester teaching US History and Geography to 9th and 10th graders (mostly). I’ve discovered that one of my favorite activities is grading papers. This week in Geography we finished the U.S. and I required each cadet to fill out regional maps (five maps in all) and a fill-in-the-blank worksheet (three pages). I have 23 cadets, so that’s 184 pages that trickled in this week … well, more like 150 with another 30 or so still trickling in, or more likely stuck and moldering in the drain-pipe of adolescent procrastination … but that’s another story.

Actually, it isn’t another story. If grading homework is one of my favorite activities, collecting homework is probably my least favorite activity. The homework harvest has to be one of the most futile exercises on the planet. Between sports, sick call, disciplinary action, and special trips where the administration shows off the star cadets, it’s rare to have a whole class present at one time, so trying to actually collect homework on time, and sorting out the legitimate and bogus reasons for late homework ranks right up there on the futility scale with trying to choose Sunday worship service hymns that a congregation actually likes. Nigh impossible!

But back to grading homework: It started with a hodge-podge … actually it may have been more of a gallimaufry of crumpled, stained, and torn papers, some in scribble and some in cuneiform, and one or two in laid out in artistic splendor. I will admit that the initial heap was intimidating, so it seemed wise to let it set a day or two, like a soup or fine ragout, to let the flavors marry. (Or maybe I was just procrastinating.)

But once I got on task, the pages were soon in order and within a few hours were graded, and then the grades written in the grade book, and transferred to the school database and by 10:00 a.m. I had a stack of nearly 20 sets of papers, smoothed, stapled, in alphabetical order, and clipped together (to assure no residual gallimaufering could occur), another small stack of orphans, no-names, and half-dones (and one particularly puzzling bit of cuneiform that I’ll probably have to run by the resident Egyptologist), a computer-generated sheet with a list of names of those students who are no doubt spending the week-end dreaming up even better excuses for why their homework remains as stubbornly unfinished as Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8, and a spreadsheet that has distilled those 150+ pages into four parallel lines of 23 numbers, with a semester average on the far left side, demonstrating with undeniable clarity who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.

There is something remarkably satisfying about transforming a grocery-sack sized gallimaufry into a 23×4 grid of numbers. Maybe it’s the nascent engineer in me, or maybe I’m just a bit delirious, but that movement from anarchy to symmetry is just plain glorious.

Beyond the Family of God

This last week’s Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC) question the cadets had to memorize concerned adoption. “What is adoption? It is an act of God’s free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges, of the sons of God.” The proof text for this question is 1 John 3:1a, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” The daily devotions related to this subject were very good, speaking primarily to the confidence Christians have as real children of God and co-heirs with Christ.

As I listened to the doctrine of adoption being laid out I was also thinking about how little I’ve heard about adoption in the Orthodox Church. In contrast to the Orthodox silence, the doctrine of adoption, particularly in conservative Reformed circles, is held in very high esteem. John Piper, well known theologian and pastor, sums up Reformed regard for the doctrine with the following:

Adoption is one of the most profound realities in the universe. I say ‘universe’ and not ‘world’ because adoption goes beyond the world. It is greater than the world, and it is before the world in the plan of God, and it will outlast the world as we know it. Indeed it is greater than the ‘universe’ and is rooted in God’s own nature.

If adoption is this big a deal, why doesn’t the Orthodox Church make it a central doctrine in their hymnody and teaching? The answer is actually quite simple. The Orthodox also believe that this union with God that is expressed in adoption is about the biggest idea there is in the universe, but a different primary metaphor is used. While Protestantism tends to focus on the familial metaphor (that is, we are sons of God, thus co-heirs with Christ), Orthodoxy tends to focus more on the organic metaphor (that is, we are joined to Christ and engrafted into his life – or, conversely, God’s life is planted in us so that we are transformed from the inside out).

These two biblical metaphors unpack the same group of truths but in rather different ways. The Orthodox doctrine of theosis (which is the ultimate goal in the context of the organic metaphor) presents a far more intimate relationship with God than can be expressed with the familial metaphor. Of course Reformed theology doesn’t stop with adoption; there is also sanctification whereby the Christian is “renewed in the whole man after the image of God” (WSC, Q. 35), and the sacraments, “wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to the believer” (WSC, Q. 92).

But even in its Trinitarian fullness, the Westminster vision of our life in God assumes a radical otherness between creature and Creator. The creature always remains creature and the Creator remains Creator. But in the Orthodox vision that radical otherness is overcome through the incarnation (where the Creator becomes creature) so that we can be transformed, not only to our original state of innocence and not only to a glorified state of holiness, but ultimately into a state of godliness and God-likeness as we are “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).

John Piper is right. We are talking about one of the most profound realities of the universe. The plan of God is indeed greater than the world (or, I would add, greater than the whole created order) because ultimately we creatures enter into the most sublime and intimate interrelationship with – not something creaturely – but into the nature of the Creator himself. As Peter expressed it:

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature. (2 Pet. 1:3-4).

As I heard the devotions this week it was once again affirmed in my mind that no other Protestant understanding of God and scripture is as profound as the Reformed vision of salvation and its glories. Reformed theology manages to express the catastrophe, the solution, and the goal in glorious depth without falling victim to the Roman reduction of the divine to near physicality. (Although I have to admit that in its care to avoid the Roman error, it fails to grasp the breadth, the length, the height, and depth of the union we are promised through Christ and in the Spirit from one degree of glory to another.) Be that as it may, this doctrine, whether expressed through adoption or theosis, is indeed one of the most profound realities of the universe. Thanks be to God.

Sin and Salvation

Listening to the Bible teachers lead devotions the last two weeks here at Chamberlain-Hunt Academy I am reminded how much I admire the Reformed doctrine of sin and salvation. Emphasizing as it does the lost-ness and broken-ness of man, and the resulting separation between God and man, the Reformed doctrine of salvation has real punch.

This is not to denigrate in any way the Orthodox doctrine that rightly emphasizes the life-long character of salvation. In contrast to the joyful seriousness Orthodox theology brings to everyday life, Reformed theology has real difficulty making the Christian life meaningful beyond the unidemensional theme of gratitude. But there is also a downside on the Orthodox side: emphasizing the life-long character of salvation can lead to muddling ones understanding of how it all gets started.

No muddle on the Reformed side! The starkness of the problem and the urgent need for response is crystal clear. This need for clarity and immediacy are obvious in a military school context – everything needs to be clear and immediate in this environment. But clarity and immediacy ought neither to be foreign nor secondary concepts for the rest of us. As St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians (quoting Isaiah), “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation.”

Some Thoughts on Living above the Rules

The cadets here at Chamberlain-Hunt live a very regimented life. To illustrate, I will describe what happens when they eat. Before meals they form up into their platoons and companies at the parade deck and march to the Dining Facility. Each company waits outside and when the line clears the company enters the Dining Facility by platoon and stands at parade rest (no talking, looking straight ahead, with hands behind their back) until they are through the line. If anyone talks during this process they get sent to the road, which means that they have to run a couple hundred yards across the parade grounds to the road and back. After they get their food they proceed to the table where they stand at attention until the whole platoon is at the table and then they sit down together and eat.

Of course authority has its privileges. These rules, even though they “apply” to all cadets, in truth apply only to the cadets standing in line. The platoon sergeants, the company master sergeants and officers all stand off to the side watching. Their job is to keep discipline in the ranks. But since they are not in the ranks themselves, they feel free to talk, laugh, and horse around all they want. Of course while the officers are doing this, if any cadet standing in line starts talking, the officer will interrupt his own horse-play or conversation to send the hapless cadet to the road for breaking the rules.

In other words, the rules that regiment a cadet’s life don’t necessarily apply to cadets in leadership. The obvious lesson to be learned is that the officers are above the law.

Of course the cadets have to learn this behavior from somewhere and it turns out that the best teachers are the cadre (that is, the faculty and staff). To illustrate that, I turn to the transition from morning study hall (7:30-8:30) to Devotions (8:30-8:40). Everyone (cadets and cadre) are required to attend morning devotions. At about 8:20 the cadets begin to clean up the tables and get everything put away for devotions. At the same time cadre begin to arrive.

Typically the cadets are done with cleanup by 8:25 and at that point they are required to remain completely quiet and in their seats. They are not allowed to talk to their neighbor; they are not allowed to get up and move about unless they have a specific task that needs to be done. But almost every day they begin to talk and soon there is a low rumble in the room until the Officer In Charge ( or, OIC in acronym-speak) barks out a command to be quiet, or someone will get sent to the road.

Of course we cadre are oblivious to all this (except to complain to each other occasionally about all the talking going on). We cadre are above the law, after all. So we sit at our table and talk and laugh and do all that important business that adults must get done in the five minutes before devotions. After all, keeping quiet in the Dining Facility in preparation for devotions, sitting up straight with feet on the floor, paying attention and not shutting the eyes … all those rules clearly don’t apply to us. We enforce those rules, so we don’t have to abide by them. Those things are for the cadets, just as standing in line at attention and not talking is for the cadets who aren’t officers, while the officers are free to ignore those rules that they are called on to enforce.

Sitting in the Dining Facility at 8:25 listening to the roar of the cadre talking and laughing and horsing around while the OIC is barking commands to the cadets to be quiet, I am reminded of the Nazis, the Fascists, and the Communists, of Pol Pot, Kim Jong Il, and all those other authoritarian leaders throughout history whom we love to hate because they required sacrifice of their citizens while they themselves lived a life of luxury and often excess. We wonder how they could possibly live such duplicitous lives. Where are their principles? Where is their party spirit? If the principles of (at this point, fill in the name of any authoritarian regime you choose) are so fine and appropriate for the masses, why don’t the leaders live by the same principles?

At least this is what I was thinking about a few minutes later, slouching comfortably at the table with my legs crossed and my eyes closed while the devotional leader droned on and on about something or other in the Shorter Catechism.

And then I had what actually could have been a holy and uplifting thought if it would have occurred at an appropriate time and place instead of during devotions while the OIC was stalking around the Dining Facility making cadets sit up straight with both feet on the floor, paying careful attention to every word that came out of the devotional leaders mouth: Isn’t this pretty much what Jesus meant when he said (in Mat. 20:25ff), “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave”.