In reflecting further on the issues raised by Ted McAllister’s emphasis on the American historical experience of liberty in this month’s Liberty Law Forum, I find myself returning again to consider the meaning of a particular phrase of the Declaration of Independence: “the pursuit of happiness.” I have written about this before in other places, but McAllister’s highlighting of historically lived experience, brings out the significance of this passage even further.
The home and birthplace of John Adams—and his son, John Quincy Adams, diplomat, president, legislator and, most important, translator of the indispensable The Origins and Principles of the American Revolution, compared with the Origins and Principles of the French Revolution, more on which presently—sits on Hancock Street in Quincy, Massachusetts. The next time a U.S.-French Presidential duo desires a photo-op at the home of a historic American executive, they might skip Monticello and visit the Adams manse instead.
Many long posts ago, this website hosted a discussion of Michael Greve’s wonderfully illuminating Upside Down Constitution. A key part of the thesis was the degree to which local self-governing political bodies in America have steadily ceded administration to national agencies, not as the helpless victims of a national takeover, but as willing, nay eager participants in the national redistribution of our common wealth.
Without a consideration of basic principles, of basic notions of right and wrong, of moral and philosophic ideals, this transfer of self-governance from the local to the national, becomes very hard to criticize.
Kevin D. Williamson has posted an excellent takedown at National Review of a National Journal assault on the Constitutional regime. This latter piece, a polemic by Alex Seitz-Wald, argues that the founding document, while innovative in its time, no longer reflects humanity’s best constitutional erudition. Williamson’s critique is definitive—he notes, among other points, that the regime is not defective simply because it has failed to produce results in accordance with a critic’s proclivities—but I would amplify one point. Seitz-Wald argues for a sort of latter-day constitutional technocracy arising from science and divorced from experience that describes neither what happened at Philadelphia nor that for which any political society ought to wish today.
Seitz-Wald writes: “What was for the Founders a kind of providential revelation—designing, from scratch, a written charter and democratic system at a time when the entire history of life on this planet contained scant examples of either—has been worked into science.” Actually, the entire history of planetary life contained the British constitution, which the convention delegates much admired, and, more important, upwards of a century-and-a-half of uniquely American experience with self-government from which constitutional institutions evolved.
I write from the Washington, DC suburbs, now quivering in fear from the violence of the last few weeks, from madmen, our police, and our Redskin-baiting politicians. But a Canadian immigrant (and I don’t mean Mark Steyn) relieves some discontent while producing even more.
In furious rage against the Cruz-sade, this weekend’s New York Times regular op-ed page columnists sputter about President Obama resorting to sinking aircraft carriers; Washington DC Hunger Games workouts led by Paul Ryan; and our sick politics that has produced gerrymandered red-lite districts. But there is an adult in the room, Times writer-at-large and sadly, former Book Review Editor Sam Tanenhaus, who gets to the heart of the crisis in his op-ed, “The Benefits of Intransigence.”
In thinking and reflecting on Michael Greve’s The Upside-Down Constitution over the past year, I still agree with my initial assessment that Greve’s competitive federalism gives us an enormous understanding of so many fiscal and regulatory problems in our current political practice. I think he convincingly shows why many of the states are broke with little hope of recovery, save a federal bailout. Moreover, it also demonstrates why the broken states continue their current course of irresponsible fiscal policy. What else is there for them to do, channel their inner Coolidge? Not bloody likely.
The Library of America continues its outstanding contribution to the preservation and dissemination of America’s literary heritage with this collection of letters, speeches, diary excerpts and newspaper articles from “America’s forgotten conflict.” You might not know it, unless you live in Maryland [home of the “star-spangled” license plate] or one of the states bordering the Great Lakes, but we are in the midst of “celebrating” the bicentennial of the War of 1812. This war suffers from obscurity in part due to the fact that for two of its principal players, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson (the latter acted as a…
Editor’s Note: This is the first of two posts that will offer contrasting opinions on the NSA electronic surveillance programs. Angelo Codevilla’s essay will appear tomorrow.
On July 24th, 2013, the United States House of Representatives defeated an amendment to the Defense Department’s Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2014 that called for greater restrictions on the National Security Agency’s ability to gather electronic information, including phone records of American citizens. Ninety-four Republicans and 111 House Democrats voted in favor of the amendment, while 134 Republicans and 83 Democrats voted against it. The amendment’s sponsors shared very little in common, other than the fact that they are both from Michigan. Republican Justin Amash, a devotee of free markets and limited government, joined forces with John Conyers, a perennial opponent of American foreign and defense policy since he was first elected to Congress in 1964.
No Denial: Once Americans, now Egyptians
Was the anti-Morsi coup in Egypt justified on liberal and democratic grounds? The distinguished legal scholars Ilya Somin and Michael Rappaport agree that democracy cannot be defended on the ground of majority rule alone, and I add my voice to theirs but for different reasons. In making their respective critiques of Morsi, Rappaport emphasizes long-run majoritarianism and consensus; Somin the protection of classical liberal principles. Put them together and you get something close to the American founding but still not quite there. I would advance the arguments of Thomas Jefferson articulated in his First Inaugural Address that is crucial for understanding Egypt and, more important, our own democracy.
It is a great honor to be asked to comment on Gerald Russello’s excellent piece. A man whose scholarship and wisdom is as high as his integrity is deep, Russello has pioneered much in his own writing and editing and in his profound grasp of the law. Almost every topic I’ve explored academically has proudly followed the trails he has already cut and blazed. The Conservative Mind Sixty years ago, Russell Kirk (1918-1994) published his stunning and culturally and politically shattering work, his barely revised dissertation, The Conservative Mind. Knopf had accepted it but the prestigious publishing firm wanted the relatively young…
In Gerald Russello’s account of Russell Kirk’s Constitutional theory, he conscisely outlines Kirk’s thought on that central concern for conservatives and indeed for all Americans. As Kirk understood, the Constitution is a great Fact of American experience, whose importance cannot be overlooked; and yet, as any historian could tell us, the trouble with facts is…
2013 is the 60th year since Regnery Publishing brought Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind to the reading public. The book helped transform modern American politics and inform many emerging conservative minds. When I was interning in Washington, DC more than twenty years ago, I remember answering a question by saying that I had a skeletal…