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Culture Clash: When Morals and Laws Collide

On July 10, 2020, Utah governor Gary Herbert (R) declared a state of emergency in Salt Lake City, the state's capital after protestors turned violent following the announcement that the May 2020 police killing of Bernardo Palacios Carbajal was justified.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall (D) issued a statement that included a sentiment central to my purpose in starting this blog:

"I know that for some, today’s decision does not feel like justice. It has become increasingly apparent in our city and across the nation that there is a difference between what so many feel is morally correct, and what is considered appropriate and justified under the law." (emphasis added)

This. This is the state of our union. Until this schism is repaired, ours will be a society embroiled in tension and violence. Montesquieu, the 18th century french political philosopher who gave modernity the notion of separation of powers, postulated in his classic The Spirit of the Laws that the heart or spirit of the people must match the heart or spirit of the law, else they would become ungovernable.

Montesquieu's premise forms the foundation of my introductory post on culture stack. Every society is built on a shared moral basis, which then informs its politics, its economics, its familial, academic, and artistic structures, and so on.

None of these are static. Forces are constantly at work arguing that one or another should be different. "Our values are wrong," says one. "Our laws don't reflect our values," says another. "Our economics are contrary to our highest ideals," says yet another.

This heated exchange of ideas is a normal, even healthy part of any free people. The challenge is in agreeing on our highest ideals, what Aristotle called "the good life" and how to get there. This requires seeking to know the truth about human nature, human potential, and human happiness, a search which itself is fraught with pitfalls.

When the divide between the heart of the people and the spirit of the law becomes wide enough, tension, violence, and revolution are the natural results. They are to be expected.


  1. What was the "spirit of the people" at the time of America's founding? The 1860's? The 1930's? The 1960's? Now?

  2. What is "the good life?" Are there elements common to all mankind?

  3. Is the morality of a people democratically decided? Or do objective morals exist, i.e. not subject to human debate?

  4. Is your personal moral code coherent? Meaning, does it bring about the greatest good for you, your family, and your community now and across time?

  5. If you believe your moral code to be coherent, what are you doing to disseminate it now and perpetuate it into the future?

  6. How in a free society is the debate over values, morals, and ethics to be conducted?

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