As I take this course I will provide comments for any and all that land here. I’d like to note that I have no illusions that these words are eagerly awaited by anyone at Hillsdale College, in my life, on this website, or indeed, beyond the chair in which I sit. Nevertheless, it is my understanding that people sometimes accidentally find things on the internet, and even just right here locally, I am aware of one for whom reading a set of random words would be a considerably better than average experience.
The free online Hillsdale College Constitution 101 course is available here for thrill-seekers who wish to participate.
The class overview summary reads:
This virtue signaling / intentionally transparent language may be a just and wise candle-in-the-dark amid the distortion caused by deception, political agenda, bias, propaganda, corruption, and imposters, or indeed might help to connect Hillsdale with the demographic of clientele that it seeks. My fear is that the choice reduces virality. By this I mean that I do not view it as a successful proposition to use an invitation to Hillsdale’s course as a means of encouraging furtherance of Constitutional understanding among those acquaintances whom I’d consider… most in need of it.
How many are repelled who, until reading that overview, were looking for what they perceive to be a more ‘balanced’ survey? And what would my hedonist friends say about what they would call, ‘all that God stuff?’ Having that language on the landing page for the course – where many are looking for a reason to click away – causes retention of that subsection of viewers who either are comfortable with that and the ‘progressivism and post-1960s liberalism’ bit, those who take note of it and proceed skeptically, or those who do not see it at all.
But perhaps I’ve got it all wrong. Hillsdale is a Christian Conservative college, so why fuck around? I could just as easily be spending my time criticizing FBI / CNN / CDC / DNC etc for driving off sane people with their overt behavior and covert signaling — or myself for failing to coddle the delicate sensibilities of the considerable number for whom my full name induces indigestion.
I do believe that each purveyor should choose their own boundaries of exclusionism — but still I wonder if I am justified in hoping this one — whom I know brings authentic scholarship and honest thoughtfulness — will be fit for widespread use. Either way, I will concede it is a certainty that Arnn’s leadership, vision, and facilitation of this popular and accessible educational historical series is more likely to sustain freedom for civilized man than my stupid opinion about it.
1: The Theory of the Declaration and the Constitution w/ Larry P. Arnn
At 13:30, Arnn says:
I do not doubt that President presenter Larry P. Arnn has a well thought basis for his beliefs in this area, but that basis is not shared here. Yet it is key to understand that no document can be in control of an individual. The words within are a mere description of an agreement that each individual internally understands and accepts to varying degrees. Pragmatically, the agreement has historically been something like, ‘We won’t revolt against people who act out of presumed authority when it seems like they are being lawful.’ Nowadays, with modern educational failures, we see something more like, ‘We won’t revolt when other people aren’t.’
2: Natural Rights and the American Revolution w/ Thomas G. West
West’s introduction describes early American colonists as eager to express independence from Great Britain, and as these times as a sort of adolescent growth period toward national adulthood. Revolutionaries borrowed and created descriptions of natural rights in a process of intellectualizing and ultimately codifying a system of representative self-government. I find this an interesting summarization that molds itself to a solid hero myth, and wonder about the missing detail. How many were telling everyone to roll over and happily adopt fealty to an exalted Britain, constructing and disseminating arguments and defenses in favor of the suzerain?
At about 8:00: Interesting that a variety of perspective on the words chosen in the U.S. Constitution can be found in the state Constitutions, as they each have slight variations, such as ‘All men are created equal,’ vs. ‘All men are by nature equally free and independent’ or ‘free and equal.’
At about 23:00, Another of several easily understood descriptions of Constitutional principles in just the first two segments of the Hillsdale Constitution 101 series:
That sounds like a different world from what we live in today, but a good way to think about where we ought to be headed.
3: Majority Tyranny and the Necessity of the Union w/ Ronald J. Pestritto
When this section opened with a mention of majority tyranny, my ears perked up. A survey of the founders who advocated for a stronger Union was not what I had expected to follow. Some of the later content did, however, scratch my itch.
For instance, the idea is presented that our rights are pre-existing. Rights can only be described by the founding documents — they cannot be granted by any kind of document or set of words. That assumed, it follows that a rational individual would only consent to a government that recognizes those naturally occurring rights. However, if I’m not mistaken, Pestritto’s description assumes that rational individuals would necessarily also consent to any government that actively seeks to secure each and every one of those rights, without caveat. Surely there are implementations imaginable in which government properly recognizes rights, but improperly secures them.
In what is looking now like an interesting pattern through Hillsdale’s series, state constitutions are again referenced. Pestritto notes that the weak executive and strong legislative that are codified by these charters, along with the relatively short terms of office they proscribe, results in a government that is responsive and reactive to changes in public opinion. Pestritto says that public policy tends to follow ‘very, very exactly’ with public opinion when government is balanced this way — which seems strongly worded to the point of naivete and near incredulity to me. My skepticism rises as this statement is followed by what a younger me would view as statist apologia. Nowadays, I am more mature.
Pestritto points out that a weak executor/king and strong legislature/citizen voice type of government is an understandable reaction to the despotism from which the founders had freed themselves, and outlines defensible reasons for the states to sacrifice power to a union charter:
- The states were concerned about the ability of debtors to take charge of enough government to pass laws that are advantageous to them.
- The states needed defense from paper money schemes, which had proven to ruin economies.
- The looser confederation of states lacked protection from foreign threat, and did not provide for ‘conditions of prosperity.’
- High turnover leads to instability.
- Security was needed against insurrection, infighting, and factioning.
- As Pestritto eloquently remarks, “Consent is essential for just government — but it’s not sufficient — because people are perfectly capable of consenting to unjust laws.”
On that last one, I facepalm, and realize my mistake. They’re saying a stronger union is advisable to guard against that sort of majority tyranny – where the people are allowed to direct government to be what they want it to be, even when they want it to be bad. When I think of majority tyranny, I think of the individual who is outnumbered by those given the power to vote him into obscurity. From my angle on majority tyranny, it is the constraint on the power of the union, not the individual, that is most important. (As the individual in obscurity, forgive me if I tend skeptical at your fear of my ability to participate.)
This part of the third section of the course comes across to me as a manifestation of that pervasive presumptive paternal scholarly political condescension that is so often aimed at those who place individual liberty paramount. As though the naive idealist utopians will inevitably sober up and return to reality in a tempering pullback toward a stronger central government power (you see, they always do!) As though the founders were but naive idealist utopians who eventually (and predictably!) came down from their cloud dreams, shed the rose colored glasses, and accepted the universal truth, finally having become mature enough to absorb it. The sacrifice of personal sovereignty to a ‘unifying’ arch-government is not just wise, we’re told, and not just preferable — but universally necessary to protect the destiny of mankind from the lower parts of human nature and the less refined civility of the unsophisticated people who don’t deign to write constitutions.
It is my understanding that there was, and is, a bit more room for debate than that.