Marvin Olasky

Some pundits say that at this near-midnight hour in the healthcare debate we need a Jefferson Smith, the fictional filibusterer played by Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Right movie, wrong character, since Senate rules do not allow such filibusters anymore.

No, we may need one of the 60 senators in Harry Reid's corrupt coalition to have a rebellion of the conscience that would lead him to race onto the Senate floor just before the final vote. There he would declare, as did Senator Joseph Paine in the film, "I'm not fit to be a senator. Every word about Taylor and me and graft and the rotten political corruption of our state. Every word of it is true. I'm not fit for office! I'm not fit for any place of honor or trust. Expel me!"

On what basis might this happen? Will one of the 60 suddenly recalculate the political consequences or reanalyze the bill's thousands of pages? Unlikely. We need some spiritual or emotional shock. Why won't pure reason work? Because 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume, agnostic but growing up in a Christ-influenced culture, understood human nature in a way that Aristotle didn't.

Let me explain.

The New York Times last month profiled one of America's great conservatives, Princeton political philosopher Robert George. He battles the left with a Roman Catholic philosophy based in Aristotle, who posited the existence of an objective moral order graspable by human reason and obtainable through free will. As George puts it, "In a well-ordered soul, reason's got the whip hand over emotion."

One philosophical counter to Aristotle came from 18th-century Scottish agnostic David Hume, who scoffed at the idea of "objective reason": In Hume's view, the universe naturally contains facts, not values and moral conclusions. Hume argued that "reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them." Souls, naturally, are not well-ordered.

Times writer David Kirkpatrick reasonably summarized George's Aristotelian objection to Hume: "If I have no rational basis for picking one goal over another, then I have no free choice, only predetermined 'passions.' . . . We have reason and free choice, [George] teaches, or we have amorality and determinism."

But who is "we"? Augustine wrote 1,600 years ago, "Man's original capacities included both the power not to sin and the power to sin (posse non peccare et posse peccare). In Adam's original sin, man lost the posse non peccare (the power not to sin) and retained the posse peccare (the power to sin)."

Marvin Olasky

Marvin Olasky is editor-in-chief of the national news magazine World. For additional commentary by Marvin Olasky, visit
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