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The Huckabeean Revolt

Well, let’s remember that all law establishes morality [bold mine-DL]. That’s what law does. The law of speeding is saying that it’s immoral to go at 85 miles an hour. The morality is that we have established a 65-mile-an-hour limit. So that’s what all law does: It establishes that it is wrong for me to murder you. ~Mike Huckabee

Via Ambinder

Set aside for the moment the crazy idea that speeding is immoral.  If we take Huckabee’s remarks as they stand, he seems to be saying that it would not be immoral to murder someone unless the law says so, which makes his opposition to abortion rather puzzling.  Surely legalised abortion stands out for pro-lifers as a prime example of how law and morality do not coincide and how law can be turned to perverse ends.   A few moments earlier he was mocking a federalist position on abortion and marriage as a kind of moral relativism, yet according to him “all law establishes morality,” which would have to mean, everything else being equal, that one state statute is as good as another.  Since he claims that “all law establishes morality,” by what standard would he judge the justice of any particular law?  The inevitable conclusion of Huckabeean morality is that coercive power has to be made as far-reaching and uniform as possible to “establish” the same morality in as many places as possible.  On the national stage, it would lead to a call for consolidation and homogenisation, and on the world stage it has to lead eventually to a call for global government.  Think about what this says about Huckabee’s understanding of the relationship between coercive power and morality.  I will grant that law can codify or enforce moral norms, but the idea that law establishes morality, which makes the public authority the source of moral law, is such a heinous and blasphemous idea that I can scarcely believe that it comes from a preacher.  He makes it clear that he believes that morality is purely conventional:

So if I go over that law and murder you anyway, then society is going to punish me because I have violated a moral code, which we have all agreed to [bold mine-DL].

In short, Huckabee holds absolutist positions on life that are entirely inconsistent with his understanding of morality.  “We” are not all agreed that abortion is immoral, yet according to the standard that Huckabee has set up here it will not be immoral until and unless a law criminalises it.  This is a strange conflation of illegality and immorality that seems to leave no room for a moral critique of the state’s actions and no basis for conscientious dissent against immoral government policies.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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