Monday, February 27, 2012

Apologist in Chief


Reflecting on his experience as a community organizer, President Obama recalled that "As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith."
No so in Afghanistan. He has failed in his efforts to organize the Afghan central "government," local warlords, opium growers, the Taliban, the Pakistani government, the Pakistani military, the Pakistani ISI, and (did I miss anyone else?) into a community that will support any comprehensive agreement about the future of the region that might bring "dignity and peace."

And now after U.S. personnel inadvertently burned several copies of the Koran, riots "broke out" in region. Despite several apologies by local U.S. officials and the promise of an investigation by Hamid Karzai, the rioting continues. The President himself has joined this carousal of contrition, only to be ignored.

With all  the positive reactions to the President's debut as a blues singer, perhaps its time to turn to song.

Maybe he can cover this one.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Birthday Message from George Washington

Some quotes attributed to George Washington:


Arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of libery abused to licentiousness.


Few men have the virtue to withstand the highest bidder.


Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance. They are the people's liberty's teeth.


Observe good faith and justice with all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all.


To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace.




Below: Jean-Antoine Houdin's bust of Washington circa 1780s:











Monday, February 20, 2012

Culture Wars Again?

In the midst of the worst economic crisis of since the Great Depression, the so-called Culture Wars are back.

The Obama administration and Catholic Bishops pit government mandated health coverage against the freedom of religion.

And over the last few weeks, the Washington, New Jersey, and Maryland state legislatures voted on the question of same sex marriage. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed that state's bill, demanding instead a state constitutional amendment.

Californians adopted the constitutional amendment approach, only to find themselves on the losing end in federal court. The background in a nutshell:

Marriage has been understood traditionally as a union between a man and a woman. So universal is this traditional understanding that many state statutes regulating marriage include no references to gender. Homosexual rights advocates have seized upon this perceived vagueness in state civil or family codes to make their legal cases for same-sex marriage. In 1977, California state assembly removed this vagueness by amending its civil code to confirm the traditional definition of marriage as “a personal relation arising out of a civil contract between a man and a woman.”


Same-sex marriage developments in other states moved California to further refine its statutes on marriage. Because California law recognized the legal status of marriages conducted in other states, this opened the door for the establishment of same-sex marriages in California. Couples who were parties to a legal same-sex marriage as citizens in another state could relocate to California and demand recognition of their marriages. In addition, California citizens could subvert their own state’s regulations by marrying in a state that licensed same-sex unions and returning to California.

California voters attempted to close this loophole in 2000 through Proposition 22, called the Defense of Marriage Act. Passed by a 61-39 percent majority, this initiative amended the statutes in the family code to read that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." Homosexual rights advocates filed lawsuits in several different jurisdictions challenging its constitutionality. These cases wound their way through the California state appellate system until they reached the California Supreme Court. The Court consolidated and reviewed six of these cases. In May 2005, the court by a 4-3 majority struck down Proposition 22 and other related statutes that maintained the traditional definition of marriage as violating the California state constitution.


To reinstate the traditional understanding of marriage and the state’s statutes on licensing, a petition drive placed another initiative before the voters. Proposition 8, the California Marriage Protection Act, sought to bypass the state’s Supreme Court ruling by amending the state constitution itself. The petition drive secured twice the number of signatures need to be placed on the ballot. On November 5, 2008, voters passed Proposition 8 by a 52-48 majority. Several same-sex couples filed lawsuits challenging even the validity of amending the state constitution. On May 2009,  the same California Supreme Court court that rejected Proposition 22 upheld Proposition 8.

Finally, suits were filed in federal court. In the first trial, Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that the amendment to the California state constitution known as Proposition 8 violated the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution and struck it down.

Now a federal appeals courts has upheld that decision. Without going into the details of the opinion or the controversy of same sex marriage itself, let's look at some of the opinion's more remarkable claims.

“Proposition 8 serves no purpose and has no effect other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.”

No other purpose? I don't not know about that. Voters in California probably had hundreds of different reasons for approving Proposition 8. It does not appear that the judge asked any of them. The passage reads more like advocacy of a lawyer  than the impartial conclusion of a judge.

“By using their initiative power to target a minority group and withdraw a right that it possessed, without a legitimate reason for doing so, the people of California violated the Equal Protection Clause"

The describing of  Proposition 8 as an attempt to "withdraw a right" is a bit disingenuous. Same sex couples only possessed this right because of the decision of another activist federal judge named Vaughn Walker.

"A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but to the couple desiring to enter into a committed lifelong relationship, a marriage by the name of ‘registered domestic partnership’ does not.”

In this clumsy effort at sarcasm, the court unintentionally warned other states about the dangers of  so-called "civil unions." In California, homosexual rights groups actually advocated civil unions. Once the legislature enacted them, however, these same rights groups claimed that such legislation stigmatized (in the words of the original plaintiffs)  and discriminated against same sex couples. The judge cited civil unions as evidence of discrimination.

The only thing the court got right in this case was its repeated allusions to the negative impact of restricting marriage to heterosexuals on the social status of homosexuals. And social status is really what this is all about. A very small percentage of same sex couples will ever marry. Homosexual rights advocates see  traditional marriage as one of the last distinctions between homosexuals and heterosexuals. They seem to think with the abolition of this legal distinction, "homophobia" will go away. The fail to see that in the minds of many if not most people, it is not the lack of the "fundamental right of marriage" that stigmatizes homosexuals; it is homosexuality itself.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

It's Halftime in America

Leaving aside my much-longer-than-intended-exploration-of-the-changing-meaning-of-republicanism, let's take a Right Detour into recent, and not so recent news and events . . .

The Superbowl has passed, but the most talked about topics were Gisele Bundchen's dropping of the "F" bomb on her husbands teammates and Clint Eastwood's headscratching Chrysler commercial.

Eastwood, a right-leaning libertarian type in real life, narrated the commercial about Americans "coming together." Did that mean American workers coming together in Chrysler plants to increase production quantity and quality? Or did it mean American politicians and Chrysler executives coming together for a bailout.






Reason TV provided its own version that filled in some of the details:






Note for younger viewers:

If the name Fiat sounds unfamiliar, it is an Italian Company that made a short lived attempt to break into the American car market in the 1970s. They enjoyed some success with the Fiat X 1/9:








But soon Americans learned from experience what FIAT stands for:


Fix It Again, Tony!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Birthday Message from Abraham Lincoln

Today is the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the first and greatest of conservative Republican presidents.









While only a relatively unknown representative in the Illinois State Legislature, Lincoln gave a interesting  speech that presaged the rhetorical greatness to come. The title of the speech defined the conservative enterprise then and now--"The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions."

Lincoln warned of two threats to our institutions, both which come from among us.

The first was mob rule. The so-called "Jacksonian Era" in which he matured was not only known for the growth of democracy and the rise of the first modern political parties, but also for a surprising amount of violence. Whether lynching in the South or organized urban riots in the North, many Americans seemed bent on ignoring "the rule of law" and settling differences privately through violent means rather than entrusting the justice system. He argued that the love for the laws of our land needs to be proclaimed from the legislatures, the courts, the schools, and the pulpits until it becomes the "political religion" of our land.

The second was the rise of men who seek "the glorification of their ruling passions." Lincoln acknowledged that our founders shared those ruling passions. They tied their future reputations in history to the success of the republican experiment that they initiated.


"If they succeeded, they were to be immortalized; their names were to be transferred to counties and cities, and rivers and mountains; and to be revered and sung, and toasted through all time. If they failed, they were to be called knaves and fools, and fanatics for a fleeting hour; then to sink and be forgotten."


The success of the republican experiment , however, created a problem. New men of ambition who seek "the glorification of their ruling passions" will not content themselves with conserving and perpetuating our political institutions:


"Towering genius disdains a beaten path.  It seeks regions hitherto unexplored.  It sees no distinction in adding story to story, upon the monuments of fame, erected to the memory of others . It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor."


This kind of ambition seeks its fulfillment at any cost:


"Distinction will be his paramount object, and although he would as willingly, perhaps more so, acquire it by doing good as harm; yet, that opportunity being past, and nothing left to be done in the way of building up, he would set boldly to the task of pulling down."


Is this not the spirit of contemporary Progressivism as seen the the Presidency, the Congress, and the Courts?

Lincoln's answer? Again, a  new devotion to the Constitution, laws, and the memory of the first President under that Constitution. Although passions have helped Americans, now only cold, calculating reason must furnish the materials of a


"general intelligence, sound morality, and in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws: and, that we improved to the last; that we remained free to the last; that we revered his name to the last; that, during his long sleep, we permitted no hostile foot to pass over or desecrate his resting place; shall be that which to learn the last trump shall awaken our WASHINGTON."


"Upon these let the proud fabric of freedom rest, as the rock of its basis; and as truly as has been said of the only greater institution,"the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.'"

Such is the conservative mission.


Below the entire text:


The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions:
Address Before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois
January 27, 1838



"In the great journal of things happening under the sun, we, the American People, find our account running, under date of the nineteenth century of the Christian era.--We find ourselves in the peaceful possession, of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate. We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us. We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings. We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them--they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors. Their's was the task (and nobly they performed it) to possess themselves, and through themselves, us, of this goodly land; and to uprear upon its hills and its valleys, a political edifice of liberty and equal rights; 'tis ours only, to transmit these, the former, unprofaned by the foot of an invader; the latter, undecayed by the lapse of time and untorn by usurpation, to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know. This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.

How then shall we perform it?--At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?-- Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!--All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.
I hope I am over wary; but if I am not, there is, even now, something of ill-omen, amongst us. I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice. This disposition is awfully fearful in any community; and that it now exists in ours, though grating to our feelings to admit, it would be a violation of truth, and an insult to our intelligence, to deny. Accounts of outrages committed by mobs, form the every-day news of the times. They have pervaded the country, from New England to Louisiana;--they are neither peculiar to the eternal snows of the former, nor the burning suns of the latter;--they are not the creature of climate-- neither are they confined to the slave-holding, or the non-slave- holding States. Alike, they spring up among the pleasure hunting masters of Southern slaves, and the order loving citizens of the land of steady habits.--Whatever, then, their cause may be, it is common to the whole country.

It would be tedious, as well as useless, to recount the horrors of all of them. Those happening in the State of Mississippi, and at St. Louis, are, perhaps, the most dangerous in example and revolting to humanity. In the Mississippi case, they first commenced by hanging the regular gamblers; a set of men, certainly not following for a livelihood, a very useful, or very honest occupation; but one which, so far from being forbidden by the laws, was actually licensed by an act of the Legislature, passed but a single year before. Next, negroes, suspected of conspiring to raise an insurrection, were caught up and hanged in all parts of the State: then, white men, supposed to be leagued with the negroes; and finally, strangers, from neighboring States, going thither on business, were, in many instances subjected to the same fate. Thus went on this process of hanging, from gamblers to negroes, from negroes to white citizens, and from these to strangers; till, dead men were seen literally dangling from the boughs of trees upon every road side; and in numbers almost sufficient, to rival the native Spanish moss of the country, as a drapery of the forest.

Turn, then, to that horror-striking scene at St. Louis. A single victim was only sacrificed there. His story is very short; and is, perhaps, the most highly tragic, if anything of its length, that has ever been witnessed in real life. A mulatto man, by the name of McIntosh, was seized in the street, dragged to the suburbs of the city, chained to a tree, and actually burned to death; and all within a single hour from the time he had been a freeman, attending to his own business, and at peace with the world.

Such are the effects of mob law; and such as the scenes, becoming more and more frequent in this land so lately famed for love of law and order; and the stories of which, have even now grown too familiar, to attract any thing more, than an idle remark.

But you are, perhaps, ready to ask, "What has this to do with the perpetuation of our political institutions?" I answer, it has much to do with it. Its direct consequences are, comparatively speaking, but a small evil; and much of its danger consists, in the proneness of our minds, to regard its direct, as its only consequences. Abstractly considered, the hanging of the gamblers at Vicksburg, was of but little consequence. They constitute a portion of population, that is worse than useless in any community; and their death, if no pernicious example be set by it, is never matter of reasonable regret with any one. If they were annually swept, from the stage of existence, by the plague or small pox, honest men would, perhaps, be much profited, by the operation.--Similar too, is the correct reasoning, in regard to the burning of the negro at St. Louis. He had forfeited his life, by the perpetuation of an outrageous murder, upon one of the most worthy and respectable citizens of the city; and had not he died as he did, he must have died by the sentence of the law, in a very short time afterwards. As to him alone, it was as well the way it was, as it could otherwise have been.--But the example in either case, was fearful.--When men take it in their heads to day, to hang gamblers, or burn murderers, they should recollect, that, in the confusion usually attending such transactions, they will be as likely to hang or burn some one who is neither a gambler nor a murderer as one who is; and that, acting upon the example they set, the mob of to-morrow, may, and probably will, hang or burn some of them by the very same mistake. And not only so; the innocent, those who have ever set their faces against violations of law in every shape, alike with the guilty, fall victims to the ravages of mob law; and thus it goes on, step by step, till all the walls erected for the defense of the persons and property of individuals, are trodden down, and disregarded. But all this even, is not the full extent of the evil.--By such examples, by instances of the perpetrators of such acts going unpunished, the lawless in spirit, are encouraged to become lawless in practice; and having been used to no restraint, but dread of punishment, they thus become, absolutely unrestrained.--Having ever regarded Government as their deadliest bane, they make a jubilee of the suspension of its operations; and pray for nothing so much, as its total annihilation. While, on the other hand, good men, men who love tranquility, who desire to abide by the laws, and enjoy their benefits, who would gladly spill their blood in the defense of their country; seeing their property destroyed; their families insulted, and their lives endangered; their persons injured; and seeing nothing in prospect that forebodes a change for the better; become tired of, and disgusted with, a Government that offers them no protection; and are not much averse to a change in which they imagine they have nothing to lose. Thus, then, by the operation of this mobocractic spirit, which all must admit, is now abroad in the land, the strongest bulwark of any Government, and particularly of those constituted like ours, may effectually be broken down and destroyed--I mean the attachment of the People. Whenever this effect shall be produced among us; whenever the vicious portion of population shall be permitted to gather in bands of hundreds and thousands, and burn churches, ravage and rob provision-stores, throw printing presses into rivers, shoot editors, and hang and burn obnoxious persons at pleasure, and with impunity; depend on it, this Government cannot last. By such things, the feelings of the best citizens will become more or less alienated from it; and thus it will be left without friends, or with too few, and those few too weak, to make their friendship effectual. At such a time and under such circumstances, men of sufficient talent and ambition will not be wanting to seize the opportunity, strike the blow, and overturn that fair fabric, which for the last half century, has been the fondest hope, of the lovers of freedom, throughout the world.

I know the American People are much attached to their Government;--I know they would suffer much for its sake;--I know they would endure evils long and patiently, before they would ever think of exchanging it for another. Yet, notwithstanding all this, if the laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be secure in their persons and property, are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the Government is the natural consequence; and to that, sooner or later, it must come.

Here then, is one point at which danger may be expected.

The question recurs, "how shall we fortify against it?" The answer is simple. Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others. As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor;--let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the character of his own, and his children's liberty. Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap--let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs;--let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

While ever a state of feeling, such as this, shall universally, or even, very generally prevail throughout the nation, vain will be every effort, and fruitless every attempt, to subvert our national freedom.

When I so pressingly urge a strict observance of all the laws, let me not be understood as saying there are no bad laws, nor that grievances may not arise, for the redress of which, no legal provisions have been made.--I mean to say no such thing. But I do mean to say, that, although bad laws, if they exist, should be repealed as soon as possible, still while they continue in force, for the sake of example, they should be religiously observed. So also in unprovided cases. If such arise, let proper legal provisions be made for them with the least possible delay; but, till then, let them, if not too intolerable, be borne with.

There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law. In any case that arises, as for instance, the promulgation of abolitionism, one of two positions is necessarily true; that is, the thing is right within itself, and therefore deserves the protection of all law and all good citizens; or, it is wrong, and therefore proper to be prohibited by legal enactments; and in neither case, is the interposition of mob law, either necessary, justifiable, or excusable.

But, it may be asked, why suppose danger to our political institutions? Have we not preserved them for more than fifty years? And why may we not for fifty times as long?

We hope there is no sufficient reason. We hope all dangers may be overcome; but to conclude that no danger may ever arise, would itself be extremely dangerous. There are now, and will hereafter be, many causes, dangerous in their tendency, which have not existed heretofore; and which are not too insignificant to merit attention. That our government should have been maintained in its original form from its establishment until now, is not much to be wondered at. It had many props to support it through that period, which now are decayed, and crumbled away. Through that period, it was felt by all, to be an undecided experiment; now, it is understood to be a successful one.--Then, all that sought celebrity and fame, and distinction, expected to find them in the success of that experiment. Their all was staked upon it:-- their destiny was inseparably linked with it. Their ambition aspired to display before an admiring world, a practical demonstration of the truth of a proposition, which had hitherto been considered, at best no better, than problematical; namely, the capability of a people to govern themselves. If they succeeded, they were to be immortalized; their names were to be transferred to counties and cities, and rivers and mountains; and to be revered and sung, and toasted through all time. If they failed, they were to be called knaves and fools, and fanatics for a fleeting hour; then to sink and be forgotten. They succeeded. The experiment is successful; and thousands have won their deathless names in making it so. But the game is caught; and I believe it is true, that with the catching, end the pleasures of the chase. This field of glory is harvested, and the crop is already appropriated. But new reapers will arise, and they, too, will seek a field. It is to deny, what the history of the world tells us is true, to suppose that men of ambition and talents will not continue to spring up amongst us. And, when they do, they will as naturally seek the gratification of their ruling passion, as others have so done before them. The question then, is, can that gratification be found in supporting and maintaining an edifice that has been erected by others? Most certainly it cannot. Many great and good men sufficiently qualified for any task they should undertake, may ever be found, whose ambition would inspire to nothing beyond a seat in Congress, a gubernatorial or a presidential chair; but such belong not to the family of the lion, or the tribe of the eagle. What! think you these places would satisfy an Alexander, a Caesar, or a Napoleon?--Never! Towering genius distains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored.--It sees no distinction in adding story to story, upon the monuments of fame, erected to the memory of others. It denies that it is glory enough to serve under any chief. It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious. It thirsts and burns for distinction; and, if possible, it will have it, whether at the expense of emancipating slaves, or enslaving freemen. Is it unreasonable then to expect, that some man possessed of the loftiest genius, coupled with ambition sufficient to push it to its utmost stretch, will at some time, spring up among us? And when such a one does, it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs.

Distinction will be his paramount object, and although he would as willingly, perhaps more so, acquire it by doing good as harm; yet, that opportunity being past, and nothing left to be done in the way of building up, he would set boldly to the task of pulling down.

Here, then, is a probable case, highly dangerous, and such a one as could not have well existed heretofore.

Another reason which once was; but which, to the same extent, is now no more, has done much in maintaining our institutions thus far. I mean the powerful influence which the interesting scenes of the revolution had upon the passions of the people as distinguished from their judgment. By this influence, the jealousy, envy, and avarice, incident to our nature, and so common to a state of peace, prosperity, and conscious strength, were, for the time, in a great measure smothered and rendered inactive; while the deep-rooted principles of hate, and the powerful motive of revenge, instead of being turned against each other, were directed exclusively against the British nation. And thus, from the force of circumstances, the basest principles of our nature, were either made to lie dormant, or to become the active agents in the advancement of the noblest cause--that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty.

But this state of feeling must fade, is fading, has faded, with the circumstances that produced it.
I do not mean to say, that the scenes of the revolution are now or ever will be entirely forgotten; but that like every thing else, they must fade upon the memory of the world, and grow more and more dim by the lapse of time. In history, we hope, they will be read of, and recounted, so long as the bible shall be read;-- but even granting that they will, their influence cannot be what it heretofore has been. Even then, they cannot be so universally known, nor so vividly felt, as they were by the generation just gone to rest. At the close of that struggle, nearly every adult male had been a participator in some of its scenes. The consequence was, that of those scenes, in the form of a husband, a father, a son or brother, a living history was to be found in every family-- a history bearing the indubitable testimonies of its own authenticity, in the limbs mangled, in the scars of wounds received, in the midst of the very scenes related--a history, too, that could be read and understood alike by all, the wise and the ignorant, the learned and the unlearned.--But those histories are gone. They can be read no more forever. They were a fortress of strength; but, what invading foeman could never do, the silent artillery of time has done; the leveling of its walls. They are gone.--They were a forest of giant oaks; but the all-resistless hurricane has swept over them, and left only, here and there, a lonely trunk, despoiled of its verdure, shorn of its foliage; unshading and unshaded, to murmur in a few gentle breezes, and to combat with its mutilated limbs, a few more ruder storms, then to sink, and be no more.

They were the pillars of the temple of liberty; and now, that they have crumbled away, that temple must fall, unless we, their descendants, supply their places with other pillars, hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason. Passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence.--Let those materials be moulded into general intelligence, sound morality, and in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws: and, that we improved to the last; that we remained free to the last; that we revered his name to the last; that, during his long sleep, we permitted no hostile foot to pass over or desecrate his resting place; shall be that which to learn the last trump shall awaken our WASHINGTON.

Upon these let the proud fabric of freedom rest, as the rock of its basis; and as truly as has been said of the only greater institution, "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Disappointed Revolutionaries

In Search of the Republic--35


John Locke finished his Two Treatises of Government too late to ignite a revolution against the Stuart dynasty.

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 erupted anyway. The revolution restored the balance between the King and Parliament and turned England into a limited monarchy. This balance seemed to be a mixed regime that offered the best of all governments. Monarchy was represented in the king, aristocracy in the  House of Lords, and democracy in the House of Commons. Long time Whig prime minister Robert Walpole reflected in 1734:


Ours is a mixt government, and the perfection of our constitution consists in this, that the monarchical, aristocratical, and democratical forms of government are mixt and interwoven in one, so as to give all the advantages of each without subjecting it to the dangers and inconveniences of either.”



The anti-Stuart Whig Party dominated politics for years to come. Some English Whigs, however, grew disenchanted with the way the new regime operated. Before the revolution, the King worked to secure the cooperation of Parliament through threats, arbitrary arrests, and courts set up at his own prerogative. After the revolution and the enactment of the English Bill of Right, the King used another means to secure support of Parliament: corruption.


The King, or his ministers, would “corrupt” the legislature by creating new peers and granting titles to would be Lords. They would offer military commissions and pensions to members of the House of Commons in return for support. Such means “greased the wheels” of the English political system. The man that came to symbolize this corruption was long time Prime Minister Robert Walpole.


Some Whig writers, who later became known as “radical Whigs” or “real Whigs” began publishing attacks on corruption. While always expressing fealty for their King and Queen, these Whigs warned of the new politics and the threat to English liberty. The most enduring of these writers were Robert Trenchard and Thomas Gordon.


Interestingly enough, considering our contemporary political climate, they began writing after a enormous scandal broke involving Parliamentary “crony capitalism” called the “South Sea Bubble” They published 144 essays in the London Journal between 1720-1723. These essays were later collected and published in a book entitled Essays on Liberty—Civil and Religious and became known as Cato's Letters. ( They took the name Cato from the Roman republican Senator who opposed Julius Caesar). Although not very popular in England, this collection of essays found its way on to the bookshelves of many, if not most, of the prominent founders of United States. Not only did the book popularize the ideas of John Locke, it also helped form a political ideology among the founders that moved them to react with hypersensitivity to the perceived threats posed by government power. One historian distilled the theme of these writings as “power vs. liberty.” When the British government began their attempt to reorganize their empire in the 1760s, their North American colonists feared the worst for their traditional English liberties. As British Parliamentarian described the Americans,

    They augur misgovernment at a distance, and snuff the approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze.”

Every “Tea Party” activist should own a copy. Some future posts will explore just what they wrote.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Republicanism Ancient and Modern: A Summary

In Search of the Republic--34


The idea of republicanism had a nearly 2,000 year old history before it made it to the shores of America. But over that 2,000 year history, the idea underwent some subtle changes.


Many feature  of republicanism were suggested by Aristotle. He believed that human beings thrived when through “rational activity of the soul” they acquired and developed certain human excellencies or virtues. The role of the city-state was to cultivate these virtues in its citizens and to provide the means for the citizens to exercise these virtues in public life. Aristotle believed, however, that only a well-off talented few possessed the leisure time to develop virtue. They were expected to sacrifice time devoted their personal affairs to serve the city-state in some public capacity. Later historians described this idea as civic virtue.

Aristotle also introduced the basic classification of constitutions: monarchy (rule by one), aristocracy (rule by the few), and polity (rule by the many). He considered all forms legitimate as long as they governed for the common good. Because of his belief that the most virtuous should rule, Aristotle argued that an aristocracy was the best ideal form of government. He suggested, however, that the best possible government was a type of polity in which the many made the laws, but elected the virtuous few to be magistrates. In this type of mixed government, the citizens enjoyed the public liberty to participate in the constitution. Moreover, with both the aristocratic and democratic orders represented in the constitution, neither would be subject to the domination of the other and the public good would be served. Aristotle speculated that such an arrangement might ameliorate or even end the conflicts that tore apart Greek democracies when demagogues won over the people by promising their good only to establish tyrannies that in turn provoked additional violent reactions.


The Romans republicans derived some of their ideas from Aristotle.


Roman writers, too, celebrated civic virtue or patriotism of its elite. And like the Greeks, they depended upon the martial virtue of its citizen soldiers. Some later Roman historians suggested that it was the corruption of the elite through luxury that retarded their public spirit. Their turned away from public affairs and withdrawal into their private interests and led to the fall of both the republic and the empire.


Their government was a mixed constitution similar to Aristotle's polity. The aristocrats constituted the Senate while the commoners participated in their own lawmaking assembly. While the Senate was hereditary, writers such as Cicero celebrated the novus homo or new man-- the man who like himself came from non-aristocratic background but earned praise for his virtuous service for the republic. It was this government that first received the name res publica, or republic.


The Romans more explicitly recognized liberties of its citizens. Roman citizenship brought with it protection of the laws not enjoyed by foreigners. This meant rule by laws and freedom from arbitrary decisions by rulers. Perhaps the most famous example is when the Apostle Paul, when threatened with scourging by a Roman commander, declared that he was a Roman citizen and immediately stopped the proceedings.

After the overthrow of the Roman republic and the disintegration of the Roman Empire into the kingdoms and principalities of medieval Europe, republicanism rose again on the shores of the Italian peninsula. Florence, Venice, and several other cities secured their independence from the surrounding powers. They relearned and in some cases modified the ideas about the classical republics. They, too, recognized the need for virtue from leaders. In addition to the classical virtues, republican theorists of the Renaissance (except Machiavelli) advocated Christian virtues. (Machiavelli thought Christianity had made the world weak.) And these republican theorists also acknowledged the need for martial virtues in its citizens. Machiavelli especially perceived this need, having watched his native Florence lose several armed conflicts in which it depended upon paid mercenaries. According to Machiavelli, republic should depend upon its own citizens for defense. Ironically, Machiavelli suggested that a ruler could use religion to cultivate the devotion of the average citizen to the republic. And some of these republican writers  warned about the corrupting influence of luxury derived from commerce.



Most of these republics had “mixed constitutions” of an executive magistrate, an assembly of nobles, and an assembly of commoners. According to Machiavelli, each of the three constituents would jealously guard its own liberties and preserve the common good:

In fact, when there is combined under the same constitution a prince, a nobility and the power of the people, then these three powers will watch and keep each other reciprocally in check”.



All these republics eventually succombed to their larger, more powerful monarchies and principalities.


The most important developments in the history of republicanism took place in England. The English Civil War of 1642-1651 overthrew the mixed monarchy and established a republic. The monarchy and the House of Lords were abolished; a one-house Parliament made English law while magistrates under General Oliver Cromwell executed them.


While John Milton defended  this one-house scheme, most other English republican writers such as James Harrington and Algernon Sydney built upon more traditional themes. Harrington acknowledged the foundation “of the ancients, and their learned disciple Machiavel” for his own ideas. Harrington advocated a mixed regime of an upper house, lower house, and a magistrate. He, like Cicero, preferred a "natural aristocracy" of talent and virtue rather than the hereditary one that filled the Roman Senate and the English House of Lords. He introduced an economic analysis of corruption. He advocated agrarian laws that prevented accumulation of the majority of  land which allowed aristocrats to overawe the people. Imbalance of the wealth in the hands of the few makes public interest becomes more private and “luxury” takes the place of “temperance.”


The constitutional crisis that led the the Glorious Revolution of 1688 also resulted in the most widely read of English tracts on government: John Locke's Two Treatises of Government. Like ancient and medieval republcans, Locke affirmed that the legitimate governments must rule in the public interest. Ultimately, however, the legitimacy of government rests on the consent of the governed.

Locke introduced two radical notions into republican thought. First, he barely mentions the traditional republican scheme of a two house legislature in which each house embodies the upper and lower orders of society. Instead, he divides government by what kind of powers it possesses: legislature, executive, and federative. Second, he does not address virtue at all. The role of government is not to instill virtue; it is to protect property which he defines as life, liberty, and estates.

Perhaps Locke's silence  on traditional virtues reflects the realities of late 17th century England. While the social structure of of the ancient world was simply the few wealthy and the many poor, by the time Locke wrote  England had developed a much more complex social structure that included a rapidly expanding middle class. For most of human history, people have lived one crop failure away from starvation. Agricultural advancements in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, however, permitted English agriculture to produce not only enough to feed locals, but also to ship across the country to other markets. Soon market towns dotted the English countryside. And overseas exploration and colonization led to unprecedented foreign trade. This agricultural abundance contributed to it expanding population.

England experienced extensive geographic mobility that brought people to larger towns and cities and even to England's overseas possessions. London doubled in population in the first half of the seventeenth century. England experienced extensive social mobility as well. The expanding economy created opportunities in nontraditional fields such a trade, finance, and law and greatly expanded the middle classes.

Locke's several allusions to work (or industry) and to “enjoyment” of one's property and experiencing “comforts” in life seems to indirectly appeal to a different set of virtues—those of the middle class.


In addition, it conforms to a strain of English thought that began to develop in the crisis preceeding the English Civil War of the  1640s. First articulated by Puritans, this “Country” ideology spread beyond Puritanism to others who opposed absolute monarchy and court politics. It also appeared among those who like Locke supported the Glorious Revolution of 1688. In fact, those who embraced it seemed to formulate it using the court and aristocracy as a negative reference point. As historian Lawrence Stone summarized it:

"The Country was virtuous, the Court wicked; the Country was thrifty, the Court extravagant; the Country was honest, the Court corrupt; the Country was chaste and heterosexual, the Court was promiscuous and homosexual' the Country was sober, the Court drunken; the Country was nationalist, the Court xenophile; the Country was healthy, the Court diseased . . . the Country was the defender of old ways and old liberties, the Court the promoter of administrative novelties and new tyrannical practices; the Country was solidly Protestant, even Puritan, the Court was deeply tainted by Popish leanings."



Locke's Treatise abandoned concerns about ancient aristocratic virtues in favor of new middle class virtues of work, savings, thrift, and enjoyment of the modest comforts that these virtues secured. Classical republicanism became modern.














Sunday, February 5, 2012

Locke on Revolution

In Search of the Republic--33




In his concluding chapter, Locke discusses the dissolution of government. Although Locke directly mentions neither Charles II nor James II, the context of his comments refer to their reigns. Indeed, some historians believe Locke added portions of this concluding chapter after the revolution of 1688.



Locke identifies two general ways in which the government is dissolved: when legislature is altered and when executive acts contrary to the trust given by the people.


Locke calls the legislature the “the soul that gives form, life, and unity, to the common-wealth.” Therefore, “therefore, when the legislative is broken, or dissolved, dissolution and death follows.”

He lists four ways the legislature dies, all attributed ultimately to the executive. He alone has the power and means to do so:

First, That when such a single person, or prince, sets up his own arbitrary will in place of the laws, which are the will of the society, declared by the legislative, then the legislative is changed:

Secondly, When the prince hinders the legislative from assembling in its due time, or from acting freely, pursuant to those ends for which it was constituted, the legislative is altered

Thirdly, When, by the arbitrary power of the prince, the electors, or ways of election, are altered, without the consent, and contrary to the common interest of the people, there also the legislative is altered

Fourthly, The delivery also of the people into the subjection of a foreign power, either by the prince, or by the legislative, is certainly a change of the legislative, and so a dissolution of the government: for the end why people entered into society being to be preserved one entire, free, independent society, to be governed by its own laws; this is lost, whenever they are given up into the power of another.”



The executive authority dissolves the government in two general ways. First, he tries to set up his own arbitrary authority in place of duly enacted laws. Second, when he corrupts the legislature through money or offices, or threats.



What I have said here, concerning the legislative in general, holds true also concerning the supreme executor, who having a double trust put in him, both to have a part in the legislative, and the supreme execution of the law, acts against both, when he goes about to set up his own arbitrary will as the law of the society. He acts also contrary to his trust, when he either employs the force, treasure, and offices of the society, to corrupt the representatives, and gain them to his purposes; or openly preengages the electors, and prescribes to their choice, such, whom he has, by solicitations, threats, promises, or otherwise, won to his designs; and employs them to bring in such, who have promised before-hand what to vote, and what to enact.”



And when the government is dissolved through miscarriages of those in authority, the supreme power returns to the people.



And the people have a right to act as supreme, and continue the legislative in themselves; or erect a new form, or under the old form place it in new hands, as they think good.



To those who cynically ask, “Who is to judge whether or not the Prince or the legislature has acted contrary to their trust, Locke provides a brief, resounding answer:



The people shall be judge.”

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Locke on Usurpation and Tyanny

In Search of the Republic--32


Locke summarizes two threats to legitimate government: usurpation and tyanny.

Usurpation is the assumption of governmental powers by persons unauthorized in the exercise of those powers:

"In all lawful governments, the designation of the persons, who are to bear rule, is as natural and necessary a part as the form of the government itself, and is that which had its establishment originally from the people; the anarchy being much alike, to have no form of government at all, or to agree that it shall be monarchical, but to appoint no way to design the person that shall have the power, and be the monarch. Hence all commonwealths, with the form of government established, have rules also of appointing those who are to have any share in the public authority, and settled methods of conveying the right to them. Whoever gets into the exercise of any part of the power, by other ways than what the laws of the community have prescribed, hath no right to be obeyed, though the form of the commonwealth be still preserved; since he is not the person the laws have appointed, and consequently not the person the people have consented to. Nor can such an usurper, or any deriving from him, ever have a title, till the people are both at liberty to consent, and have actually consented to allow, and confirm in him the power he hath till then usurped."


While Locke's Treatise is not the Constitution and cannot serve as an objective measure of the legitimacy our government's actions, it captures perfectly the complaint by the Tea Party movement about what lies at the root of our current budgetary crisis. Although the Constitution enumerates specific and limited powers of Congress, Congress today acts as it possesses the Constitutional authority to legislate on anything it wants. Consequently, it has usurped many powers that the Constitution property reserves for the states. And, of course, because the Supreme Court exercises jurisdiction to interpret federal law, the ever expanding legislation by Congress brings along the expanding jurisdiction of the Court.


Tyanny, on the other hand, is the assumption of powers no one has the right to exercise for the private interest of the tyrant.


"AS usurpation is the exercise of power, which another hath a right to; so tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which no body can have a right to. And this is making use of the power any one has in his hands, not for the good of those who are under it, but for his own private separate advantage. When the governor, however intitled, makes not the law, but his will, the rule; and his commands and actions are not directed to the preservation of the properties of his people, but the satisfaction of his own ambition, revenge, covetousness, or any other irregular passion."

Locke's definition fits well with Aristotle's description of tyranny as the rule of a monarch in his own interest rather than for the common good.

And it provides insight into the understanding of tyranny by our founders. Some historians claim that the founders ideology actually distorted their perception of British intentions and led them to exaggerate the threat that British regulations posed to their liberty. These historians, however, misinterpret th fonders because of our contemporary understanding of tyranny. Today we associate tyranny with totalitarian governments the accompanying gulag, concentration camps, or killing fields. The founders made more modest claims about the British. Using the traditional definiton of tyranny, they claimed only that the British government assumed for itself powers that it did not in fact possess, subjecting the colonies to abitrary rule for the good of the homeland rather than for the good of the colonies.

They simply agreed with Locke's concise phraseology-"Where the law ends, tyranny begins."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Locke on Executive Power

In Search of the Republic--32


Locke devotes much less attention to the executive than to the legislative offices. He notes first that the legislature should not meet perpetually, but disassemble and live subject to the laws they have enacted. Moreover, temptations of power require that the execution of laws be placed in different persons than those who enacted the laws:

"THE legislative power is that, which has a right to direct how the force of the common-wealth shall be employed for preserving the community and the members of it. But because those laws which are constantly to be executed, and whose force is always to continue, may be made in a little time; therefore there is no need, that the legislative should be always in being, not having always business to do. And because it may be too great a temptation to human frailty, apt to grasp at power, for the same persons, who have the power of making laws, to have also in their hands the power to execute them, whereby they may exempt themselves from obedience to the laws they make, and suit the law, both in its making, and execution, to their own private advantage, and thereby come to have a distinct interest from the rest of the community, contrary to the end of society and government: therefore in well ordered commonwealths, where the good of the whole is so considered, as it ought, the legislative power is put into the hands of divers persons, who duly assembled, have by themselves, or jointly with others, a power to make laws, which when they have done, being separated again, they are themselves subject to the laws they have made; which is a new and near tie upon them, to take care, that they make them for the public good."

According to Locke, the need for the enforcement of laws while the legislature is not in session gave rise to the creation of the executive:

"But because the laws, that are at once, and in a short time made, have a constant and lasting force, and need a perpetual execution, or an attendance thereunto; therefore it is necessary there should be a power always in being, which should see to the execution of the laws that are made, and remain in force. And thus the legislative and executive power come often to be separated."

The executive is to rule according to the law, no according his own will. To rule according to his own will is the very definition of arbitrary power that republicanism opposes.

"He has no will, no power, but that of the law."

According to Locke, the executive possesses the authority to act on its own initiative in the public interest whenever the law is silent. He calls this the prerogative. Laws cannot foresee every contingency, so the executive must enjoy some leeway.

" This power to act according to discretion, for the public good, without the prescription of the law, and sometimes even against it, is that which is called prerogative: for since in some governments the lawmaking power is not always in being, and is usually too numerous, and so too slow, for the dispatch requisite to execution; and because also it is impossible to foresee, and so by laws to provide for, all accidents and necessities that may concern the public, or to make such laws as will do no harm, if they are executed with an inflexible rigour, on all occasions, and upon all persons that may come in their way; therefore there is a latitude left to the executive power, to do many things of choice which the laws do not prescribe."

The legislature when it does meet can then make it will know regarding whatever prerogative actions taken by the executive.

According the Locke, the legislature meets in conformity with the directions of the original constitution regarind the frequency of meetings. In the context of England's mixed monarchy,  Locke acknowledges the prerogative of the king to call into session the legislature when public exigencies require it. But if the executive tries to prevent the meeting of the legislature, he has put himself in a state of war with the people.

"It may be demanded here, What if the executive power, being possessed of the force of the common-wealth, shall make use of that force to hinder the meeting and acting of the legislative, when the original constitution, or the public exigencies require it? I say, using force upon the people without authority, and contrary to the trust put in him that does so, is a state of war with the people, who have a right to reinstate their legislative in the exercise of their power: for having erected a legislative, with an intent they should exercise the power of making laws, either at certain set times, or when there is need of it, when they are hindered by any force from what is so necessary to the society, and wherein the safety and preservation of the people consists, the people have a right to remove it by force. In all states and conditions, the true remedy of force without authority, is to oppose force to it. The use of force without authority, always puts him that uses it into a state of war, as the aggressor, and renders him liable to be treated accordingly."

This discussion of the abuse of the prerogative transitions into the final sections of his Treatise dealing with usurpation, tyranny, and the right of revolution.