The View From 1776
Democrat/Socialist Party Newspeak
In 1984, his novel about left-wing collectivist tyranny under Big Brother, George Orwell coined the term Newspeak to designate the government’s use of words and phrases to mean whatever the government wanted words to mean. The aim was to keep Big Brother’s subjects confused and afraid to do or say anything on their own. As in Thomas Hobbes’s “Leviathan,” the sole source of power was to be the sovereign’s sword, and the principle of political order was continual fear of sudden and violent death.
Robert Curry explains how the Democrat/Socialist Party uses Newspeak.
- For those interested in the philosophical roots of modern "liberalism" I recommend Richard Weikart's "From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany."
This book reveals a lot about the West's decadent intellectuals and their love of the "mad" philosophers who called for a superior race and a "Superman Leader." Weikart provides an interesting and detailed review of those intellectual currents leading up to the rise of the Nazi Party. Hitler's most vicious and racist ranting seemed to represent a mere paraphrasing of earlier intellectual arguments that had long-since seeped into the German psyche.
Most of the book's reviewers on Amazon emphasize the importance of Darwin and the varied Darwinian theories--debating to what degree Darwin's theory of Evolution actually inspired Hitler's policies. Indeed the author is faulted for not making that connection either stronger or weaker. I suspect those who must connect Darwin with Hitler's theories are primarily motivated by a desire to bring some "science" into their pre-conceived ideas about racial differences. But, note that Hitler's policies and success were assured, with or without Darwin and his Book, by a long line of German intellectuals.
For readers interested in this subject I would also recommend the 4th chapter in William Shirer's "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich." Like Curry, he places some blame on Hegel: Shirer had actually lived in Germany during Hitler's rise to power, and he documents the same intellectual history in Germany that had advanced the extreme hatred for other races, the worship of power, a lust for conquest, and dreams of a superman leader who, free of all moral constraints, would lead them to crush all weaklings and enemies of the Aryan culture. Such perverted intellectuals included Nietzsche, Wagner, Hegel,and a host of others from both within Germany as well as from France, England and America, and they had set forth that inhuman agenda for over a hundred years before Hitler was born, and well before Darwin set pen to paper.
One of the first and most strident of these intellectuals was Johann Gottlieb Fichte, a philosophy teacher at the University of Berlin. He delivered his "Addresses to the German People" in 1807 and set forth his dream that Germany create a new all-powerful state, led by a small elite of pure German blood, free of any moral restrictions. It would subjugate the inferior races, and consolidate power in a central national government that would lead the mighty in destroying the weak. Professors Von Trietschke and Hegel followed at the University, and like Nietzsche and Marx, they glorified the State--"the people, the subjects, are to be little more than slaves in the nation."
It is extraordinary that the leading lights of "The Enlightenment" were instilling these ideas within the old European nations during the 1800's, the first century that the newly minted United States of American was demonstrating freedom and democracy and a constrained foreign policy. Talk about back-sliding! Taught at the University of Berlin for 150 years!
I recommend Weikart's book for its gripping and easy to read coverage of that 19th and 20th century's backsliding of civilization. Much of Western Europe had for centuries been the cradle of classical liberalism, championing democracy, human rights, Christian ethics, and personal liberty--and then there was, among its intellectuals and philosophers, a sudden fascination with racism, power, and aggression.
These "new" liberals, seeking power, took advantage of the new and deadly idea that man is descended from the apes, and that there is no moral law from God to guide us. Hegel and Nietszche laid the foundation for Hitler, and in a somewhat less violent form, the principle that the State and its elite leaders must rule all-powerfully, took quick root in America's academia, and President Wilson, the Princeton professor, saw this as full justification to implement his imperial presidency, and force his ideas on all beneath him. The Progressive movement took it from there!
Weikart's book provides a thorough examination of the resulting impact that these intellectual and philosophical theories had on religion, morality and political organizations. And, in retrospect, those results underscore the dangers that all free societies face from their least suspected enemies--the intelligentsias within who wish to rule from the top, and experiment with their new visions, over and upon the common people.
The mystery to me remains, why have the collectivist intellectuals won, for, let's face it, they have wallopped the conservative intellectuals--In Europe and America socialism reigns supreme! Curry mentions Von Mises and Hayek, etc., but they have lost the battle. Is it simply that most people will settle for security if offered over liberty? Wasn't that Bismarck's plan? Is that why free societies have always started in small enclaves, peopled by a like minded independent populace, a people that succeed mightily but gradually got undermined from within; a people willing to believe "Newspeak" lies, and actually think that the man from the government is here to help them!Posted by bill greene on 02/24 at 08:53 PM
- Great acrtile, thank you again for writing.
Posted by getessay.com on 02/25 at 04:58 PM
- Thomas Hobbes’s “Leviathan" was written around 1650 and is considered by academics and would be intelligentsias to be masterpiece of political philosophy, even though he never called for any reasonable degree of freedom for the ordinary person. Indeed, he seemed to believe that authoritarian rule was needed to protect the people, and suggested that it made sense to sacrifice liberty for safety--under the umbrella of an all-powerful leader.
This in spite of the ongoing struggle at that time by Puritans in England to gain individual liberty and a say in government. Hobbes was apparently oblivious to what they were actually doing! This is another case of how acclaimed intellectuals and philosophers were always playing "catch-up" with the common people.
My paternal ancestor had already left England when Hobbes wrote his treatise. He was sick of waiting for the aristocracy to relinquish some opportunities for the people of England. And, with millions more of like minded individuals, he arrived in the New World, a land of opportunity that remained for a long time unburdened by aristocrats or intellectuals. And, it is noteworthy that the subsequent success of these immigrants was unparalleled in history.
It is depressing today to witness how the new liberals, in spite of enjoying 400 years of expanding freedom and opportunity in the Western world, are working to return to a Hobbesian world of centralized power, newspeak, spin, and deceit. Socialist/utopian ideas favoring a failed economic theory based on equal results for all, have filtered down from the philosophers to the politicians and to many of the common people who, when tempted and rewarded sufficiently, will trade liberty for security.
And it looks like the tipping point for America has been reached--51% have voted for a mommy state.
But, it was a good run--for 400 years! Not too bad for just another of the recurring cycles in the rise and fall of successful societies. It is just so darn predictable!Posted by bill greene on 02/25 at 08:27 PM
- So well ncie good sptos nice great!
Posted by essaycollege on 02/28 at 06:20 PM
I applaud Mr. Curry’s effort and sentiments, but cannot help but note he errs in several particulars. I can only touch on two for this posting (attending others as time allows).
In the fourth paragraph of his section on ‘Progressivism’ wherein he writes “According to classical liberalism, the problem of government is how to make it strong enough to do what government must do without encroaching on individual liberty. This understanding of the dangerous nature of political power was uppermost in the minds of the Founders when they were debating the design of the Constitution ”, substitute ‘Framers’ for ‘Founders’ because not all Founders were Framers of the Constitution, and many key Founders who were not Framers (and even a few who were) made compelling objections to it as failing to limit the powers granted the new government. Among the chief objectors were George Clinton, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, Luther Martin, Sam Adams, Robert Yates, John Lansing, George Mason, James Winthrop, Mercy Otis Warren, Melancton Smith and Thomas Paine. Chief among their objections were provisions granting the new government powers of direct taxation and of maintaining an army other than at times of war, but also for the lack of any mention of a ‘bill of rights’ (both individual and corporate [i.e., state] protections).
This may seem nitpicking, but it is important to understand the Founders, and even the Framers, were not entirely of one mind; and many of the Framers pushed through provisions in the Constitution they clearly understood risked upsetting those they meant to govern and contradicted some of their own oft and best argued stances during the late revolution. Moreover, those who attended the Federal Convention represented less than 20% of the leadership of the country, and represented the commercial and landed interest far more than rank and file; and were heavily weighted toward consolidation. The war was fought primarily against a heavy-handed taxation by a Parliament and ministers who were a) distant from those they taxed and b) were generally unaccountable for it. To most Americans of the early Republic, Congress was nearly as distant and unaccountable as King and Parliament. Most, today, are conversant the Founders revolted against excise taxes (stamp-taxes, tea, and any kind of official document [such as deeds and court findings]), but far less cognizant the Founders objected to the forms of taxation employed as much as representation angle; and ‘direct-taxation’ fairly topped their list of ‘crimes against humanity’. This was because while excise taxation was the proximate complaint given, most Americans were well aware that, should we let Britain get away with excise taxes, direct-taxation (poll taxes, tax on profits and labor) wouldn’t be long in coming. Direct taxes were already levied on British subjects in England, so it wasn’t much of a stretch of the imagination we’d be the next in-line to be taxed directly. Direct-taxes, unlike excise, have the advantage (from government’s view) of being inescapable (we can dodge paying a sales tax by refusing to buy the thing taxed and/or resorting to black-markets). Then, as now, government usurps by increments.
Standing armies were the other great bugaboo and were mistrusted both due to the forced-quartering, pillage, murder, and (alleged) rapine of British regulars and mercenaries, but also from confiscations made by starving Americans during the war. The common fear of standing armies rested mainly on presentations of their effects elsewhere from ancient histories than from direct contact with them. A greater fear (at least along the frontier) was from marauding Indians, and settlers of those areas looked to the coastal cities for armies with which to tame the wilderness just opening to them; and would not have been as averse to standing federal armies as were the revolutions leaders. A greater fear of standing armies existed among the denizens of the semi-tamed piedmont region between the coast and mountains, to whom apparent usurpations by the ‘tidewater aristocracy’ and urban commercial interests were already taking hold and threatening a combination against them. Shay’s rebellion gave us an example of this tension, and tells a great deal about the political factions then forming. Men of letters and high-standing (e.g., Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Wythe, and John Adams), had long railed against standing-armies from an understanding they are potential incubators of despotism (within the home country) and of confiscation (without), but also as propaganda (i.e., added to the list of grievances). This was the classical understanding of armies having little to do with the war just waged, as only one of the armies involved can have been classed as ‘standing’, and that army was not our own. It was also well understood that the sovereignty of the states depended on their own powers of raising and regulating militias (aka, citizen armies), and of levying taxes amenable to their people to that and other ends. The new frame of federal government threatened to undermine all that, reducing the states to mere departments, dependents or of killing them off through attrition and starvation.
Despite all stances and rhetoric to the contrary, most of the Convention’s leadership argued strenuously for control of the nation’s fighting forces and for an unrestricted power to tax. Few objections were raise to these two key usurpations during the Convention, as is amply shown by both Madison’s and Lansing’s notes, but immediately drew patriot fire as soon as it became public. To most of the delegates, the weakness of the Articles of Confederation and embarrassments arising from said weaknesses (with respect to the great powers of Europe) was more pressing than any need for limiting the new government. The ‘Crisis’ they inveighed against (and exploited) was almost as chimeric as today’s Sequestration flap, and consisted mainly in their frustration the country was taking too long recovering; from which many of them were losing wealth and prominence. A few, like Washington, also worried the Confederation was falling apart as the states were taking matters back into their own hands; leaving Congress with little to do and even less influence. Washington, Hamilton and others who’d actually fought in the war felt preserving the union was vital from having invested so much blood and hardship attaining it. Only a handful of delegates spoke against these provisions, but were, chastised, grossly out-voted and out-maneuvered for it. Most of the dissenters left the Convention early and in disgust (though still honor-bound to secrecy). Several of the delegates argued vaguely (and disingenuously) that, although acknowledging all governments usurp in some degree, our government would [somehow] escape such villainy, and would remain virtuous by attracting virtuous men; or, at least, enough as would keep the rest honorable and honest. So, too, did Hamilton, Madison and Jay argue in their now famous ‘Federalist Papers’; as did all federalist speakers of the ratifying conventions. Yes, they argued for limited-government and those arguments are important to a proper interpretation of the Constitution (i.e., a contract is both written and verbal based on a broadly-disseminated mutual-understanding of all its terms), but the Constitution as presented and represented in late 1787, did not yet provide such limits to the same extent as those same gentlemen had earlier argued were absolutely essential. Most were willing to compromise principle almost as much as they compromised the sovereignty of their own states, states they supposedly represented at the Convention. There is no question but that the Constitution, as originally drafted, seriously compromised the states and infringed on personal liberty, and that a bill of rights and other corrections were necessary to rectify and restore balance. What we got from the first Congress is a substantial improvement over the original, but those two provisions making the federal power supreme still stand unchallenged and undiluted. Moderate dissenters were bought off with some sops to personal liberty that did little (if anything) to reduce the powers granted the new government. We can thank Madison for that as he essentially and effectively headed off opposition by hijacking the anti-federalist’s own arguments, essentially defusing the movement to strip government of those two key provisions. Some delegates to the Convention were adamantly of the opinion state sovereignty ought to be sacrificed on the altar of federalism as they regarded ‘confederated’ and ‘effective’ government as ‘mutually-exclusive’ (that is: you can have a confederation or you can have effective government, but you can’t have an effective, confederated government); and, for that reason pushed for a fully consolidated government. Hamilton went so far as to favor a monarchy modeled on the British system, but none would second his motion. Others, while not quite advocating monarchy came close to it, just without the pomp and trappings. Some will call this ‘an evolving understanding of government’, and that is partially true; but is also an abandonment of principle (as Patrick Henry pointed out when he famously said of the Convention he “smelled a rat”).
Those who believe the Founder’s only objection to the power of taxation consists in a gripe against ‘non- representation’ are missing an essential point it is ‘accountability’ more than context that matters. Their objection, stripped of its particulars, has to do with the degree of accountability between imposer and payer, and that there should always be some mechanism of accountability as allays abuse. Parliament had no precedent for taxing the colonies, but had good reason to feel the colonies should bear some of the cost of the ‘French and Indian Wars’ (i.e., Seven Years War) fought by British regulars (as well as American militias), and was the prologue of the infamous Stamp-Tax Acts. The colonists had a legitimate gripe in the lack of representation business, but also made no effort at paying any of the cost of war; a war fought (here) mainly in defense of frontier communities. The colonists were cash poor, but were wealthy in other ways; and could have offered raw materials in lieu of grants to defray our portion.
Therefore, the “dangerous nature of political power was uppermost in the minds of the Founders” is something of a historical fiction bequeathed us by Joseph Story and others of the early republic more concerned with promoting republican virtues than historical exactitude. Certainly, it was part of the calculation, but ‘uppermost’ I doubt. The Constitution is without a doubt the most spectacularly successful experiment in popular government ever crafted by the hand of man (with divine assistance). There can also be no doubt the Constitution, as amended and expounded for over two centuries, has proved a (mostly) reliable vehicle for governmental restraint; provided it is scrupulously adhered to by those in power and/or insisted upon by those governed. For it to work in all cases and times requires the constant vigilance of both.
- J. Jay,
I was beginning to fret you had abandoned us, died or were otherwise incapacitated. I am glad to see “the rumors of your demise are greatly exaggerated” (to steal a line from Sam Clemons). So glad, that I will gladly forego rebuking the uncivil (and pointless) allegation of poor Bill’s supposedly negative “impression of contemporary intellectuals”. You, too, have posted your share of ‘negative impressions’, as makes Bill’s positively pale in comparison. Alas, however, I did promise to go easy on you, not respond to churlishness in kind, and not give to ‘empty rant’ attention it does not rate. And, so, I shall (or ‘shall not’, as applicable). So, have a good day, good health and a long life.
- Bob S.,
Thank you for your thoughtful and informed comment. I enjoyed learning from you.
I feel that we are, on the whole, in fierce agreement.
I appreciate your suggestion that "Framers" is the better choice for labeling those Founders who participated in the Constitutional Convention, and I agree that it is not nitpicking to make the case.
And I also appreciate your solid and in-depth discussion of what was and was not "uppermost."
I would like to say though that when you write "the “dangerous nature of political power was uppermost in the minds of the Founders” is something of a historical fiction...
you have me saying something I did not intend, no doubt as the result of the imperfect way I wrote it.
In "This understanding of the dangerous nature..." I intended for my reference to include the previous sentence which addressed the challenge of "the problem of government is how to make it strong enough to do what government must do without encroaching on individual liberty."
The Framers and those you mention who felt the Framers had struck the wrong balance did as you say disagree about the proper balance point, but there was widespread agreement that the strong enough/too strong balance point was the issue. In that sense, the Framers and the objectors were, if you'll pardon the expression, in fierce agreement.
That agreement about the fundamental issue was important. The French failed even to recognize this issue. As a result, by 1799 Napoleon as First Consul had seized power, sweeping aside all the traditional restraints on the king and had vastly more power even than Louis XIV.
Partly because of the Framers concern with unchecked power, things turned out very differently here in America.
And the debate about the proper balance point, as you make clear, is a live issue still today--in the living tradition of the Founders.
- I wrote "Partly because of the Framers concern with unchecked power..."
- Mr. Curry,
Or, can I call you Robert? I like your expression 'fierce agreement', and agree we are very much in agreement in substance. You, obviously, have as deep an interest in the Constitution and in the principles upon which it was constructed. Moreover, I relish the opportunity to engage in friendly discussions of particulars with anyone with an interest equal to (or greater than) my own as a means to expand understanding, share novel insights, and engage in speculation. I have, therefore, followed your several articles (at this website) with considerable interest, and hope to see more of your output.
I can recommend a number of books (to anyone interested) that I found especially helpful to understanding the Convention, Framers, Ratification and the under-appreciated opposition to it. These include:
'Decision in Philadelphia - The Constitutional Convention of 1787', Collier & Collier
'Ratification - The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788', Pauline Maier
'Lion of Liberty - Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation', Harlow Giles Unger'
'James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights', Richard Labunski
Naturally, I don't agree with the obvious revisionism which crept into some of these titles, but that should not discourage us from gaining insights of our own from their very real scholarship. All of these were written by people with a passion for the subject, and demonstrate discipline with respect to letting the evidence lead. Your own scholarship appears to be of a similar caliber, so naturally, I acknowledge and encourage such effort. My own knowledge of the subject is built on extensive readings by others, is amateurish, and ought not to be construed as scholarship (i.e., haven't spent countless hours collecting and collating artifacts and letters). But, I do appreciated the lifetime of commitment that takes. So, thank you; and do keep up the good work.
- Dear Bob S,
I like that expression "fierce agreement" too. I learned it from my friend Hadley Arkes. By the way, I recommend his books to you. He is surely one of the most important thinkers today on America's Founding.
And thank you for your recommended readings.
Like you I am a an amateur (the root of the word is "love") student of the American Founders and, like you, I try not to be amateurish when I write.
Thanks for your kind words about my musings posted here. They are a labor of love.
I am just now finishing my book on the American Founding, elements of which appeared on this site little by little.
I especially appreciate your comment that we can learn from real scholars, even when they have revisionist views. In fact, we are often forced to learn from such scholars due to the fact that liberal education has been largely captured by the forces of illiberalism.
Again, I am enjoying meeting you, and, yes please, call me Robert.
With sincere best wishes,
In posts 8 & 9, we debated the Framers:
a) had the dangers of political power uppermost in their minds at the Convention
b) were in ‘fierce agreement’ (or disagreement)
To this list of things I question with respect to the Framer’s intent, I must add:
c) preserving the political independence of the states
d) creating a zone of liberty around the individual
e) crafting two legislative bodies (with checks on each other) rather than a unified legislature
Yes, these were things that interested most of them, but (in my opinion) did not actually or primarily motivate choices they made at the Convention. Madison’s and Lansing’s notes (as well as the post-Convention complaints of Martin) suffice to inform us that, while the Framers did indeed have some of those ideas in mind and in conversations at various stages, there were more immediate concerns motivating their choices; and some of the things we assume here as settled were hotly debated and in total secrecy there.
All of the delegates were themselves beneficiaries of power, were grown accustomed to its advantages, far from remiss in exercising power (sometimes selfishly), frustrated that their ‘vision’ of a unified nation was given short shrift, inclined to view the opposition (to consolidation) as traitorous and materialistic, and worried their own influence was on the wane in the absence of a ‘Crisis’. The crisis of war had given them power to move mountains, whereas peace brought nothing but frustration and the bickering of market hens. The war accustomed men like Washington to unquestioned loyalty and obedience, Hamilton to the secondary trappings of power, moved Morris to attempt feats of fiscal legerdemain, Jefferson and Adams to the station, honors and expectations of statesmen, and a host of others to the preemptive confidence that only comes of danger survived. As such, they were soon parlaying minor crises (such as the Shay’s business) into major ones, seeing each as a further unraveling of the revolution’s promise, and exploiting each as a means to pull the states and opposition back along the path of unification. It is not surprising, therefore, that most delegates of both the Convention and ratification debates were proudly patriotic war-veterans (else major political figures) with ideas of their own as to the ultimate meaning of those events. Many delegates to the convention were ‘self-elected’, and did not, therefore, represent a true consensus of opinion; rather, they represented a highly-motivated ‘politically elite’ opinion, as well as representing ‘commercial’ and ‘land speculator’ elites. To them, the ‘crisis’ was a vanishing window of opportunity to push Americans further and faster than most wished to go in the direction of union. This is not to say they were wrong to want it, only impatient to achieve it and to seal it up for all time. When we first understand this about these powerfully influential men, much of what unfolds in the pivotal years 1787-1789 becomes far more comprehensible than when cast in an assumed light of near consensus with only a smattering of dissent (as is generally assumed). Extreme libertarians (like Patrick Henry) were just as insistent the Confederation, and not a solid federation, was the right way to go and should be preserved, even at the cost of disunion. The reality is that several, if not many, of the delegates to the Convention would have been perfectly happy seeing the states annihilated, and it was only the later compromise of political moderates (during Ratification) who revived the essentiality of the states to liberty and preserved that principle of a retention of ‘state sovereignty’ through the vehicle of the 9th and 10th Amendments, a compromise as the Great Compromise resulting in a split in the legislative branch.
Like the idea of the Framers having ‘limited government’ foremost in their minds, The Great Compromise of 1787 (as shown by Madison’s notes), proves there were more Framers opposed to the idea of bicameralism than favored it, most opposed the idea strenuously and gave good reasons for that opposition, and that it was only the prospect of failure that moved them to drop that opposition. Neither the Virginia nor New Jersey plans (the two having the greatest support) included a bicameral option. Pinckney’s plan had a bicameral legislature, but was voted down quickly and precisely for that reason. Hamilton’s plan also included a bicameral legislature, but less because he considered it indispensible than convinced the British model should be followed (in all its particulars) based on a record of success (which is odd considering they’d just lost a war to us and suffered humility, a war started through Parliamentary miscalculation). His also was denounced as impracticable in a republic. The Great Compromise wasn’t even considered as a viable or remaining option (despite Pinckney and Hamilton both proposed it early on) until the other two options had been fully and repeatedly explored. The main argument lodged against bicameralism was that it increases the influence of the other branches relative to the legislature to have it so divided (i.e., divide and conquer). A bicameral legislature is subject to greater manipulation, especially by the executive branch, to do its bidding. Small-state delegates feared a combination of large states (Virginia and Massachusetts) against them in crafting legislation favoring those states and giving them the lion’s share of power and offices. It should be noted that of the first six presidents, two were from Massachusetts (Adams and J.Q. Adams) and four were Virginians (Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe), demonstrating they had a valid point. The large states, on the other hand, could not abide the idea of small states pushing them around or a small-state cabal blocking important legislation as was so often the case under the Confederation; and viewed representation parsed by states as the root cause of that particular evil. Thus, it was large-states versus small-states that motivated the Great Compromise, and not any preference for bicameralism as a ‘power-separation’ or ‘government balancing’ mechanism (bicameralism is neither).
Sidebar: The high degree of consensus we assume of the Founders, Framers and country as a whole was both real and manufactured. It was real in the sense the war uprooted Toryism (conservative loyalty to Britain and its system), but manufactured in that it made liberty, country (variously interpreted as the union as a whole or a particular state), representative government, and the rule of law (not men) popular yet still unfamiliar terms to the vast majority of Americans. To be ‘out of step’ with the revolution risked the hostility of local communities; and, while there may have been few ‘loyalty tests’, shunning of objectors to The Cause was common, and created a pressure align opinion to the majority view. Thus, conformity also played a role. In any society, less than half the population is politically attuned, and Americans of that era were no exception. Of the politically aware, the one-quarter to half that had actively opposed insurrection/separation were sent out of the country by war’s end. That left a hard core of activists and converts, which explains the extraordinary consensus of opinion and absence of dissenting factions we see in the decade between war’s end and the Convention. The consolidation-movement revived factionalism in the country over new and emerging points of contention.
Separation of power was, in their parlance, according to function (i.e., executive v. legislative v. judicial), and a division of the legislature could only result in an ‘unbalanced’ system that left the legislative at the mercy of the other two (especially in combination). That made the continuing viability, autonomy and influence of the states (in opposition to executive power) that much more important as an additional bulwark against encroachment. It also forced the delegates to compromise principle further in order to restore some semblance of balance, which was accomplished by blending branch functions (Senate has some executive and judicial aspects, President has some legislative and judicial, and judicial has some legislative [as expounded by Marshall]). This ‘compromising of principle’ was felt unnecessary by many delegates were it not for this otherwise unnecessary legislative subdivision. By making the mode of electing Senators the same as Representatives, the basis for which the Senate was created is lost, making its continued existence pointless and their recall nigh impossible.
The early and lengthy wrangling over bicameralism left many of the delegates exhausted and apprehensive lest some new division result in a failure to conclude their business. Many had neglected affairs elsewhere to attend as well, and a few left early because the Convention was taking longer than they had anticipated. Most had arrived believing only a few alterations to the Confederation would be discussed affecting a) interstate commerce, b) a power to enforce appropriations made on the states, and c) the right of Congress to negotiate treatises for all; and were surprised to find they were devising a whole new government from scratch. The fight over apportionment very nearly upset the proceedings a second time. As a result of this growing apprehension and impulse to finish before things unraveled a third time, the remaining delegates spent less than half as much ink framing the executive branch and very little on framing a judiciary. In effect, they left the executive and judiciary branches to infill their own details, and abdication of their legislative function.
Political power, to such men, is less to be feared than a lack of it. The Confederation, to them, was an abject failure precisely because too weak, too divided and ineffectual. They spoke often and freely of having power on a par with that of the then great powers (Britain, France and Spain) as the cure-all for the Confederation’s ills. To believe, therefore, they would have been satisfied having an America somewhere between 1790s Britain and modern-day Luxemburg is the stuff of popular myth. Washington complained often, while President, of our weakness before foreigners, Adams strained resources to build an effective and “respected” navy, and Monroe (last Founder president) declared a doctrine little short of belligerence in short order; all from a desire to establish power comparable to that of empires. Was their assumed conviction ‘power corrupts’, then, so much hypocrisy; or is it more likely historiographers and later generations reordered their priorities for them, creating something of a myth of a ‘limited-government’ insisting stereotype.
Partly, the great shift in our thinking came from Jefferson, who did espouse the ‘rights and limits’ philosophy in greater depth than did others of his generation, and reshaped a nation along his own line of reasoning the more he gained in stature. It is from Jefferson and few others that we get our idea of a ‘zone of liberty around the individual’ as verges on the ‘holy’. Jefferson became the ‘philosopher king’ to whom generations looked for guidance, and from whom they (we) drew conclusions regarding the continuing meaning of Revolution and Constitution. After the 1800 election, many Americans (of his generation) began genuflecting to Jeffersonian interpretations (e.g., Danbury Baptists), often in preference to surviving delegates or those of his own Supreme Court; leaving an indelible stamp of ‘Jeffersonian authority’ regarding the ‘true meaning’ of the revolution. His influence in this, and other ideas, found attentive ear more in subsequent generations than it ever did in his own, despite he never attended the Convention and his letters to Madison (and others) advancing ideas on how they should proceed were too late arriving to have any real influence on the outcome. Too great a reliance on Jefferson, then, caused (and still causes) us to misread the Framers with respect to their intentions and principles.
- (continued from post #12) The other great influence (on our misreading) is the Federalist Papers of Hamilton, Madison and Jay, written during the New York ratification process as pro-Constitution propaganda and presuming to speak for all the Framers. Those papers are both ‘enlightening’ and ‘dissembling’. Two of the three authors were delegates to the Convention, making their opinions ‘authoritative’. But, so too were the opinions of anti-ratification polemicist/delegates like Yates and Martin. All three (Hamilton, Madison & Jay) argued principles at variance with arguments they’d made at the Convention or in other contexts (and, sometimes borrowing ideas from the opposition). This was especially true of Hamilton, who comes across in the Fed-Papers as an arch-libertarian; whereas in reality, he was a quasi-authoritarian. In the Papers, Hamilton emphasized limiting aspects of the Constitution, such as ‘separation of powers’ and ‘checks and balances’, despite he argued almost immediately after Ratification for “implied powers” and advised Washington to bypass the other branches when obstructive. Madison’s political philosophy, while closer to the Jeffersonian/libertarian standard, was still evolving in 1787; and, whereas he was a staunch consolidator and federalist prior to ratification, he became increasingly a state-rights, personal-liberty, and Republican partisan afterward (Jefferson had a hand in reshaping Madison’s thinking during this period). The Federalist Papers were widely read only in New York City, poorly disseminated in Federalist enclaves within the state but outside NYC, and deliberately withheld from anti-federalist enclaves. Outside of New York, they were only read in a couple of states, both of which had already ratified; making their influence over the outcome in those states moot. Their value, then, is more to the modern scholar hoping to capture political nuances and to students of the Framer’s vision expecting to recapture some of their dream without really understanding or embracing all the things (some we’d now regard selfish) which moved them to it.
Much of what we think about the Founders depends on timing, and Madison is but one example of this. We see them as they were at the end more than the beginning of their development; and, so, project parting images onto protean ones. Many had a hand in shaping the Revolution, Confederation and Constitution, but were as much shaped by them as shaped them. Consider, you have decided you are more liberal than conservative in your thinking and thereafter self-identify as unashamedly liberal (baffling, I know, but stay with that thought). Okay [you ask yourself], but what does that really mean to be a ‘liberal’. At a library or bookstore you visit the ‘politics’ section and, carefully steering clear of books by Beck, Bush and Buckley, you skim titles mocking conservatives as knuckle-dragging brutes too stupid to lose sleep over. You still don’t know what it means to be a liberal, but you have learned what it means to despise others with whom you disagree. Subtly, you’ve already made a major shift in world view because, whereas before you regarded all partisans mock-able, you’ve now decided liberals are just okay whereas conservatives are okay to bash, and thereby compound and confound the never-ending, highly-divisive debate. Just that easily are we moved in our views, and the same can be said of the Founders and Framers who, while occupying a higher plane of debate, were nonetheless evolving in lockstep with changes they themselves wrought. The Framers, having crafted a work of political art, immediately began to build a political theory surrounding, supporting, protecting, and justifying it; and the result is we (today) are convinced they accomplished precisely what they’d set out to accomplish. But, did they? Modern historians are finding a lot of evidence that, although they had the bits and pieces of a working theory, it was the Ratification process and the need to inspire confidence in the new government that forced them to hone principles to near unassailability; but also to weave a narrative of greater purpose. ‘Chicken or egg, which came first?’; and, of course, the answer is neither and both.
We ought, therefore, to deemphasize Federalist propaganda and Jefferson alike in the Framing narrative, and expand our reading of actual attendees and the arguments actually used.
- Errata: In post #12, paragraph 4, final sentence I meant to write "...a compromise as significant, as the Great Compromise resulting in a split in the legislative branch."
- Jay, to answer your query about my generally negative view of today's intellectuals, I have to say that I have a generally negative opinion of a much wider swath of Americans than just the intellectuals. After all, half the people support the failed and destructive policies of the radical Left. I do, like Theodore Dalrymple, believe that most of these destructive ideas filter down from the intelligentsias to infect the ordinary people. (See his book "The Mandatrins and the Masses.")
But, it takes an undisciplined mob to accept such notions, so the vast numbers who embrace big government are part of the problem. Historians have often lamented that strong and free Republics tend to transform themselves into populist democracies when demagogic leaders and grasping citizens learn they can both succeed by robbing from Peter to pay Paul. "Redistribution" becomes Holy Grail. Bread and Circus the diversion. All the wonderful intricacies of our Constitution that Robert and Bob have so meticulously explored in these posts have failed to stop this slide into Big Government. All it took was for the Supreme Court to gradually twist the meaning of interstate commerce to broaden the federal power over every facet of our lives. And ObamaCare's mandates survived the Court's scrutiny with some deft word-play about it being a "Tax."
But that didn't happen until 300 years after our initial settling. It is possible that our populace has changed. The first ten generations arrived here expecting nothing but open space liberty, and hardship--What kinds of people were these? They expected no help from anyone, but were motivated by the opportunity to carve out for themselves a home in the wilderness. They accepted the challenge to make it on their own and trusted only to God to guide them. Today's Americans are in comparison a very watered down bunch, a very different people, and too few have the grit of those who bult the nation from 1620 to 1920.
If you read the the "Statement of Purpose" in the top left hand corner of this page, Thomas Brewton has referred to this "understanding" of the early Americans as the unwritten foundation of the Constitution, and that without that self-reliant and moral populace, no written Constitution can function well. In the same section Adams is quoted that the Constitution is useless without "a moral and religious" citizenry. If that is so, all the fine points in Robert and Bob's posts are historically interesting, but rather irrelevant to today's problems. As Thomas writes, without the widespread viewpoint of those early pioneers, "the bare words of the Constitution" are somewhat irrelevant, and can be twisted to suit any purpose.
Posted by bill greene on 03/09 at 11:01 PM
I perhaps did not directly answer your question about today's intellectuals: There are some "good" intellects on both sides,and certainly Von Mises and Hayek did a good job explaining the virtues of free markets and limited government. And Samuelson and Keynes did less well. Unfortunately, when it comes to economic theory, utopian ideas featuring equality of results, and redistribution, appeal to the masses more than Coolidge and Friedman's ideas about thrift and balanced budgets. Thus, from an academic or scholarly platform, the liberal big government ideas will eventually succeed, unless you have very wise and independent voters--a situation which is unlikely to occur with today's public schools and colleges. It is possible that intellectuals on both sides are merely preaching to their choirs and have little beneficial effect. Voters might be like our children--much more interested in bad ideas than prudent ones! Which gives the liberals the edge!
Posted by bill greene on 03/09 at 11:11 PM
- ..."both sides are merely preaching to their choirs"...
No doubt--and yet...
My favorite Milton Friedman moment was when he was asked how he felt having won the economic debate.
He answered that he and his colleagues had not won the debate. They had simply kept working. Eventually, society was ready to listen to them--and they were ready with answers.
Perhaps we won't get another chance. That certainly is possible. But if that chance does come around, we sure better be ready.
It's a thought.
- Robert-- I also would like to hope we get a second chance. But, remember, when the USSR collapsed, Fukuyama declared it "The End of History," which I believe meant that he thought the superiority of the free market versus a controlled economy had been clearly established for all time.
But, alas, he did not reckon on the academics, idealists, dreamers, demagogues, slackers, and useful idiots who want Big Government. And in America today, they have 51% of the vote! They even overlooked Obama's denigration of Middle Americans who cling to their Faith and guns! The end is near!
And, conservative intellectuals like Paul Johnson and Thomas Sowell, are whistling in the wind. Can you imagine that a man like Sowell can only find work in the Hoover Inst.?? Others, like Kristol, are too wishy-washy to help. Talk radio hosts are the pamphleteers of today but they are ridiculed by the mainstream media, Hollywood, and the academy. Their listeners are a shrinking minority.
A main difference between today and 1776 is that we can't tar and feather the Royalists among us, torch their homes, and ride them out of town on a rail! Without that rowdy freedom, the unruly Sam Adamses may not have won the day!Posted by bill greene on 03/10 at 11:48 AM
- 1. "crafting two legislative bodies (with checks on each other) rather than a unified legislature"
2. "By making the mode of electing Senators the same as Representatives, the basis for which the Senate was created is lost"
I tip my hat to the depth of your study of the Framers.
I can offer one question and one thought. Do you refer in 2 above to the Amendment that much later during the Progressive era provided for direct election of U.S. senators, instead of their election by the state legislators according to the original design of the Framers? Perhaps you don't.
In any case, that was a change that undermined the Framers' Constitutional design and did great harm to self-government.
A legislative body elected directly by the people and one elected by the state legislators to represent the interests of that state in the federal government was brilliant.
As you point out, many factors were involved, and not all were considerations of the most elevated sort--but look at the outcome! The Constitution was far from Madison's original proposal and even more distant from Hamilton's. Yet they championed the Constitution in the Federalist Papers.
Perhaps one way to understand that is this: the Framers had just experienced that "legislatures" composed of men with different views and interests can accomplish great things anyway.
Thanks for your thoughts and analysis on the battle of the intellectuals! Your perception of the seductiveness of liberal thought to the child-like and undiscriminating masses is intriguing.
- J. Jay-- if it is true, as you crystallize the connundrum I raised, that liberal nanny state policies are in fact more seductive to the average human being than a culture based on self reliance, emotional restraint, and initiative--then, we may have the answer to why history's successful Republics eventually all turned populist and declined.
I recall a historian observing that throughout history, societies have generally been their most successful when young, new, and rapidly developing. It is only after huge growth and the add-on of new elites, bureaucracies, and suffocating government that such republics falter.
This concept is fleshed out in the case of modern Israel by authors Dan Senor and Saul Singer: Their book, "START-UP NATION," addresses the trillion dollar question: A reviewer sums it up as follows: "How is it that Israel-- a country of 7.1 million, only 60 years old, surrounded by enemies, in a constant state of war since its founding, with no natural resources-- produces more start-up companies than large, peaceful, and stable nations like Japan, China, India, Korea, Canada and the UK? With the savvy of foreign policy insiders, Senor and Singer examine the lessons of the country's adversity-driven culture, which flattens hierarchy and elevates informality-- all backed up by government policies focused on innovation. In a world where economies as diverse as Ireland, Singapore and Dubai have tried to re-create the "Israel effect", there are entrepreneurial lessons well worth noting. As America reboots its own economy and can-do spirit, there's never been a better time to look at this remarkable and resilient nation for some impressive, surprising clues."
Of course, the clue is in large part due to the homogeneity and motivation of millions of voluntary immigrants seeking opportunity, not hand-outs, in a new free land--shades of the North American colonists of the 1600's--and a culture that expects effort and initiative from all. Would not such atypical people be presumed to be immune to the seductive promises of socialists? They would scoff at "Newspeak" and partisan spin.
This "new nation start-up vitality" hypothesis was referred to by Jean-Fracois Revel in "Anti-Americanism" where he extols the "laboratories of history" where civilization's great innovations were tested. He specificaly refers to what I have called the stepping stones of progress by citing Phoenicia, early Greek city States, Ancient Rome, Renaissance Italian cities, 16th C Holland, 17th C Scotland, etc. It is no coincidence that these unique bright spots of progress in world history were all new market economies fueled by the energies of energetic citizens operating in a free economy.
What kind of people were drawn to the swamps of Venice to found the Venetian Empire, or the Dutch that chose to dig ou an under water nation, or the Phoenician traders perched on the islets and penninsulas along the Lebanese coast? They were much like the hardy settlers in the Rocky New England wilderness, and the Presbyterian Scots that created their medical and engineering marvels in a remote land with few natural resources. As Julian Simon would argue, "The Ultimate Resource" is, always, in the end, the people who inhabit the land. Thus, if a great nation Falls, barring some cataclysmic event, it must be due to a failing of its people. A kind of People readily seduced by utopian promises. And, here we come to infamous genetic law about "the Regression to the Mean."
It is important to recognize that while all races and people are, on average, roughly equal in their varied abilties and potential, there can still be isolated groups of people that are more or less able than that world-wide average. When there is a confluence of such "more competent" individuals, their group will outperform the average. This is obvious among school children picking up teams: The two doing the selection must alternate turns picking their team so each team represents the whole group. If one person had the first nine picks, his team would crush the other team made up of the second nine players.
It is the same with societies. The start-up nations, peopled by settlers who made the effort to move to and develop a new frontier have self-selected for initiative, daring, self-reliance, and physical stamina. Plus their "new" society is unburdened by the heirarchies and institutions of older societies, and are usually further enabled by a fortuitous absence of all aristocracies and intellectuals!
But, over centuries, along with growing affluence and opportunity for parasitic behavior, there is an ongoing regression to the mean of its people. Many no longer harbor the pioneer spirit, their self-reliance and initiative gets watered down, their moral compass skewed, their founding institutions questioned, thrify habits forgotten, and their debts, both personal and national, pile up to unconscionable levels.
When Obama can point to an inventive entrepreneur who founded a successful and productive enterprise, and declare that "You did not build that!" to the thunderous applause of many, the regression to the mean has been reached! America is in the declining phase of great societies--all because of its people. And our leaders, sensing the wonderful Orwellian world that our weakened populace opens up, are raising the intensity of their promises, and the hatred for those who made America succeed.Posted by bill greene on 03/11 at 12:27 PM
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