One of my favorite movies back in High School was Billy Madison (I’ve grown up a tad since then, don’t worry) – a silly, juvenile story about a rich kid who tries to save his dad’s company from falling into bad hands by finally growing up (in this case, “growing up” is a term used very loosely since he’s still a complete man-child after saving the day). One of the weird side excursions in the story is his continuing run-in with the O’Doyle family. Each of the O’Doyle characters evidently only has one line they can utter, “O’Doyle rules!” After nailing Billy with a dodgeball or plastering him with a pie in the face, the offending family member yells, “O’Doyle rules!” while lifting his firsts triumphantly in the air.
But did O’Doyle truly “rule?” We seem to use that term mostly to refer to something like O’Doyle-style domination. Domination on the basketball court (Jordan “ruled” basketball), domination of a country/people (Caesar “ruled” Rome), domination of a market (Elvis “ruled” rock and roll, Carnegie “ruled” steel, Jobs “ruled” personal electronics). But in an abstract and yet more real way, power must be made legitimate by a mandate, right? In other words, domination of power without either a focus or an acknowledgement is kind of useless. It only invites challenge and rebellion. There has to be a foundation for the power or it simply becomes brute force. After all, Billy Madison didn’t capitulate … he simply called down doom on the O’Doyle family and went about his business.
In the United Kingdom right now there is some rather unexpected political upheaval which helps illustrate this idea. The power which had been consolidated by the three major political parties – Labour, Liberal Democrats, and Conservative – has now splintered into four pieces with the recent rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). The main platform which separates UKIP from the other three is just what its name indicates: independence.
Many Britons are growing more and more wearisome of the brute force of EU regulation and its encroachment on the sovereignty of their nation. UKIP is seeking to lead the way in declaring that the rule of the nation has been ceded by parliament and the crown to a few untouchable, busy-body bureaucrats who sit in Brussels. UKIP, and those Britons who vote for their candidates, want to take back – before it’s too late – the independence and autonomy of their country.
A similar thing has happened here in the United States recently. The Tea Party, while not a true political party, has reawakened and given voice to a large number of Americans who believe that the sovereignty of the nation has been stolen away. Not, in this case, by some international body, but instead by a bloated, impersonal federal bureaucracy.
What I find interesting about the raison d’être of both UKIP and the Tea Party is that the sovereignty question is paramount with both, but they differ on the level on which they focus. UKIP wants sovereignty restored to the parliament/crown – and therefore the nation, while the Tea Party wants it restored to the people (if not “the people”, they certainly want it restored to a lower level of accountability such as state and local governments).
This got me thinking about sovereignty simply as a concept. Have you ever stopped to think about how important it is to have sovereignty? We talk about it as merely something which involves independence, but it is much, much deeper than that. Sovereignty is actually about the inherent value and endowment of self-determination and is born from a clear concept of self-awareness. It is a concept which bequeaths dignity on a people as a whole and grants the right of rule to either a crown, a parliament or a leader. After all, no amount of martial marches up the squares of capital cities or dubious medals hung on the chest of a tyrant can substitute for the will of the people and the intrinsic value of voluntarily subordinated self-determination which it bestows on its leaders.
Sovereignty in this world is by right a possession of the individual only. Therefore it can only be either voluntarily given to or forcibly taken by a government. Because of its very nature, a government is – indeed must be – a blunt instrument, meant only to, as the American Constitution states it so beautifully: establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty. It must exist simply to protect that which is most precious to its people: the self-determination and free will which they lend to the government and the rule of law.
Usurpation of the will of the people by the government unseats its very purpose for being and cracks its own foundation of power. The basis for a government’s legitimacy can therefore wane as its divergence from the will of the people – its source of sovereignty – becomes more pronounced. Likewise, any governing body which departs from its original mandate, sourced from the people, becomes illegitimate.
You can see this illustrated in the way the European Union makes sweeping regulatory decisions which fall outside of its original economic and defense mandate, as well as in the way the United States federal government undermines the rights of the people clearly laid out in the Bill of Rights.
A government which operates against the will of the people is like a hammer getting a mind of its own and arrogating the will of the carpenter. The hammer has no reason for being, apart from the way in which it enables the work/will of the carpenter. The hammer has no soul or animation apart from that given to it by the work/will of the carpenter. And the hammer has no consuming interest in creating anything of value or beauty apart from the work/will of the carpenter. Moreover, the hammer is a dangerous, blunt instrument which can do a lot of damage when removed from its defined tasks or when wielded by a madman.
Now the reason this “sovereignty” thingummy is important to consider is not just because it may or may not make a voter in the UK or USA think twice before pulling the lever for some political candidate, but because sovereignty is a concept which has a much deeper import for true success in life. Just as a government must realize that it is given its measure of sovereignty by subordination from the people, an individual person must recognize from where their individual sovereignty originates.
The problem is that very few people seriously consider what individual sovereignty means. Sure, human nature tends to crave self-actualization, but in the juvenilization of western culture, self-actualization degrades into a “gimme, gimme, gimme” philosophy of short-term self-gratification; there is nothing introspective or contemplative leading a person from a desire for self-actualization to true self-awareness on the order of individual sovereignty. Instead the thoughts seem to begin and end with, “I deserve to be happy because I exist.” In other words, the fact that I am alive leads me to believe that I deserve happiness. But knowledge of one’s existence isn’t even close to being the same as knowledge of one’s sovereignty, nor is it a basis for so-called happiness through self-gratification.
Some other people however, may not sink to that level of human debasement and attempt to understand that self-awareness itself is a clue to self-worth (cogito ergo sum). In other words, they understand innately that introspection alone is special, therefore exploring oneself cognitively reveals just how incredibly valuable we are as humans. This doesn’t mean that these people are ready to acknowledge individual sovereignty in anyone else, but it does mean that they understand better than others their own value apart from the fleeting burn of momentary self-gratification.
Still rarer are those people who understand how valuable their introspection is and then acknowledge its source: God. You see that one can be purposeful in their reasoning in order to exercise and maximize their own value, but recognition of that value as being inherent just for being human must be predicated on a higher calling from a higher being. To be clear, the sovereignty of an individual exists because it has been bestowed as a gift from the Sovereign of the Universe: God.
The beautiful name of God – by which He introduced Himself to Moses in the burning bush – I Am that I Am (Ex 3:14), is incontrovertibly important to this discussion because it is God stating that He was, He is and He will be. In His transcendence of time and place He holds dominion over them. He is truly sovereign because in His nature He is sovereign.
Now compare that with our individual sovereignty: can we truly claim individual sovereignty simply because we are alive? Simply because we happen to hold sway over an arbitrary and fleeting time and space? Or is our sovereignty claimed by accepting that we have none apart from God and God’s will? Because all sovereignty in heaven and on earth is His, does it not follow that we can claim nothing without His will? And how can we submit to His will unless we recognize Him for who He is?
In going back to our discussion at the outset, a nation cannot be sovereign without the people in that nation ceding some of their inherent individual sovereignty to it. It is the people who give value to a government/nation because it is the people who hold the inherent value. But if the people of a nation do not understand and recognize God, the foundation of all things in their nation is shaken; their individual sovereignty is unclaimed and therefore the sovereignty of the nation non-existent. As we said before, power must be made legitimate by a mandate. But what, other than a mandate from God, can give human beings inherent value and individual sovereignty … and what, other than a mandate from the people can give a government the right to existence and authority?
The inferior lesson here is that a nation derives its sovereignty from the ‘just consent of the governed’, the superior lesson is that we derive our sovereignty and our value from the One who transcends it all.
Go back to my illustration of the hammer in the hands of the carpenter, a person who operates against the will of the God who made him is like a hammer getting a mind of its own and arrogating the will of the carpenter. The hammer has no reason for being, apart from the way in which it enables the work/will of the Carpenter. The hammer has no soul or animation apart from that given to it by the work/will of the Carpenter. And the hammer has no consuming interest in creating anything of value or beauty apart from the work/will of the Carpenter. Moreover, the hammer is a dangerous, blunt instrument which can do a lot of damage when removed from its defined tasks or when wielded by a madman.
Therefore, if we appeal to the great God and King of Time and Place for sovereignty of ourselves, is it not a logical and necessary extension to return to Him that which He has so freely given? The sovereignty of our hearts, our minds, our bodies and our spirit should be made subject to Him just as He has granted it for the transient time we are present on this earth.
Who rules? HE rules.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.Romans 12:1,2 (NIV)