This month's Liberty Forum features a lead essay by the sage of Malibu, Gordon Lloyd, on the constitutional liberty of the Antifederalists. Excellent responses from Adam Tate and Ken Masugi follow and greatly add to the discussion. That's right, capital 'A' because as Lloyd argues they are coherent and relevant. We need their wisdom now more than ever. "The constitutional impediments to the completion of the Progressive national democracy project actually rest on promoting the Antifederalist rather than the Federalist features of the Constitution and Bill of Rights." Lloyd disentangles our understanding of the Antifederalists from the scholarship on the…
This month’s Liberty Forum debate on the relationship between the inherited common law norms of liberty and our written Constitution also opens to a conversation on the comparison between civil law and common law and the degree to which each system protects liberty and permits fruits of liberty like commerce and jurisdictional competition to flourish. In this post I point to some comparative strengths each system possesses and the prerequisites to their successful operation which may no longer be operative.
A good way to explore the nature and implications of the rule of law in a free society is to compare the Civil Law of Europe with the Common Law traditions of England and America. Harold Berman’s second volume of Law and Revolution invites just such an exercise by examining the influence of the Reformation on both. What follows are some general reflections that were raised in my mind by that reading and current events, These should not be taken as final conclusions,but merely points for further conversation with respect to how both systems relate to liberty.
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Ministry of Love promoted nothing but hatred and the Ministry of Truth spread nothing but lies. Although totalitarianism of the kind described and analyzed by Orwell has all but disappeared from the face of the earth, give or take a country or two, totalitarianism of another, softer kind is marching its slow way through the institutions. In the name of diversity and tolerance, it enforces uniformity and bigotry: and there is no vice as insidious as that which, in the search for power, takes itself for virtue.
In England, this degeneration has gone further than almost anywhere else in the western world. In northern town of Rotherham recently a perfectly decent couple who fostered children in need of care and attention had their foster-children removed from them because they were members of UKIP, the United Kingdom Independence Party, which was deemed by the local council, controlled by the Labour Party, to be racist. There were no allegations that they couple had maltreated any children; indeed, to all appearances they were exemplary foster parents (of children of non-British background, incidentally). Their only ‘crime’ was to hold the ‘wrong’ opinions.
Today’s Wall Street Journal has a very fine front page article on separatist movements and parties within the EU, especially in Spain (“Europe’s Crisis Spawns Calls For a Breakup—Of Spain”). In Catalonia, independence parties are expected to prevail in regional elections on November 25. Pro-independence parties have already won control of parliament in Basque Country. Elsewhere in Europe, Belgium sports a powerful separatist movement in Dutch-speaking Flanders. One could add (although the Journal does not) that Scotland is displaying similar tendencies. And in Italy and even in Germany, regional tensions are on the rise.
Compared with reading a book by Professor Habermas, going to the dentist is a pleasant experience. He has made his career as a torturer – not of people, but of language. The esteem in which he is widely held is to me mysterious and itself of sociological and psychological interest, worthy of further research. Audiences have been known almost to swoon at his Teutonically polysyllabic vaticinations. He is largely incomprehensible; where he is comprehensible, he is either banal or wrong, or both. He is often funny, but not intentionally.
Let us take his banality first. At the bottom of page 69 of this short but frivolously dense book entitled THE CRISIS OF THE EUROPEAN UNION: A Response , we read with respect to his scheme for a world body that will deliver universal justice (modeled more or less on the triumphantly successful European Union): “But any design for a world order aiming at civilizing the exercise of political authority, no matter how farsighted it might be, must take account of the fact that the historical asynchronicity of regional developments and the corresponding socio-economic disparities between the multiple modernities cannot be erased overnight.”
In this brief, brave, but ultimately unsuccessfully argued book, the political philosopher, and former president of the Italian Senate, Marcello Pera offers westerners reasons why they should consider themselves Christians even when, like he, they do not subscribe to the lordship and divinity of Jesus. His reasons are essentially two, three if they are European rather than American or from elsewhere in the Anglo-sphere. The introduction offers the following useful summary of them, augmented by a couple of further, unitalicised elucidatory statements taken from later in the text: ‘In brief: we should call ourselves Christians if we want to maintain our liberties…
Returning to my house in France after a prolonged stay in England, I was at once struck on reading the French press by how differently the current economic, and indeed existential, crisis in Europe is conceived on either side of the Channel, at least by the commentariat. For the British, the problem has been caused by an overweening but incompetent centralizing political class and bureaucracy that saw in the common currency a means to extend its own power, a currency union not being long viable without a political union: a union that in the circumstances would have to be mandated bureaucratically rather that democratically. And indeed, the European political class has long sought to escape from the tedium of democratic interference.
Jean Monnet, the chief architect of European union after World War II, once described crises as the great integrators. Without a clear and present danger to outweigh self-interests, he believed leaders would not make tough choices needed. The current problems facing the European Union seem likely to test the validity of Monnet’s claim as a project many saw as destiny flirts with destruction. Adopting a single currency marked an important step towards an economic integration aimed at ratcheting member states into a tighter political union, but the story took a different turn. The euro now serves as a mechanism to heighten economic strains upon member states. Financial crisis in Greece risks spreading to other economies as lenders raise their terms for purchasing bonds or flee vulnerable banks. Rather than drawing Europe together, however, this and other crises over the past few years highlight deep tensions that work against integration, at least of the kind Monnet envisioned. Walter Laqueur’s After the Fall: The End of the European Dream and the Decline of a Continent explores what caused these present discontents and the issues behind them.
In response to: Prospects for the Democratic Nation-State: What State Are We In?
Mankind is not easily rid of theology once it gets the bug. The nation-state tried to erase the distinction between earthly power and absolute right, but the attempt failed, with the result that the modern nation-state, its professed secularism notwithstanding, is once more coming under the tutelage of a clerisy. Almost since its beginning the nation-state has implied self-government in matters spiritual as well as temporal. It aspired to be an integral unit within whose borders a people were fully sovereign, answerable only to God—and perhaps not even to God, for what power could gainsay the people’s interpretation of His commands?…
Ralph Hancock begins his interesting essay[i] be reminding us that, despite its internal contradictions and failures, the modern state has become the only conceivable political form in our post-modern world. This should be puzzling since the record is far from being a convincing successful story. At its best, the modern state has allowed us to…
For those who still have the patience—or the sick curiosity—to follow Europe’s parody on democracy and the rule of law, it’s been a fascinating few days.
Forget Greece and Portugal: fiscal consolidation in Spain and Italy isn’t going particularly well, either. In both countries, the lack of progress has a great deal to do with fiscal federalism’s pathology—i.e., the tendency of junior government to rack up debt and to gamble on a federal bailout. (I’ve droned on about that unfortunate tendency in a series of earlier posts.) In Spain, the regions (which account for the lion’s share of the Country’s excess debt) seem to be winning the game of chicken: the already-bankrupt government in Madrid is sending money their way, in return for empty promises. My buddy Alberto Mingardi’s terrific piece on the Italian situation appears here.
The EU is hardly an innocent bystander. For decades, it has been buttering up regions financially as well as politically, on the theory that what’s bad for nation-states is good for the EU and to the point where it’s hard to explain why Spain or Belgium still exist. They are the functional equivalents of insolvent pension funds with a colorful flag and a Chairman who answers to “His Majesty.”