Monday, April 03, 2006

And speaking of bumper stickers....

Trad Catholics, as we all know, are big into bumper stickers. I'm not. I don't have any on my cars. The only bumper sticker I've had on a car in the last 10 years is the Alan Keyes 2000 presidential campaign sticker.

But that being said, I think bumper stickers, generally, are good. I'm on the lookout for one in particular myself (I can't say what it is; I don't want to blow my cover among the readers I go to Mass with). I think that bumper stickers on religious and moral themes are admirable, too. With traddies generally shut out of the mainstream and diocesan press, a "Follow me to the Latin Mass" sticker might get someone thinking about his own parish, if not actually following the driver to Mass (only to be disappointed that they've arrived at the dry cleaners or Home Depot instead). I like the "Terry Was Murdered!" sticker. Nor does it hurt to remind people to pray the Rosary Daily, or suggest that they tune into the Catholic radio station, KEXS 1090 AM. I've seen a cleric's car with the classic "Eternity: Smoking or Non-Smoking?" sticker on his car. Very good.

But to be effective in our world, a moral message must be very witty. Let's think about the most common sub-genre, the pro life sticker. There are some clever pro life stickers. We've all seen many of those. There are some mediocre ones. And then there are some that are just plain bad, and just plain counter-productive.

Here's one I wanna complain about tonight:

ABORTION? The Supreme Court also legalized slavery!

No, NO, NO! NO!

Hey everybody. Take that one off your cars. It's factually wrong, and it plays exactly into the hands of the pro-death leadership, with their caricature of us as stupid, backward, ignorant folk. That one does far, FAR more harm than good.

Let's get this straight: the Supreme Court did not legalize slavery. Despite the silly enlightenment ideas still floating about and taught to use as children, slavery was part of the natural order of things, and slavery has been generally recognized in positive law since the beginning of human history (or at least since shortly after the fall). It hasn't come about anywhere because some king, congress or court legalized it. Not here, not anywhere. While there were always strictures against slavery, and particularly, after the Christianization of Europe, against the enslavement of fellow Christians, slavery has always existed--it's an outgrowth of the fallen human condition. And where there has ever been positive legal action of any kind regarding slavery, it has always been to limit or abolish it (or to decline to do so), not to authorize it.

And thus, if you look at the decisions of the United States Supreme Court, you will not find any case that "legalized" slavery, at least de jure slavery (some of you would argue about the income tax or the federal reserve banking system I know, but save it for later).

I haven't done any research on this point, and I don't intend to, but I'll gratuitously assert that, if you look at the legislative and the judicial acts of each of the states that allowed slavery at the beginning of the War of Northern aggression (i.e., the American Civil War), you'll find no case in which slavery was positively enacted where it was presumptively prohibited. No place.

What then are these people who printed up and plastered their cars with the erroneous sticker... what are they getting at?

They're thinking of the Dred Scott decision, in which the Supreme Court ruled that it didn't have jurisdiction in the matter because Dred Scott, a putative slave, could not be a citizen. What the Dred Scott court didn't do was legalize slavery: it simply refused to change the status quo regarding slavery, leaving it to the states, which had plenary power in law and (before Lincoln) in fact, to each find their own way without interference of the laws from their neighboring states.

In refusing jurisdiction (i.e., in determining that the matter was not within the narrow scope of federal power), the case had to do with ... ironically... preserving the states' rights to outlaw--or permit--certain moral conduct. And so, repugnant though the Dred Scott subject matter may be (and don't get me wrong, I do find slavery as it was practiced in the Western Hemisphere repugnant), the jurisprudential principles in Dred Scott concerning the role of the federal government in such matters are nothing to be scorned. The Dred Scott case is one in which a bad case made good law, just as many other times a good case makes bad law.

That idea--that the federal government isn't going to step in and interfere with with the states' exercise of their plenary powers on a moral issue that predated the union--is sound. Believe it or not, that reluctance to make a "federal case" of something, the reestablishment of that sort of jurisprudential mindset among the federal judiciary is the only real hope for undoing the problem of Roe and related cases, and it's the only hope for restoring sodomy laws, and it's the only hope for avoiding the exportation of gay "marriage" from New Sodom (Boston) to places like Kansas and Missouri.

I could go on about this, and launch into my tirade about unsound proposals for a federal anti-abortion law, but that's beyond the scope of this post. Let's get back to my main point: Take that bumper sticker off your car. If you have a stack of 'em in the back seat, pitch them and find something else that is factually accurate, as well as witty. This bumper sticker makes you look bad, it makes us all look bad, and it sets the movement back.



S.H. said...

Right on. And though I prefer "War between the States," "War of Northern Aggression" is still better than "American Civil War."

maxima said...

This bumper sticker makes you look bad, it makes us all look bad, and it sets the movement back, so you say.

Perhaps you have been to law school. Others have not, a few of them.

The point is that a body that once made a mistake about slaves also made one about the right to life of the unborn. The bumpersticker conveys that much.

You expect too much from bumperstickers, sir.

Curmudgeon said...

One doesn't have to go to law school--just stay awake in a decent history class--to catch that point. I would guess that one doesn't read Dred Scott in law school. I'll ask some lawyers I know.

I don't expect too much from any bumper sticker. To be good--to really catch people's attention, it has to be witty. And wit is grounded in truth. This one is just plain wrong.

To positively mandate an evil is a substantially different thing than to suffer it to continue. I'm sure that someone somewhere can cite something from Aquinas to back me up.

The bumper sticker, it's gotta go!

Curmudgeon said...

The word I got is that Dred Scott might be read in an elective legal history class, but it would be part of the standard law school curriculum.

Curmudgeon said...

it would not be part of the standard law school curriculum

CS said...

You don't want to get too picky about these things, but still, it can only hurt your cause when goofy history makes people snicker...

Curmudgeon said...

I think in this case it's good to be accurate, because the set of folks who "think they know better" are looking to exploit the faux-pas on our side...further evidence that we're poor, uneducated and easy to command.