Missouri's 7th District, U.S. House of Representatives




Liberty Under God
Good Reputation

Congress should
  • make no law respecting the free exercise of reputation.

In his Farewell Address, Washington reminded the nation:

Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion, and Morality are indispensable supports.—In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. —The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them.—A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity.—Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion.—Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure—reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.—

Notice three foundations of "Liberty Under God" with which George Washington was concerned:

"where is the security
for property,
   • for reputation,
   • for life...."

We have discussed the importance of property here. It is rooted in the 8th Commandment, "Thou shalt not steal."
We have discussed the importance of respect for life here. It is rooted in the 6th Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill."
We will discuss the importance of reputation on this page. It is rooted in the 9th Commandment, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor."

For historical background of the 9th Commandment in American Law, see this page: The Ninth Commandment in American Legal History

For a broader theological background, see this page: The Ninth Commandment.

A prosperous and orderly human society depends on institutions and traditions which foster good conduct and place obstacles in the way of bad conduct. Many believe that threats of violence and the initiation of force by a monopoly of violence called "the government" is the best way to accomplish this goal. More recently, many are concluding that this is an archaic myth.

The "security of reputation" of which George Washington spoke is a more powerful guard of a prosperous society than soldiers. In a moral society, people want a good reputation in they eyes of their neighbors. Conversely, people refrain from bad behavior because they are afraid of what good people will say.

Good People want the Good Housekeeping "Seal of Approval."
Honest electricians want the "UL" label on their products.
Nobody wants to be blacklisted on "Angie's List."

Society functions better when more people have a moral concern for their own reputation and the reputation of others.

A good introductory study on this issue is by Daniel B. Klein, Reputation: Studies in the Voluntary Elicitation of Good Conduct, (University of Michigan Press, 1997).

This volume explores ways in which the honest establish trust and enjoy good fortune, even without [government] policing. The central mechanism at work is reputation. To work, information about the individual's conduct must be observed, interpreted, recorded, stored, and transmitted. Different forms of "seals of approval" develop to communicate the quality of an individual's reputation to others.
The studies in this volume reveal how vast information systems like Dun & Bradstreet and TRW generate reputation and beneficial exchange, and how brand names, middlemen, and dealers give their own sort of seal of approval. One chapter describes the origins of Underwriters' Laboratories, an organization that sells its inspection services and mark of approval for product safety. Another argues that J. P. Morgan's investment banking service was in large part applying astute judgment in granting the Morgan seal of approval to firms in need of capital. Other, less formal, reputational mechanisms such as gossip, customary law, and written correspondence are also explored. Contexts range from trust among merchants in Medieval Europe, social control in small communities, and good conduct in a vast anonymous society such as our own.
Throughout these broad-ranging studies, the central theme of the volume emerges: in an open, competitive environment, honesty can recruit cleverness to assert itself and to drive out the dishonest.

We have explored this concept in the following ways:

next: Campaign Finance, Corruption and the Oath of Office