The New Pandora’s Box — a short story

Posted on 2014 July 31


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In the beginning, God created America. And He saw that it was good.

Then the Founders wrote the Declaration of Independence, and that was good, too. It said that all people “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” and so forth. This was an entirely new idea in history, and a good one. Probably.

Then the Founders wrote the Constitution, another Good Thing. And they added a Bill of Rights, possibly the most important Good Thing of all. For it enshrined the principle that people have a moral right to be left alone by government. Yes, it was a very Good Thing. Or so it seemed.

Then, since he hadn’t had a vacation in several eons, God went fishing. He set the security alarms on the universe and took off. But the alarm company was a wholly owned subsidiary of an offshore corporation that was, in turn, controlled by a holding company owned by the Devil.

“When the cat’s away,” thought the Devil, and he decided to make mischief with God’s political creation. For he saw at once that there was a teeny-tiny flaw in the foundational documents of America. The United States was based, not simply on freedom, but on Human Rights. It was a subtle distinction, but the Devil had a subtle mind. And he knew that the concept of Rights was, in its own way, a Pandora’s Box. All he needed was for a Pandora to come along.

Soon enough, he found her in the form of the Progressives, who chafed at the idea that somewhere, someone had more money than they had. (With God on vacation, the Tenth Commandment quickly became burnt toast.) And the Devil whispered in the Progressive’s ears about a new kind of Rights beyond those enshrined in the Constitution. He suggested they call them Economic Rights. 

And the political Pandora’s Box was opened.

Soon it became the norm in America for citizens to expect the right, not merely to be left alone, but to extract money from their fellow citizens for housing, food, schooling, healthcare, and the like. After all, they reasoned, America had nurtured plenty of rich people who didn’t really need all that extra cash — how dare they acquire so much! — and should just give it to poor people. Soon citizens were taking sides, angrily denouncing each other for being “selfish”, and America became more and more taxed and regulated and polarized. And the Devil grinned.

One day, God returned from vacation. He tried to tell his angels about a fish that was this big but the angels tugged on his sleeve and pointed. At America. And God looked. And He was not pleased.

He called down: “I am God, the Great and Powerful! What has gone wrong with my pet country?!”

One essayist, bald and bespectacled, raised his hand ever so tentatively. God glared down at him and asked “Who are you?” (This was rhetorical, for He knew full well everyone to whom He spoke.)

Quaking in fear, the essayist replied, “I am Jim, the Small and Meek.”

And God said, “Enough movie quotes! What has happened to my beloved America?”

The essayist trembled in his socks and replied, “It is quite possible — though who am I to suggest it? — that the United States, in its enthusiasm for a moral foundation for its laws, and in consideration of the necessity to inspire the public—”

Get to the point!” barked God. For He was cranky.

“Uh, yes, yes, of course!” The essayist gulped in terror. “America is based, at rock bottom, not on Liberty, but on Rights. Once that idea is enshrined, eventually any concept of Rights can climb to the top and change everything.”

God stroked His beard and pondered. Then He said, “What can be done?”

The essayist murmured, “Perhaps, if given enough time—”

Speak up!” bellowed God.

“Yes, right!” exclaimed the essayist. “If only Americans could see government not as an enforcer of moral standards, from Natural Rights to booze laws, but as the simple protector of Liberty! This would benefit them on the entirely practical principle that a nation set free will solve social problems much more effectively than force can do it. Maybe then America will remove morality and charity from the control of bureaucrats and place them where they can truly thrive, in the churches and community groups and in the hearts of free people.”

God pondered. And He said, “I must give this a little thought.”

The essayist hesitated. “Um, you’re quoting ‘The Wizard of Oz’ again, Sir.”

God looked up. “Right. Yes. Love that movie. Anyway, it’s time for a stern chat with Satan.” And He departed.

The essayist, greatly relieved that he had not been struck by lightning — or, worse, made to copy illuminated manuscripts onto vellum — saw that he had done all he could to help, and he sat back and rested. After all, it was a Sunday.

The Devil, having been lectured sternly by God, paced back and forth in his smoky brimstone chambers yelling “Curses!” And then he had another Dark Idea: he realized that, until Americans finally ceased to poke around in the political Pandora’s Box of Rights, they could yet be swayed by his mischief. And so he began to whisper into the ears of Evangelicals (that they really could take over Washington and establish a moral theocracy) and socialists (that they really could finally achieve the total defeat of big business) and neo-conservatives (that they really could eventually construct a huge, imperial central government that issued right-wing edicts upon the people and upon other nations). And soon the Devil had everyone nicely agitated and at each other’s throats.

And he saw that it was Bad. And he rejoiced.