October 7, 2019
Travel from sea to shining sea or even across the fruited plain and you will find no place better than Texas. Even folks who haven’t been there say that. All you need to do is observe how Texas loves its citizens, the Judeo-Christian order of right and wrong, the common good, and most importantly, peace. Texas bravely stands for the truth, beauty, and good- ness of every human life. Arguably, more than any other state in the union. To love Texas, all you have to know are a few statistics. In 2000 it executed 40 people, in 2018 it put 13 people to death (accounting for more than half of the 25 USA executions in that year), and Texas is responsible for three of the ten executions nationwide to date in 2019. That is not just talking love, that’s doing love. When you love seriously, you don’t wince at the serious things necessary to protect the people and values you love. Massachusetts or California may talk the talk about love. Texas walks the walk.
Executions demonstrate love?! Not always, surely. But they can, and in the case of Texas, they do. To the culture of death that sounds bizarre, for its moral eardrums have been shattered, making it impossible for them to pick up the textured sounds of true virtue. A moral tin ear only knows compassion as antinomianism, tolerance as permissiveness, moral uprightness as rigidity and accountability as a straightjacket. A culture that hails Ta Nahisi Coates as a moral beacon while vilifying Flannery O’Connor as a moral cretin cannot possibly understand why Texas stands for love. Texans stands closer to their humanity than the embalmed humanity of the coastal elites and its effete academicians. Those are the cretins, no longer grasping love or its wondrous parts, all of which make its presence so sweet – and so exacting.
C.S. Lewis writes that there is nothing as severe as love. Its severity is due to the generosity it summons and the justice it assumes. Leftists, and their rent-a-gang protesters frequently intone, “no justice, no peace”. Ironically, they are quite right. Justice is the precondition of both peace and love, but not its sufficiency. If love is to radiate, its luster must be oblation. When it is, we understand Aristotle in the Ethics; “Where there is friendship, justice is not necessary.” However, in the case of the state, we can only look to the presence of charity’s spine, justice. Justice is that virtue which perpetually renders to a person exactly that which is his due. When a person has been deprived of his due – his life, his good name, his property – justice must restore it. And not to the aggrieved person alone, but to society in general. For when a person has been stripped of his right, the perpetrator of the crime has not only harmed that individual, but also the society to which he belongs. He has set himself above the law, indeed, as his own law. His crime is therefore not only against Mrs. Jones, but the entire society of which Mrs. Jones is a part. In harming Mrs. Jones, the criminal tacitly proclaims a willingness to harm everyone else. When Mrs. Jones is injured by the criminal, all the rest of society is as well. So in the court procedure of all fifty states, criminal trials begin with the announcement: “the People vs. Jack Smith.”
So it is that the Church has always taught that among the purposes of punishment (retributive, protective, and reparative), the principal one is retributive: “Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2266). As Dr Ralph McInerney wrote, “The criminal cannot be punished for what he might do (protective); he is in prison because of what he has already done.” McInerney pointedly concludes, “But if there is no cause for retribution, punishment is unjust: All that would excuse it is the fear that someone might in the future harm us and that solitude might better his soul.” (Crisis, September 2000, pg. 60). When retribution is execution, it is not only justified, but consoles the virtuous about the seriousness with which men guard these precious goods, as well as signaling to the wicked the swift and harsh punishment that will meet their violation. This triple cord produces the peace which cements society in place.
Hence, a society has the power to punish, whereas Mrs. Jones does not. When the state imposes punishment for an injustice, it is justice. If Mrs. Jones were to impose punishment for an injustice, it would be vengeance. The former is noble and charitable; the latter misguided and execrable. Clearly, a society is moved to punish only insofar as it loves its citizens and the common good. Its punishments will be swift and proportionately severe. Passivity or hesitation before evil is the mark of a society in decline. Or as Chesterton put it, “The society that tolerates everything, is a society that believes in nothing.” Hesitation in meting out the punishment a crime demands suggests a suspicion about the moral law itself. Therein lies great danger, because dangerous people are left to wander among the good.
Civilized societies are not the ones that clamor for the rights of the criminal, but for the rights of the innocent and weak. There is far more civility in nations like Taiwan that canes bad boys who vandalize property than one which remands them to therapists. The good society is not afraid to stoutly call evil, evil, rather than disease. Civility reigns where there is clear moral judgment, and fearlessness in maintaining it. When George Orwell remarked that there is no idea so absurd that an intellectual would believe it, he could be paraphrased to say that there is no excuse so flimsy as to sway a society besotted by secularism. Men of virtue keep their ear to the ground of reality; corrupted men keep their ear only to their own ideas. This is parlous, because when ideas become more important than people, terror descends.
So, Texas here I come. No, I can’t pick up things and move down with you, but my heart already has. Call me an old softie, but I am just a pushover for a love story. Texas style.