Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Published in Conservatism

The Founding

Federalism (and Limited Government) Reaffirmed

Many contemporary friends of limited government adopt erroneous theories ("states' rights," secession) that actually increase the possibility of tyrannical government, as American history bears out.

Often the case for secession as a device of limited government resorts to the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions. But Villanova University professor (and MAHG instructor) Colleen Sheehan argues that James Madison, author of the Virginia Resolutions, had a much profounder view of not only federalism but the nature of popular government than his friend Thomas Jefferson, who authored the Kentucky Resolutions.

Whereas Jefferson sought to implement modes outside of the ordinary processes of law, in the form of constitutional conventions or negations of contractual/compact agreements, Madison sought to establish a political practice in which, whenever possible, the settled decisions of the people would control and direct government. Madison's cure was not to pit the extraordinary authority of the people against the ordinary deliberative processes of majority decision-making, but to hold the government dependent on and answerable to the deliberate, sovereign public.

Her essay appears in a series on the provocative Library of Law and Liberty website of the Liberty Fund.

Categories > The Founding


A Largely Forgotten Man

A hero to many contemporary conservatives and libertarians, William Graham Sumner (who penned the phrase "the forgotten man," which was then misappropriated by FDR), takes a beating from Steve Hayward. Sumner joined the attack on Progressive Darwinists who, along with this Social Darwinist, renounced the Declaration of Independence.

Categories > Conservatism

The Founding

Your Constitutional Authority

The Heritage Foundation has put on-line its Guide to the Constitution, co-edited by David Forte and Matthew Spalding. This is a line-by-line commentary with major essays by significant legal scholars. Heritage does terrific work with its instant digests on contemporary policy issues, but this is something different, yet relevant to policy debates.

Take this analysis of the first line of Article II of the Constitution, on the nature and scope of executive power, "the vesting clause." There's even a teacher's companion guide, besides the essay by UVA law professor Sai Prakash and a brief (and diverse) bibliography of legal scholarship.

Or consider co-editor Forte's thoughts on the commerce clause, now at the heart of the Obamacare case, to be decided by the Court this term. Are you clear on the meaning of "to ... regulate commerce ... among the several states"? And so it goes, line by line, through the whole Constitution.

The achievement deserves favorable comparison with the best encyclopaedias of legal thought, such as the grand project of the late Leonard Levy. And besides Heritage's is on-line, will be constantly updated (not a living Constitution, but a lively commentary) and free.

Categories > The Founding


Mourning Tocqueville

Yesterday marked the 153rd anniversary of the death of Alexis de Tocqueville, the extraordinary biographer of America, in all its splendor and its deficiencies. His principal virtue was his insight that liberty-smothering bureaucracy--what he termed "centralized administration"--was at the core of contemporary ills, and it would worsen, as this scandal  (more serious than the GSA) reminds us.

This Tocqueville anniversary coincides with the 100th anniversary of Woodrow Wilson's bold attack on the American founders and his celebration of the administrative state, "What is Progress?" The presidential campaign address also proclaimed the need for Darwinian science to form the basis of our political science. The contrast between Wilson--who equated democracy and socialism--and Tocqueville, who denied such equivalence is most instructive.

Obama's ill-informed attribution of "Darwinism" to Paul Ryan, et al. flies in the face of his own Progressive, Darwinian assumptions, which repudiate constitutional government and justify tyranny.

A few years ago Diana Schaub penned a typically elegant essay on the anniversary of Tocqueville's death.

Categories > Conservatism


10 Years of the Claremont Review

The Claremont Review of Books is an indispensable trove of conservative thought and the Claremont Institute is a natural and worthy sister institution to the Ashbrook Center. Claremont marks its 10th anniversary with a new compilation of conservative thought, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Ten Years of the Claremont Review of Books. No Left Turns' Peter Schramm, William Voegeli and Steven Hayward join a long list of luminaries in this new conservative collection of essays. Required reading for the conservative scholar.
Categories > Conservatism

The Civil War & Lincoln

A Southern Strategery for America

Jonah Goldberg proposes federalism as means of peaceful coexistence betweeen the left and right. Trouble is, it has been tried before: Stephen Douglas. The other guy eventually won. Let's stick by Abe's "tough nut to crack."

In California, among other states, the left has long been at work on "independent state grounds" laws. In this regard, opponents of abortion are misguided in their focus on Roe v. Wade, which certainly should be overturned. Overthrowing Roe would permit state legislatures to restrict abortion, but it would leave other, liberal states with abortion rights protected. For more on "independent state grounds" see this book on democracy in California and this article by Edward Erler.

The Sage of Mt. Airy has more theoretical speculations on the meanings of federalism for the right and for the left.


RIP Andrew Breitbart

A conservative icon has passed. Andrew Breitbart served as a conservative beacon in the media industry, personally counter-balancing to a great extent the monolithic leftward tilt of the entire "main-stream media." He was a lion for the conservative cause and his untimely death at the age of 43 is a tremendous and truly lamentable loss. RIP.
Categories > Conservatism

The Founding

Founders: Historians versus Politicians

This WaPo account of how various Republicans (why only them, one might ask) use/ransack the founding fathers pits the politicians against historians who criticize this alleged naievete.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology history professor Pauline Maier, author of several books about the period from the 1760s to the writing of the Constitution, says: "It is interesting why so many politicians and even judges today want to show that their ideas had firm foundations among the founders. In some ways, I suppose that defines a new phase in the culture wars over 'who is most American.' "

But, she adds, "that can also be very regressive: No founder ever embraced abortion or endorsed affirmative action. Eight­eenth-century Americans did take rights seriously, but their rank list of rights was probably different than those of rights-conscious people today. They lived, after all, over two centuries ago and on the rights front can seem pretty dated."

Like another fine historian of the Declaration, Carl Becker, Maier falls prey to historicism, the notion that one's historical circumstances poses an absolute barrier to finding transcendent truth. Evidently, to judge just from the professors cited in this article (Jack Rakove, among others), it's the scholars versus divisive Republican politicians.

But the contrast shows how much the defense of the Constitution resides in ordinary citizens and the politicians who reflect their concern. As the Progressives predicted and urged they would, intellectuals take the side of progress and history against the people's pride in their country as founded. Of course, not all thinkers agree with those consumed by Progressivism. Here's a shorter piece.

Categories > The Founding


From Obscure Blogger to Campaign Wordsmith

How to build your resume by blogging: Tim Seibel, who blogged on Santorum the Servant, provides material for Foster Friess's introduction of the GOP aspirant at CPAC today. (See my post here on his original.)  Tim explains the mix of purpose and serendipity that led to his posting.

BTW, Tim comes out of University of Dallas and Claremont Graduate School and currently resides in Colorado Springs.

I knew someone who got a job with then-EEOC Chairman Clarence Thomas by writing letters to the editor of prominent newspapers and articles for the Claremont Review of Books.

Update: And while we're touching on CPAC, note Paul Ryan's speech, which contained this great line: "The only class warfare that threatens America comes from a class of bureaucrats and crony capitalists rising above society - calling the shots, rigging the rules, and securing their places of privilege at our expense." Cf. this NLT post decrying the use of the phrase "class warfare" by Republicans.

Categories > Presidency


Recalling Reagan

On his 101st anniversary of his birth, consider this reflection on Ronald Reagan's First Inaugural, and compare it will these thoughts on FDR's First Inaugural. You will see encapulated the contrast between liberty and the desire for security. We also realize how difficult it is to make the case for conservatism--to ask for liberty means to undertake responsibilities, and Americans seem to grow weaker by the day.

Note how FDR asks Americans to trust him with extraordinary, even extra-constitutional power. By contrast, Reagan honors ordinary Americans by returning liberty to them.

Categories > Conservatism