On lawyers

Lawyers are among the most popular professions for someone who entered politics. I guess their training equips them well for the political job. Lawyers are trained to articulate their arguments precisely. They never waste and are very careful with their words. That’s why their rhetorics are wonderful and pleasing to the ears.

(The others are businessmen, military, and social activists. For businessmen, it is natural for them to enter politics as money is intricately related to power. For the military, it is because of they are used of exercising power anyway. For social activists, well, let’s just say that they have a lot of passion for the common good.)

For example, the following politicians are lawyers by training: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Abraham Lincoln. For the local scene, we have Lee Kuan Yew (and wife), J. B. Jeyaretnam, and Chiam See Tong.

What interests me is I wonder whether what LKY has done for Singapore is similar to another lawyer who perhaps wields a similar influence for his town. The lawyer’s name is John Calvin and the town’s name is Geneva.

You see, Singapore has grown to become a very methodical place to live. It has been dubbed a “fine city”, anyway. You know what to expect, the rules are very precise, and, indeed, you could perceive the whole city as a huge mechanical, manufacturing corporation where everyone plays each of his or her own part.

On the other hand, Geneva is where Calvin exercised his experimentation of how a city should look like if it lives under the rule of God. He didn’t always get his way, though, as he needed to fight against the city council at times. But his intention is clear. John Knox commented that Geneva under Calvin is “the most perfect school of Christ since the apostles.” Calvin’s law background certainly helped him to systematize the Protestant principle (it is another question on whether one do so and remain as a Protestant, which as a force is inherently deconstructive). And this systematization was made flesh in Geneva. Geneva became a “moralistic” society (in the neutral sense of the word). Church discipline is synonymous with the city’s discipline, and, indeed, Geneva is supposed to be the place where the statement of God is King becomes a reality. Of course, we should not overstate Calvin’s legacy to Geneva, and Switzerland in general, but certainly Switzerland has a unique Calvinistic flavor, in contrast with the Lutheran Germany and the Catholic Italy.

What’s interesting, indeed, that Switzerland has been the paradigm of how Singapore wants to look like. The goal is to achieve the Swiss standard of living. Can lawyers and their mechanical, methodical laws bring us to the Promised Land, then? I am afraid it won’t. Law is good, but it can only bring you so far. As Tom Wright put it, law is important, but it is not the final goal. He used an analogy of driving. Those street rules are meant to help you, but you must not drive with thinking about the rules all the time. You must enjoy the time when you drive. You improvise and innovate the way you drive. And, if you have mastered it, you won’t even think about those rules. Or, to put it in the Apostle Paul’s words, “the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” (Gal 3.24-25)

Law is good, indeed, but only when it has been sanctified by Christ. And a city who lives obediently under an ungracious law can be a very cruel, cruel place to live.

(Another thing to note is LKY has become a demigod and reached a mythological status in Singapore and Calvin exerted a peculiar trend of having a cult of followers. You rarely see Lutherans who are as ardent as many Calvinists.)


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