Category Archives: Politics

Quoted: The Federalists and Anti-Federalists

During times of national crisis, turmoil, and dissatisfaction, we should always return to first principles and right reason.

Some of my favorite quotes from the Federalists and Anti-Federalists:

The Federalists

“We may define a republic to be, or at least may bestow that name on, a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people; and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure, for a limited period, or during good behaviour.  It is essential to such a government, that it be derived from the great body of the society, not from an inconsiderable proportion, or a favoured class of it; otherwise a handful of tyrannical nobles, exercising their oppressions by a delegation of their powers, might aspire to the rank of republicans, and claim for their government the honourable title of republic.” (Fed 39)

“A handful of tyrannical nobles” controlled the states, and the federal government could intervene to protect the rights of the citizens of those states.  And yet, Madison continued in Federalist 39, “federal” did not mean the same thing as “national,” for the ratification demanded the “assent and ratification of the several states, derived from the supreme authority in each state,” the citizens of the respective state.  In deciding whether or not to ratify the Constitution, each state “is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act.” (Fed 39)

“Justice is the end of government,” Madison stated bluntly in Federalist 51, following Plato and Aristotle.  “It is the end of civil society.”

In discussing the need for a strong executive branch in Federalist 70, Hamilton explained: “A feeble executive implies a feeble execution of the government.  A feeble execution is but another phrase for a bad execution: and a government ill executed, whatever it may be in theory, must be, in practice, a bad government.” Arguments for energy applied to more than just the executive branch. 

“Energy in government is essential to that security against external and internal danger, and to that prompt and salutary execution of the laws, which enter into the very definition of good government.  Stability in government is essential to national character, and to the advantages annexed to it, as well as to that repose and confidence in the minds of the people, which are among the chief blessings of civil society.” (Fed 37)

The Anti-Federalists

Though never the cohesive force the Federalists proved to be, the Anti-Federalists feared what they considered to be the objective of the Constitution: a consolidated, national government.  Such a desire, the Federal Farmer, a leading Anti-Federalist, argued, mostly likely came from “those who expect employments under the new constitution; as to those weak and ardent men who always expected to be gainers by revolutions, and whose lot it generally is to get out of one difficulty into another.” Federalists merely played on the fears of the people, promoting the notion that the current government is fully in a crisis.  The result, the Federal Farmer claimed, is predictable.  “Instead of being thirteen republics under a federal head, it is clearly designed to make us one consolidated government,” he wrote.  “This consolidation of the states has been the object of several men in this country for some time past.”

Another Anti-Federalist, Brutus, claimed the constitution would render the states obsolete through the “necessary and proper clause” of Article I, Section 8. Though the Federalists might write in placating tones regarding the status of states prior to the ratification of the Constitution, the tone would necessarily change once the Constitution was implemented.  “It will be found that the power retained by individual states, small as it is, will be a clog upon the wheels of the government of the United States,” Brutus wrote.  This will follow the law of nature, as “every body of men, invested with power, are ever disposed to increase it, and to acquire a superiority over every thing that stands in their way.”

Old Whig: “Before all this labyrinth can be traced to a conclusion, ages will revolve, and perhaps the great principles upon which our late glorious revolution was founded, will be totally forgotten.  If the principles of liberty are not firmly fixed and established in the present constitution, in vain may we hope for retrieving them hereafter.  People once possessed of power are always loth to part with it. . . . The legislatures of the states will be but forms and shadows, and it will be the height of arrogance and presumption in them, to turn their thoughts to such high subjects. . . . The great, and the wise, and the mighty will be in possession of places and offices; they will oppose all changes in favor of liberty, they will steadily pursue the acquisition of more and more power to themselves and their adherents.  The cause of liberty, if it be now forgotten, will be forgotten forever.” 

Old Whig: “But yet we find that men in all ages have abused power, and that it has been the study of patriots and virtuous legislators at all times to restrain power, so as to prevent the abuse of it.”

Brutus: “The nations around us, sir, are already enslaved, and have been enslaved by those very means; by means of their standing armies they have every one lost their liberties; it is indeed impossible that the liberties of the people in any country can be preserved where a numerous standing army is kept up.”

The “Awesome” ‘80s: Remembrances of Fear and Excellence

[This originally appeared at The Imaginative Conservative]

It’s hard not to laugh when my students think they’re imitating or comprehending the zeitgeist of—whether to honor or mock—the 1980s. 

Though, in almost every way, it’s impossible to fault them for this.

The individual members of the incoming freshman class will have entered this world sometime in 1996 or 1997, a full seven to eight years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall.  To their active and eager minds, the 1980s meant lots of repetitive electronic pop music, an MTV that actually played music videos, leg warmers, bright colors, big checks and plaids, baggy pants and oversize shirts, top siders, goofy hair styles, televangelists, “duck and cover” safety from nuclear weapons, general happiness and prosperity, and John Hughes movies.  It was a time before time, an era without wardrobe malfunctions, wacky chief executives, or reality TV.

Not all of these memories are wrong, of course, just selective. 

From what I can tell, most current students idealize the decade in much the same way my generation—coming of age in the 1980s—viewed the 1950s.  That nearly perfect decade represented peace, prosperity, primitive rock music, American assertion of power without lots of consequent deaths, innocence and naiveté, white t-shirts with packs of cigarettes rolled up in one’s sleeve, poodle skirts, leather jackets, James Dean shades, motorcycles, Marlan Brando cool, and tail fins on huge cars. 

Everything, of course, was in black and white as well in the 1950s.

Well, so we thought.

But, two things must be remembered by those of us who lived in the 1980s and who want to teach our students the truth. 

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Socrates on Doing Wrong

From The Crito:

Soc. Are we to say that we are never intentionally to do wrong, or that in one way we ought and in another way we ought not to do wrong, or is doing wrong always evil and dishonorable, as I was just now saying, and as has been already acknowledged by us? Are all our former admissions which were made within a few days to be thrown away? And have we, at our age, been earnestly discoursing with one another all our life long only to discover that we are no better than children? Or are we to rest assured, in spite of the opinion of the many, and in spite of consequences whether better or worse, of the truth of what was then said, that injustice is always an evil and dishonor to him who acts unjustly? Shall we affirm that?

Cr. Yes.

Soc. Then we must do no wrong?

Cr. Certainly not.

Soc. Nor when injured injure in return, as the many imagine; for we must injure no one at all?

Cr. Clearly not.

Soc. Again, Crito, may we do evil?

Cr. Surely not, Socrates.

Soc. And what of doing evil in return for evil, which is the morality of the many-is that just or not?

Cr. Not just.

Soc. For doing evil to another is the same as injuring him?

Cr. Very true.

Edmund Burke Against the Antagonist World

Liberty Fund Edition of Reflections.

[Originally published at The Imaginative Conservative]

Should one generation ever consider itself greater than any other generation, past or future, Edmund Burke warned in his magisterial Reflections on the Revolution in France, the entire fabric of a civilization might very well unravel and, ultimately, disintegrate.  Our modern ears have no right to discount Burke’s argument as simple hyperbole.  What takes centuries to build and hone, however, can take moments to undo.  We have witnessed numerous generations since Burke wrote this, and we have seen the arrogance of several, but most especially the Vatican II generation and the so-called “counter-culture” generation of the 1960s.  To this day, we suffer from the arrogance of each.  They each, in the name of toleration, progress, liberalism, and humanitarianism to submit to their teachings blindly.  As one great Canadian and Stoic man of letters argued in the early 1980s, “They shout about love, but when push comes to shove, they fight for things they’re afraid of.” 

Once a generation succeeds in separating itself from past and future, it harms not just civilization but the very dignity of man.  The individual man, unanchored, becomes, Burke noted darkly, “would become little better than the flies of summer.”

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The State of the Disunion, Part 1

Our Broken Institutions

This brave new world has fallen and decayed
Are there no heroes, just men with feet of clay?

– Arena, Spectre at the Feast

            The United States, to whatever degree we are still united, is approaching the end of a year that more tumultuous than most.  A few years in the 1860’s might have been more so, but as the country stands now, it’s doing everything it can to catch up with that dark time. 

            America in 2020 might be more dysfunctional now than it has ever been in its history.  Certainly, it hasn’t been this bad since the Civil War, the only difference being that we are not shooting each other – yet.  Simply put, every single institution we rely upon to keep this country united has been corrupted and decayed into utter, debilitating dysfunction.  Corruption, cowardice, rationalization, and a lack of the most basic ethics infect all three branches of government, our media, our corporations, and as a result, has eroded our civic life.  We can no longer agree with one another on even the most fundamental ideas of what our country should be. 

            These institutions were built to bind us to some basic agreements while allowing plenty of room above that for spirited, civil disagreement.  Just as we found ourselves in 1861, we are now a house divided.  Worse, our foundation is cracked and may be irreparably damaged. 

Our Dysfunctional Government:

            I’ve long repeated the saying that 99% of politicians give the rest a bad name.  I may be underestimating the number of truly detestable, faithless politicians in our country at the present.

            Throughout history, there seems to be a trend of legislative bodies and their members abdicating their responsibilities while still being able to benefit from their position.  The Roman senate twice gave away absolute power, first to Caesar (which didn’t last for well-documented reasons) and later to Augustus (which put the final nail in the coffin of the Republic).  The senators maintained their lofty status and wealth, all the while having relieved themselves of the responsibility of making hard decisions.  In our own country, state legislatures, through the 17th amendment, relieved themselves of the responsibility to choose senators.  And over several decades now, both houses of our congress have willingly turned over an increasing amount of power to the executive branch. 

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Movement is Life

Year of social distancing! But a lot of that was on a motorcycle, we all try to make the best out of the situation! There is this 50 mile stretch west of Olympic forest which always eluded me, but managed to explore that this year. In that process also experienced a sunset at Ruby beach, one of those moments forever engraved in mind. Stayed at this rather rustic lodge after a six hour ride through the peninsula, well-furnished but no wifi and erratic cell coverage. Realized some cheap wine, decent fish n chips, and some silence makes for a great evening.

There is definitely something inexplicable about riding, there are actual full length documentaries/books detailing explanations, but most of it seems dreamed up romanticism. Reasons have to be simpler, because it’s just one of those visceral impulses, just like a lot of other recreational activities. More than the sights, with a motorcycle we essentially get to absorb the journey, and not just the final destination.  And yes, that journey often includes cold bursts of shower, gravel and dirt, unstable truck drivers, snapchating drivers and anything else nature might decide to fling. But, it’s again that simple visceral impulse, to experience the delights and also the travails of a journey. It’s something our ancestors endured every day before the comforts of modern civilization, now we get a glimpse of that from riding a well-engineered machine. In general, there must be something innate prompting us to journey, may be exploration must have aided in our survival within an ancient primitive environment.

Brad Pitt states in that apocalyptic movie – “People who moved survived… Movement is Life”. Needless to say, we cannot take it literally. But, in general movement can aid in adaptation. Whether it’s moving for work, or learning a new skill, or reading a new theory to solve that problem. All qualifies as movement, because they help us adapt in a changing world. Such an adaptation requires some planning, and that planning mandates at least some stable factors. What differentiates modern civilization from the primitive past is simply the existence of some stable social factors in an otherwise unstable system.

Simple example would be contractual agreements. If you order grocery, there is a near 100% probability that it will be delivered. On top of such simple and stable factors we construct complex plans, something which enables adaptation to unexpected events. Essentially that grocery might help us study for a test, run a marathon, or become a chef. In other words, law provides that stability in an unpredictable world. We actually don’t know whether we will pass the test, or win the marathon, or become a super chef. But law anyway provides us tools to pursue elaborate goals constructed on simple reliable norms. When applied equally to all, it enables the best of the plans, best of the minds, and in that process most complex of civilizations to emerge.

 “Of all multi-purpose instruments it is probably the one after language which assists the greatest variety of human purposes. It certainly has not been made for any one known purpose but rather has developed because it made people who operated under it more effective in the pursuit of their purposes” — Friedrich Hayek

Forthcoming: Angelico Book on Christian Humanism

I’m very excited to announce that I have a forthcoming book (sometime this fall) from Angelico Press.


BEYOND TENEBRAE: Christian Humanism IN THE TWILIGHT OF THE WEST.


(initial) table of contents if you’re interested:
PrefaceIntroduction: Beyond Tenebrae

Section I: Conserving Christian Humanism• Humanism: A Primer• Humanism: The Corruption of a Word• The Conservative Mind• Burke and Tocqueville• What to Conserve?• Conserving Humanism
Section II: Personalities and Groups• T.E. Hulme: First Conservative of the Twentieth Century• Irving Babbitt’s Longings• Irving Babbitt and the Buddha• The Christian Humanism of Paul Elmer More• The Order Men• Willa Cather• Canon B.I. Bell• The Conversion of Christopher Dawson• Christopher Dawson and the Liberal Arts• The Gray Eminence of Christopher Dawson• Nicholas Berdyaev’s Unorthodoxy• Theodor Haecker: Man of the West• The Inklings• Two Tolkiens, Not One• Sister Madeleva Wolff• Peacenik Prophet: Russell Kirk• St Russell of Mecosta• Eric Voegelin• Eric Voegelin’s Gnosticism• Eric Voegelin’s Order• Flannery O’Connor• Clyde Kilby• Friedrich Hayek’s Intellectual Lineage• Ray Bradbury at His End• Shirley Jackson’s Haunting• Wendelin E Basgall• Julitta Kuhn Basgall• Ronald Reagan’s Ten Words• The Optimism of Ronald Reagan• Walter Miller’s Augustinian Wasteland• Alexander Solzhenitsyn as Prophet• The Ferocity of Marvin O’Connell• The Good Humor of Ralph McInerny• The Beautiful Mess that is Margaret Atwood; Conclusion: Confusions and Hope

The Road to Serfdom at 75 Years Young

Peter Boettke writes

“Key to his argument is that in a democratic liberal society, there’s no overarching single scale of values. Society cannot achieve a single hierarchy of ends we all agree on. In fact, the great strength of democratic liberal societies is a multiplicity of values that are respected among diverse and often divergent, even distant, individuals”

I used to have this bumper sticker on my Jeep — ‘If we are on a road to serfdom, hope it’s bumpy and bureaucrats are driving lowriders’

 

 

 

The Hayek Auction

You will find them here, for instance Hayek’s copy of Wealth of Nations went for almost 200k, it was estimated in the 4k to 6k range.

“Desktop ephemera and personal effects” were estimated at 200-300 British pounds, went for 87,500 British pounds.  Crazy!  Many of the items went for 10x or 20x their original estimates.

From Marginal Revolution

Friedrich_Hayek_portrait

The original uploader was DickClarkMises at English Wikipedia. [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons