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.
This is part 2. See Part 1 of this article series here
4: Consent of the Governed and the Separation of Powers w/ Ronald J. Pestritto
In Federalist 9, Alexander Hamilton draws on examples from classic Western literature to consider a buffet-style approach to building a constitutional republic. Whatever had caused previous implementations throughout history to fail, he would not include. Those items which he believed would be needed to ensure that “the excellencies of republican government may be retained and its imperfections lessened or avoided,” he lists.
This ‘Improved Science of Politics,’ as he called it, would include innovations to Separation of Powers, to Checks and Balances, to the Independent Judiciary, to the concept of Extended Territory, and to Representation itself. His would be a representative republic, where the few vote in representation of the many, rather than a direct democracy in which everyone votes.
James Madison saw the representative process as a refinement of the political opinion of the masses. Passion is filtered out from the aggregate whimsy, leaving a residuum of reason among the representative class. Indeed, one could be forgiven for viewing the traditional and ceremonial collective decision-making process — that is guided by rules and precedent within a revered commons comprised of cultural and historic landmarks revered for their unparalleled craftsmanship — as a reasonably successful mechanism for separating reasoned decision-making from impulsive reaction.
But as passion organizes in groups, a faction is born. Federalist Paper 10 speaks to this early concern. When a subsection of the polity becomes “motivated by passion” to empower representatives who would enact policy or set forth government action that is “adverse to the rights of other citizens,” it makes a big difference whether the faction is the majority or a minority. In theory, a minority faction can be outvoted, but a majority faction cannot. Because of this, it is important that majority opinion be rational, if society is to survive.
Offering some degree of protection, the Constitution would apply to such a sizeable population and territory that any change of it would require widespread agreement among geographically and demographically disperse populations. The institutions would mirror public sentiment, but only that portion that is dominant across all stripes. In this construct, voting must be secure — and no system of governance can overcome endemic corruption among the citizenry.
Citing Madison in Federalist 51, Pestritto argues that Founders were not utopian or naive, but understood that human nature will apply to humans within government as it does to those outside of it. Madison maintained that this is not to be feared but is to be seen as an asset, so long as the system implements a mechanism that separates power among institutions such that each has self-interest that checks upon the other. In that way, the competition incentive that is naturally found in a man’s nature will be reflected in the government that is meant to represent him.
A fitting cap on the bias of this informative piece: all involved seem to operate under an assumption that there is a Federal Formula that can be prescribed that will function to facilitate just experience better than local decisions by interested parties in real time. Earnest policymakers must properly address this initial burden prior to intervening on presumed authority, as it is an obvious prerequisite to arguments over whose formula to adopt.
Though my exception is no small one, it would appear that Pestritto, the Founders cited, and I, agree on the bulk of what we are looking at here — including that it does not require a despot to keep man from destroying one another. I further maintain that there is no necessity to make sure that consent is ‘channeled in the right way.’
5: “To Secure These Rights”: Property, Morality, and Religion w/ Thomas G. West
West is here to discuss “… the founders’ understanding of economics, character and virtue, and religion,” which are presented as integral to the nature and development of man, along with the right and impulse to acquire property.
He shows that modern views on family, divorce, gender roles, and religious freedom are different than those contemporary to the framing of the Constitution. Impotence was a valid reason for divorce. Relationships that appear patriarchal and oppressive from a modern perspective tasked men with a level of responsibility for wife and children that is not so common today. Religious freedom ended at the law, with no further exceptions to be granted. (But I say that is backwards: Lawmaking that claims territory otherwise occupied by the rights of man cannot be legitimate.)
What West presents will appear to skeptics as justifications, or even rationalizations, for the inclusion of Christian principles in government — but it may well be an accurate appraisal of pertinent facts. West notes that generalized Christian principles were institutionalized in public schools and elsewhere and largely uncontroversial through the ’60s. He says that founders generally believed that “government can do whatever it wants to to support religion as long as it doesn’t take away anyone’s right to religious freedom,” citing an example: “So if the government wants to create a policy of… giving money to preachers (Massachusetts had a policy like that) it can do that.” And he offers a quote from George Washington: “Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
The opinions of these Founders, reviewed in general terms here, come across as liberal as to the proper role of government. The discussion so far allows for all manner of state interventions, schemes, and ploys that incumbents might concoct.
This segment is another that skips ahead of foundational premises to irresponsibly focus beyond unresolved assumptions on the logic chain. I maintain that one must first show that any social contract, much less one that presumes consent by future unborn individuals, is necessary at all. Then and only then may one be taken seriously who sets out to detail the terms of that contract.
Was classism so blinding — was fear of non-citizens and ‘uncivilized’ voting classes so great — that the ‘civilized’ elite political class could not conceive their foundational premise is faulty?
6: Slavery and the Roots of the Secession Crisis w/ Kevin Portteus
Portteus faces the “elephant in the room”:
In opposition to purported intellectuals everywhere, Portteus succinctly outlines relevant foundational questions that must be answered by serious people, giving hope that we may yet find synthesis where previously there were only polar moronic and myopic extremities (All the Founders were totally a) racist; b) not racist):
- What did the founders think and do about slavery?
- Do we see slavery’s survival as evidence of the Founders’ indifference, lack of action, or failure to recognize the problem?
- Ending slavery: What took so long?
Portteus offers quotes, primarily from Jefferson, to show that slavery was recognized as an injustice among founders. He says that it was understood to be a problem needing solution, not some universally endorsed and accepted feature — as evidenced by action taken at the state levels and progress that had been made against slavery via state law. Additionally, he goes into detail about lawsuits that were brought by former slaves that, if won, would de facto cement their status as freemen. These cases required counsel and courts that could see the world differently than a once prevailing perspective trending toward obsolescence.
By way of apologetics, there were powerful incentives to oppose abolition. Vengeance against slaveowners by newly freed slaves was a real risk; there were industries that were dependent on slave labor (famously cotton plantations); non-slaveholding whites might risk social pressure or disenfranchisement. Further, there was no shortage of exposure to ideas hostile to founding principles, both foreign and home-grown. Propaganda and genuine sentiment reinforced notions that all men are not created equal, and that slavery is somehow acceptable.
One man who argued in favor of abhorrent things, including slavery, is John C. Calhoun. His argument is that tyranny is better than no government at all, and Portteus steelmans it. “We need order so much, that we need whatever government can provide that order.” A direct inversion of Madison’s Federalist 51, which holds that anarchy is better than tyranny.
At risk of stating the obvious, a citizenry needs a government to preserve freedom, if at all — not to establish whatever ‘order’ this or that incumbent prescribes. We have no reason to believe that government is less dangerous than individuals and groups that form organically without the charter. After all, it is ultimately just a small number of people who have assumptively created a centralized system to provide ‘order’ for people completely unknown to them, to people not yet conceived — and even for those who have not expressed, much less exhibited, any need or desire for it.
I have no excuse for those who disagree but that they lack the perspective to see that government is scarcely beholden to market forces beyond the lobbyist layer and rubber hose attacks. No establishment of tyrannical ‘order’ can be justified — nor the notion that only some of us deserve liberty.
I’m now halfway through the course, and though I have not found what I expected, I’m enjoying myself immensely, in between involuntary naps. I hope you’ll join me in part 3.