Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

EU-phony

This article on Der Spiegel’s English site is rambling and not altogether coherent, but, then again, so was the whole EU debate. What lies behind the French rejection is backward-looking wishful thinking, a fear of changing the unproductive "French way of life."

Here’s a summary, in English, of German opinion and analysis. For more English-language reaction from the continent, drop by Davids Medienkritik (German blogger), Zacht Ei (Dutch blogger), and No-pasaran (French blogger). They’re all happy with the result, as, I might add, am I.

Update: Davids Medienkritik calls our attention to this post:

Given the prominence of the anti-American and anti-market French "left" in the "no" campaign, even many a "euro-sceptical" pundit will be inclined to say that the French voted "right for the wrong reasons". But there is much post-referendum evidence to suggest that in fact a very large portion of the French electorate, cutting across ideological boundaries, recognized in time the threat to their liberties that Dr. Joseph Fischer’s monster represented.

Discussions - 13 Comments


Re: France’s "non" --

It’s certainly a stumbling block in the way of transnational government. Is that not a good thing?

On the face of it there’s nothing wrong with "transnational government"; Jose Ortega y Gasset made a compelling case for European Union back in the 1930s. The problem in this case was simply with the constitution, a monstrosity written by bureaucrats, for bureaucrats.

On the face of it there’s a lot wrong with transnational government. How can such an entity be anything BUT bureaucrats ruling from on high? Didn’t Hayek teach us that as you move up the ladder of complexity your ability to 1) represent reality accurately fades, and 2) your "commandments" get more and more autocratic? One of the central ideas of our own constitution is to limit the size and power of the central government, and for the reasons stated above.

The problem is how one defines "nation." Surely the American states in the 1780s were different enough from one another that the Constitution might be said to have created a "transnational" government. I agree that federalism is preferable to centralization, but the beauty of the Constitution is that it contained elements of both. While it is the case that the Founders were interested in limiting the power of the federal government, it wasn’t their only concern--if it had been they could have simply stuck with the Articles of Confederation. In short, the Founders were at least as interested in empowering the central government as they were in limiting that power.

I don’t see any particular reason why, if the Europeans were to follow the American model, with powers divided among and balanced between the individual European states and the federal government in Brussels, they wouldn’t enjoy similar results.

Well, John, we did have a little thing in this country called The Civil War, and one of the central issues was states’ rights. We all know how that went. Increasingly, states are coerced by the Federal Government through a variety of mechanisms...let’s not pretend, OK?

That won’t work in Europe, not with a truly multilingual, multinational polyglot that shares nothing but a hazy Christian heritage and lots of mutual antagonisms. Central government always seeks to expand its power, and while that worked in the US (after some bloodshed and lots of legal expenditures), I don’t see it working in Europe.

I predicted the French would bail after they figured out they wouldn’t run the show. I also predict that the EU will revert back to something like the Common Market, but only after a lot of useless effort (and money) to realize a stupid dream...Federated Europe. All they really need are standard exchange treaties and a common currency -- anything more will run into trouble (and the currency may be problematic as well).

Yes, I’m vaguely aware of the Civil War, thank you very much. It involved the southern states claiming a right of secession that did not (and does not) exist under the Constitution. None of this changes the fact that the Constitution established a system that was "wholly federal and wholly national." Would Europeans ever choose to adopt this as a model? Probably not, but my initial comment came in response to the claim that a "transnational" government is, in principle, objectionable. My point remains that "nations" are ultimately human artifices; that the thirteen British colonies in North America became a nation through an act of will, and that there is no reason in principle why the people of Europe, with the help of genuine statesmen (if there are any such folks in Europe) could not agree to do likewise.

Hmm...so anything NOT in the Constitution is reserved to the Federal Government? John, you know better...the document actually says the reverse. Indeed, three of the original states that signed on did so under the explicit understanding that the right of succession would be honored. The New Englanders sure thought so during the War of 1812! You got this history thing down pat, John?

And there’s a big difference between 13 culturally and linguistically homongeneous colonies united to became a single nation and the ancient nations of Europe doing the same. That was my point.

So you’re claiming a constitutional right to overthrow the Constitution? What about the following clauses: "No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation," and "No State shall, without the Consent of Congress...enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State."

As for the allegation that when ratifying the Constitution several states included an
"explicit understanding that the right of succession [sic] would be honored," this is a claim that is often made, but never to my knowledge substantiated. Please show me where the words "secede" or "secession" appear in any of those documents, all of which may be found at Yale University’s Avalon Project.

That the New Englanders were opposed to the War of 1812 is unquestioned; that they embraced the cause of secession is demonstrably false. Even the Hartford Convention, the most extreme expression of New England "states’ rights" sentiment, ultimately rejected the idea of seceding from the Union.

The Constitution begins with the words "We, the people," not "We, the states." James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, asserted that it "was formed, not by the Governments of the component States" and "cannot be altered or annulled at the will of the States individually."

None of those clauses you cite pertain to the right of secession. Indeed, the fact that such dissimilar politicians as John Quincy Adams and John Calhoun clearly thought such a right existed suggests that it was a common notion. Why else would Massachusetts have even entertained it (the last and most serious time during Texas’ annexation in the mid-1840s)? No, states’ rights were more than just a figment of the imagination...they were a cornerstone of the early Republic, and only illegal force changed that.

I suggest you read the ratification statements of New York, Rhode Island and Virginia. These states clearly thought they retained sovereignty, particularly if the Union became oppressive.

And to turn your formulation around on you, show me where secession is strictly forbidden in the Constitution. Since it isn’t explicitly forbidden, doesn’t the 10th Amendment apply:


The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.


To be utterly legal, a state could seceed individually and, after that, join a confederation or treaty. I think that is in fact what the South did, isn’t it?

Of course, I mean to write "secede." Please don’t (sic) me again!!!

Indeed, the fact that such dissimilar politicians as John Quincy Adams and John Calhoun clearly thought such a right existed suggests that it was a common notion. Why else would Massachusetts have even entertained it (the last and most serious time during Texas’ annexation in the mid-1840s)?

There were lots of people who entertained lots of crazy ideas in the early Republic (as in our own day). That it was only actually tried once--and under highly dubious circumstances--suggests that there were also considerable doubts about the legality of secession.

I suggest you read the ratification statements of New York, Rhode Island and Virginia. These states clearly thought they retained sovereignty, particularly if the Union became oppressive.

Okay, but I note that you’ve moved from claiming that they included an "explicit understanding that the right of secession would be honored," to claiming that they "retained sovereignty." That’s quite a move, and I do not doubt your more recent claim. States clearly retain some sovereignty--my driver’s license says "Ohio" on it, for instance. I’ll go further and admit that the three statements you mention provide for a right of revolution if the federal government violates the people’s (though not the states’) natural rights. This is standard Lockean rhetoric, the kind which appeared obviously in the Declaration of Independence. But it isn’t the same thing as secession, particularly the kind that was attempted in 1861, for two reasons:

1. The "revolution" wasn’t made by the people, or even the people’s legitimate representatives, but rather by specially appointed conventions. As Paul Johnson has put it, secession "was decided by a total of 854 men in various secession conventions, all of them selected by legislatures, not by the voters. Of these 157 voted against secession. So 697 men, mostly wealthy, decided the destiny of 9 million people, mostly poor."

2. The "revolution" didn’t come in response to any specific violation of natural rights, but rather because southern slaveowners didn’t like the results of the election of 1860. Surely none of the Framers believed that this was an appropriate use of the "right of revolution."

Before I rush off for the weekend I wanted to make one last comment to what has become a very interesting exchange.

And to turn your formulation around on you, show me where secession is strictly forbidden in the Constitution.

I am normally receptive to this argument, and--believe it or not--I am a great supporter of the principle of federalism. However, this case is different, as it applies not to a separation of powers per se, but rather to the dissolution of the Union itself. This is a case in which the Framers’ silence is deeply significant. Any contract of the day (or our own, for that matter) would have included an "escape clause" which described the mechanism by which any party could have withdrawn. That the Framers chose not to include such language in this founding document strongly suggests that they believed the Union to be perpetual; and their correspondence seems to back up this interpretation.

John:

Yes, I realize some scholarship suggests that the South was led into an unpopular war by slave-holding elites, but that is nonsense, as Gary Gallagher’s book The Confederate War clearly demonstrates. Really, there can be no greater evidence that this was a popular REVOLT against the Federal Government than the unprecedented military mobilization of Southern manhood. The South sent between 75% and 85% of her white male population of fighting age into battle. Of these, over 35% were killed or wounded...an unprecedented number for Americans in any era. By comparison, the North only mobilized half its men of fighting age, and only about 18% were killed or wounded. In short, it is abundantly clear that the South was fighting a popular war for independence against a power it viewed as oppressive.

There were lots of people who entertained lots of crazy ideas in the early Republic (as in our own day). That it was only actually tried once--and under highly dubious circumstances--suggests that there were also considerable doubts about the legality of secession.

Yes, crazy people like Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams and John Calhoun. Just nutcases...

Any contract of the day (or our own, for that matter) would have included an "escape clause" which described the mechanism by which any party could have withdrawn. That the Framers chose not to include such language in this founding document strongly suggests that they believed the Union to be perpetual; and their correspondence seems to back up this interpretation.

You can’t have it both ways...silence doesn’t mean one thing today and another tomorrow. Let me also suggest that the 10th Amendment, ratified in 1791, was in part meant to clarify that silence meant precisely that...if the Constitution doesn’t forbid something then it is ALLOWED.

No matter how much someone loves the U.S.A. or Abe Lincoln, it’s pretty evident that the right of state secession was commonly believed to exist by both Northerners and Southerners. Uncle Abe and his radical buddies changed all that, and he used slavery as the moral wedge to overcome Constitutional rights. Today’s problems with an imperial judiciary and an ever-hungry central government are directly attributable to Abe Lincoln’s ruthless pursuit of Union. I certainly welcome the end of slavery (which did no one but a tiny land-owning class any good), but I don’t think we needed to send a half million young men to the slaughterhouse to accomplish it.

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