The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Why Common Sense Died

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Recently Glenn Beck has rightly been lamenting the death of “common sense” in American government and law—a phenomenon which must be evident to many Americans over forty and manifest to every Bible-believing Christian. Philip K. Howard had complained against massive, hyper-detailed laws generated by regulatory bureaucracies to tell us what we must do in every situation—and leaving nothing to the common sense of the individual—in The Death of Common Sense; How Law Is Suffocating America (1995). Glenn’s guest Lori Borgman lamented the death of “Common Sense” in a great, now much-circulated satirical obituary in the March 15, 1998 Indianapolis Star.

Bureaucratic law, Howard noted, replaced humanity in the replacement of the system of common law which we inherited from England. Bureaucratic rules and regulations seek to predetermine results based on rationalistically conceived principles; the common law applies the law on the basis of the circumstances as evaluated by the common sense of the individual person. The “Progressive Era” at the beginning of the twentieth century saw statutory law begin to replace the common law for purposes of economic regulation; this increased with the economic regulations of the “New Deal” and continued with the increase of federal government bureaucracies added under subsequent administrations. The idea that every situation must be covered by the law has produced an explosion of the size and detail of laws—including those which Congress votes on but never reads, those which our bureaucrats produce but cannot explain, and those which cannot be known because the regulations are too massive and numerous. The fact that no matter how learned, intelligent, and numerous are the bureaucrats who grind out these legal monstrosities they cannot know or anticipate every situation produces not only oppressive regulations but also the frequently asinine details of many regulations. Centrally-dictated, self-exercising rules, Howard notes, admit “no judgment or discretion,” allow for no adjustment to the virtually infinite “range of future circumstances,” and give us the opposite of what our “founding fathers” wanted: coercive government, “a government of laws against men.” Such a legal system stifles individual initiative, produces time-consuming wrangles over bureaucratic processes, involved lawyers in virtually every human interaction, makes us a society of legal enemies, and reduces our freedom.

Borgman traces the death of “Common Sense” to the prior deaths of his family members, Discretion, Responsibility, and Reason. And to his declining health, caused by the notion that a law should be passed or a regulation mandated even if it only helps one person, well-intentioned but overbearing regulations, self-seeking lawyers, and schools’ zero-tolerance policies. And to his loss of the will to live—caused by the proscription of the Ten Commandments, churches becoming businesses, criminals getting better treatment than their victims, judges interfering in everything, idiotic decisions by juries, and nonsensical OSHA (Occupation Safety and Health Administration)-type regulations. Howard traces it to 17th and 18th century “Enlightenment” rationalism’s notion that man’s unaided reason can predetermine, and create laws governing, all relations between citizens.

The death of “Common Sense” was and is caused by modern men’s rejection of God, the Bible, and a Christian view of the world and of life. “Enlightenment” rationalism sought to effectively exclude God from His universe and world (rationalistic Deism which denied God’s divine providence) was but one way of doing this), to replace God’s word with man’s unaided reason, to replace God’s divine providence with man’s control of all things through the all-powerful state, and God’s law with man’s laws. “Common Sense” is not a universal thing. As R. J. Rushdoony pointed out, different religious-philosophies teach diverse views of the world and of life, and what is considered commonsensical in one society is not considered to be so in another. What we in Western Civilization considered to be common sense was a product of the prior influence of Christianity on the peoples of Western Civilization.

When Western and American law were based mainly on biblical teachings men could know what the law required—and figure out what the law required in a given new situation—because God’s law is not a monstrous, complex, self-contradictory conglomeration of regulations. The common law is a great mass of judicial decisions, but the ethics on which those decisions were based, the ethics which allowed for individual initiative and judgment in novel situations, is derived from biblical law and Christian theories of “natural law.” God’s law revealed in the Bible contains few laws which men, using their God-given reason as He intended us to use it, can discern. Christ’s yoke is easy and His burden is light. Faith in Him and obedience to His law is the way of national prosperity and freedom (as Deuteronomy 28, Leviticus 26 and many other Bible passages make clear).

Though modern man-centered thought, because of its inherent problems, has gone from rationalism to irrationality, the irrationalists who currently dominate our culture and civil governments are just as opposed to common sense and freedom as were their rationalistic parents. Their continued rule will make sure that “Common Sense” stays dead. And it will certainly kill Freedom.

Americans used to have the freedom to use common sense because the church—following the Great Commission—had sought to influence, and did decisively influence the peoples of Western Civilization including these United States of America: their ethical, social, legal, and political thought, institutions, and culture. Americans no longer have that freedom to use common sense because the church has long abandoned the wholeness of the Great Commission. The church in this country as well as throughout Western Civilization still has virtually abandoned preaching and teaching the whole counsel of God; education; ethical, social, legal, and political thought; and the influencing legal and political institutions. As a result “Common Sense” is dead and Freedom is nearly so.

Americans used to be free to exercise “Common Sense”—and to have the Freedom to do so—because the church had (albeit imperfectly!) obeyed the Great Commission. “Common Sense” will not be resurrected, and Freedom will soon die—or be strangled—if the church does not return to the whole counsel of God and obedience to His Great Commission.

Article posted June 24, 2009

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