Primal Scream

National Review's call for Roy Moore to drop out of the Alabama race because "there is no such thing as a statute of limitations on standards" reminds us of an uncomfortable statistical fact, once widely accepted and prosaically expressed as "all men are sinners." Moore may or may not be guilty of sexual indiscretion, but the possibility is not excluded in principle. An earlier generation could probably quote 1 John 1:8 -- "if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us" -- to remind themselves of this. Alternatively, they might cite James Madison.

[W]hat is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

"Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help" was the usual warning. But somewhere along the line conventional wisdom discarded this injunction and media began to create the myth that there were special people to rule over us. Celebrities. A cultural elite. Role models. The only adults in the room. The smartest woman in the world. As social media exposes celebrity after celebrity as flawed, we are relearning just how fragile that foundation is.

It was the awareness of human fallibility that led political philosophers to externalize virtue by reposing it in God or in concepts like Robespierre's Cult of the Supreme Being. "Though he was no admirer of Catholicism, [Robespierre] had a special dislike for atheism. He thought that belief in a supreme being was important for social order, and he liked to quote Voltaire: 'If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him'".

The advantage of a world where "all men are sinners" is that the consequences of a politician not being up to "standard," as National Review puts it, are purely personal. They do not delegitimize the principle, only the application. The individual is examined according to due process and either acquitted or found guilty of the charges.  But in either case the external standard of virtue remains untouched. It remains out there above the fray.

Things are completely different when a political movement bases virtue on a particular class of human beings. The danger is particularly acute in Marxism, which boldly declares in the Manifesto that "Communism abolishes eternal truths, it abolishes all religion, and all morality, instead of constituting them on a new basis." There being no God, only institutions, raises the stakes for institutions. If the Party, the Vanguard of humanity and the source of virtue, is found to have a sinner, or worse yet found to be chock full of sinners, guilt is not merely individual but collective. The whole basis collapses. Unlike God who remains unsullied "out there," the practical effect of vice is to undermine the Party's actual legitimacy.