One of America's greatest lawyers once discussed his most important law book. It was Euclid's Geometry. The book was invaluable, he explained, because it helped certify whether the logic of his cases was airtight.
The attorney? Abraham Lincoln. Aside from the merits of his presidency, his superb career as a lawyer was undeniable. This was largely due to his careful attention to logic.
Another stellar career based on the strength of his logical foundations was that of Democritus. He essentially discovered atomic matter. As a Greek citizen in 400 B.C. He did so without electron microscopes, cyclotrons and particle accelerators. His greatest tool? His brain. He used logic.
Was a time when the legal system was based on logic. Where Democritus used logic to discover the laws of physics, judges used logic to discover the laws of morality. Quite effectively, in fact.
Fifteen centuries after the fall of Rome, barbarian hordes overran Europe. Established feudal governments throughout. These governments were brutal. But, they were lazy. So long as the peasants paid taxes and fought in the occasional war, they were left to their own devices.
Accordingly, when individuals had a dispute, they had to work it out. Looking for means to avoid bloodshed, they began inviting objective third parties to consider the situation and make a ruling. Legal historians explain that the most respected of these third parties were usually clergymen. They became the judges of the day. Consulting guidelines like the Ten Commandments to render consistent, ethical decisions. These decisions later became precedents. Which laid the foundation for case law.
Some of these judges acquired much prestige, so effective were they at rendering sound judgments. As their reputations spread, demand for their services grew. Eventually, they became full-time judges. The body of precedents they established became known as common law.
As these judges often dealt with individuals from different religions and communities, they required logical guidelines by which all could abide. Regardless of geography or creed. Thus, they developed two fundamental laws that aligned with all religious and philosophical backgrounds. These fundamental laws were as follows:
From these two fundamental laws sprung the origins of contract law (Do all you have agreed to do) and criminal or tort law (Do not encroach on others or their property).
Today, most Americans believe that law and government are synonymous. But that is false. Law and government are different institutions. And while political law (man-made laws) are born from politics, the lion's share of the laws by which we abide sprang from common law. Whereby men, long ago, used logic to discern that which made sense and that which did not.
Law is a code of conduct, regulated by the judicial system and its courts. Law was born of the ethical concepts postulated by all of the major religions.
"Woe unto the unjust who, when others measure them, exact in full, but when they measure or weigh for others, defraud them." --Islam
"Thou shalt not steal," and "Thou shalt not murder." --Christianity
""Do not do unto others what you do not want other to do unto you." --Judaism
Similar concepts can be found in Hinduism, Confucian philosophy and other religious pillars. Regardless of the century or the geographical locale, ethical concepts were logically drawn out and codified. Eventually becoming the common law principals that would bind moral humans worldwide.
How did these two fundamental laws evolve to today's progressive civilization? With all of its abundance? To a society replete with a burgeoning middle class, widespread material comforts and technological innovations? Largely because of a concept economists call economic calculation. Which represents the intellectual exercise behind all free trade. And is also born from logic.
Let's say I own a book, but need money. And you're looking for reading material, and have plenty of dough. I give you my book. In return, you give me ten dollars. That, my friends, is free trade in a nutshell. Both parties end up with something they value more than that which they traded. And that largely encapsulates the way the world's economic activities transpire. Between individuals, corporations, states and nations. Each trade must be mutually beneficial. With all parties perceiving a profit. Otherwise, the trade would not occur.
The sum of all the trades and corresponding economic benefit? We call that progress. Economic calculation at work. Human beings produce and trade only when they believe it will provide them with something more valuable than the time, effort, money and resources required by the production and the trade.
Of course, sometimes humans make mistakes. We inflate the value of something we want. Or fail to recognize the worth of something we own. But, generally, economic calculation works out. Parties come to the transaction voluntarily. Walk away feeling that their side of the trade is beneficial. And civilization moves forward. Becomes a little better. One trade at a time.
That's an oversimplification. Still, that's basically the way the world works. On the wings of logic, common law and economic calculation. Of course, you do have to account for human error. Bureaucracies. Greed. Hubris. And all of the other factors embodied within the political side of the equation. The system? Very effective. It's participants? Often fall short of the mark.
Of course, logic leads us to believe that if the system works, then the participants need only participate. Or get out of the way. But, that is not our way. Our political class is meddlesome by nature. And while they've created more problems than solutions, the electorate simply spectates. Why? Two interdependent reasons.
Why otherwise would so many standard benchmarks of the American dream be in decline?
There was a time when home ownership was a realistic possibility for all Americans. When middle class families got ahead with only one employed spouse. When real inflation-adjust wages rose year after year. When normal unemployment was four percent or less. When poverty was in decline. When solid job opportunities were readily available. When single parent households were unusual. When all high school students were literate. When narcotics addiction was unheard of. When you rarely saw anyone who was homeless or hungry. When everyone assumed that the next generation would be better off than the last.
We still operate under the same common laws and economic calculations. Yet, there appears to be an inverse relationship between the size of our government and the utilization of logic. At some point, we began to believe that the government could take care of us. So condemning the utilization of logic in the configurations and management of our daily lives.
Our government, meanwhile, and the human frailties, errors and miscalculations it embodies, have grown wildly out of control.
It oversees, regulates, controls, modifies, litigates, prosecutes, forces, hides, purchases, manages, acquires, assumes, obfuscates, dominates, develops, codifies and encroaches more than it has at any time in history. Much of which occurs under the auspice of political law. Which represents man-made, or made-up law. From the minds of power brokers. Right into the law books. Power brokers change their minds? Then the laws change. Like some children's game.
During the twentieth century, the civilized world began to transition to political law. Today, that transition is nearly complete. Democracies and dictatorships use political law. Because governments thrive within its arbitrary nature.
Political law? Essentially mob rule.
Because the universal attributes of natural law are espoused by countless faiths and philosophies. Political law, however, does not vote for what is right but for what it wants. It being whatever plurality, majority or minority believes it can gain something by voting properly.
The United States of America? Conceptually beautiful. For 200 years, incredibly successful. Systems based. Using the universally beneficial precepts of natural law. Enhanced by the simple, inclusive concept of economic calculation.
Then, politicians, with a penchant for complexity, complication and opacity, swept the system aside. Along with its simplicity and natural efficacy. Replaced it with a confusing, ineffective mass of political law.
Since then, median household income levels have stagnated. The middle class has shrunk. The disparity between the haves and have-nots has risen dramatically. Contributing, I believe, to the occasional tragedy. Like that of Ferguson, Missouri.
Even as the nation's problems worsen, and few solutions are proposed, D.C. has become the nation's most affluent metropolitan statistical area. The seat of the Federal government. Consistently enriching itself. As the nation inexorably slides further and further from the American dream.