Power and Authority

A reader writes:

Many have noted the irony that a Christian administration would torture, but your recent e-mail also shows the practical problem for Christian conservatives here.

As good non-relativists, Christians ought to believe in universal standards, moral codes that apply to everyone. In some fashion that's what the Geneva Conventions and other international agreements are meant to provide. But an unshakable article of conservative faith is that the United Nations and most other international compacts are inherently evil. So we come to a point where all that matters is American laws, American goals - and American power.

This really cannot stand. We will reach a point where we have infinite power, but zero influence. The nations we desperately need to change and win over will come to think that we get our authority solely from the barrel of a gun - or the damp gauze of a waterboarder. We will claim that we believe in universal, unalienable rights, but will refuse to hold ourselves to any meaningful universal standards. No one will take anything we say seriously, except our threats of war.

I recall Oakeshott's response to a question about the power of the U.S. president. 'The president has no power," Oakeshott explained. "A blackmailer has power. The president has authority." Under this president, I fear, we are beginning to appreciate that distinction more profoundly.