Enduring ValuesCombating the negativity in our culture with uplifting, inspiring stories reminding us of the best American principles
As the great political philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to America’s own Founding Fathers have observed, democracy very quickly turns to tyranny when the people are not generally virtuous. To defend our system of ordered liberty, we must always be vigilant, and we must always strive to strengthen our culture, or our free society will be overtaken by government.
(At left) George Washington at prayer.
Foster often underscores how a society that is governed by values and virtues does not need excessive rules and regulation. There’s a great piece by Michael W. Hannon at the website Public Discourse today explaining how Les Miserables—in it is original novel form by Victor Hugo, in the stage musical, and in the Oscar-winning film—promotes a noble philosophy of law and mercy for our fallen world. The message can’t be crassly fit into the categories of left and right (categories that, incidentally, more or less originated during the first French Revolution), and the theme is not “law and authority are bad and grace are good,” but “law with grace and mercy, with love, is good.”
Les Miserables shows the deleterious personal and societal effects of “tyrannical legalism”—an obsession with government, law without mercy—as well as a hatred for law epitomized by libertinism. Both extremes, misguided in their notion of the good they seek, end in despair.
Though he was a convict, Jean Valjean had in his heart a reverence for law, for justice, even willing to submit himself to its sentence. Hannon writes:
“Les Misérables instructs us in the Aristotelian golden mean between these two [tyrannical legalism and tyrannical libertinism]: We should neither worship nor despise the law, but navigating between this Scylla and Charybdis, between Javert [representative of the law] and Enjolras [representative of the revolutionaries], we should love and respect the law always. It will not be our salvation, but it will be instrumental in instructing and guiding us toward that goal. Let us delight in the law and follow the witness of Jean Valjean, of whom Hugo wrote, “It seemed as though he had for a soul the book of the natural law.”
Here’s Hannon’s piece (1 page). He’s also launching a discussion forum called Beyond the Barricades, taking a line from the song “Do You Hear the People Sing?” Hannon points out how the words of the song change, from the angry, anti-authority rhetoric of the revolutionaries, to the finale in which a different type of freedom, one rooted in God’s kingdom, is sought. “Somewhere beyond the barricade is a world we long to see…”
Beyond the Barricades has echoes of the Left Right, Left Right, Forward March initiative (1 page)–seeking areas where we can find common ground, despite desperate, deeply held views, to advance the common good.
Here’s the finale to Les Miserables (starts at 5:50; about 6 minutes).
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