It is an American story: Emerging from the final day of the Philadelphia meetings that created the checked and balanced constitution, Benjamin Franklin was addressed by a constituent. The curious citizen asked the senior founding father: “What have you given us?” “A republic, if you can keep it” was the wise man’s reply.
The metaphorical electric currents that today run through the complex wiring of the world’s most important political document, the US constitution – whose Bill of Rights has been the universal definition of freedom ever since it was penned – heated the venerable parchment to the point of setting it aflame.
The Mueller report has been issued, telling the world that there was no evidence of “collusion” between US President Donald Trump and “the Russians.” Also, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s findings proved inadequate to support any charge of “obstruction of justice.” And so, despite dark doings by Obama-era leaders at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Justice Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and secret FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) courts, America’s first “third world” coup has failed.
But the constitution is still in peril. The careful balance, the subtle institutional designs that are the real-world mechanisms that define the republican (small r) nature of the US constitution, are under threat by “inside players,” some of whom are members of Congress, who advocate socialist alternatives to America’s “wiring.”
That is, the core significance of the constitution, spelled in the Ninth and 10th Amendments, is that the constitution limits the reach and power of US government: It confines sovereignty to the people. The American constitution is not (forgive the fancy word) teleological. It does not have its own agenda; its purpose is not to bring about some perfect State. The founders designed a system of process: Their idea was to design a figurative machine, or engine, that might be useful in managing political change (in any direction) with a minimum of violent (or “unconstitutional”) conflict.
The focus on process rather than on result is the reason Americans are so fascinated by courts, lawsuits and legalisms. In stark contrast, the core idea of socialism is that the State has a monopoly of political power: A socialist government or state is variously defined as one having exclusive ownership and control of the means of production; in a socialist state, there is no private property. A socialist state of affairs does have an agenda: It is a transition between capitalism and the most preferred social organization, that is, communism.
The obsession with “progress” toward a perfect utopia is the reason socialists are so ready to “scramble eggs” – accept arbitrary rules of convenience rather than “legalisms” – in order to hasten the day when society reaches its (afterwards unchanging) intangible, theoretical, abstract goal of liberté, égalité, fraternité. The contrast partly explains why it is that post-revolutionary France has experienced five Republics, and America only one.
Property is the individual ownership of security of contract. A contract is an interpersonal voluntary agreement defining certain rights, responsibilities and consequences: In that sense, is creates justice between players, defined in terms of real human action
“Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society.” Their competing interests “divide them into different classes.” … “The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation …” (Federalist Papers 10, James Madison). Notice that the founder did not take sides in this contest between classes, rather he sought a way to create institutionalized processes that, most of the time, would to balance the interests. Contrast the US constitution’s view of property with the socialistic one: “Property is theft.” (Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, in his 1840 book subtitled An Inquiry into the Principle of Right and of Government.) Not much balancing there.
Just so we know what is under discussion, understand that, for me and, in my opinion, for America’s founders, property is the individual ownership of security of contract. A contract is an interpersonal voluntary agreement defining certain rights, responsibilities and consequences: In that sense, is creates justice between players, defined in terms of real human action.
Interestingly, contract constrains the range of pre-contract liberty, when it defines the actions required by offer and acceptance of promises. By means of contract, promises become dependable and security appears in the world. Individuals have property, ownership and enforceable possession of future chains of human action. Property is not some acre of land: It is an enforceable political agreement that the land’s owner may exclude all others.
Nearly every social relation may be a contract. If I offer you my vote, you accept my request that you govern justly, in my interest. If I offer you a proposal of marriage, you may rely on my future fidelity. If I accept your money, it is in consideration that my commercial product will perform as advertised. Justice is served in these cases, since all players, individually and in pairs, have exchanged rights and responsibilities.
There are found everywhere across the wide field of human interaction, clear, unambiguous, enforceable relations, constructed in such a way that third parties, using common-law notions of trust, security, stability and other props and supports needed if real world life experiences may regularly consist of the pursuit of happiness, or at least the creation of confident expectation.
When socialism eliminates private property it necessarily makes itself the “other party” in a wide field of human actions; it promises pensions, health programs, public housing, free education, clean air and safe streets. But the enforcement provisions of private contract, and the consistency with past contractual practice provided by common law, are absent. Political promises, for example campaign promises, are notoriously undependable.
Let us look at current specific proposals made by modern socialists and show how they are destructive of various constitutional ideas, traditions, habits and guarantees. That is, let us see to what extent the modern left proposes a coup that goes well beyond its failed attempt to overthrow President Trump.
The Green New Deal is reduced to a laugh line: “No cars, no cows.” But the proposals linger, even though the implication is ownership, control and regulation of national energy sources, agricultural assets, transportation systems and the insurance system that finances most health care. Ownership and control via regulation is classic socialism.
Electing the president via an instructed Electoral College would be replaced by direct election according to national popular vote. This is an unconstitutional idea requiring a constitutional amendment. But more important, the president is now reminded by the existing system that he or she must be the president of all the people, not just those in population centers. The geographical dispersion of support now made necessary to elect a president, today just as in the days of Ben Franklin, means diversity of culture, tradition, political belief, religion and race. Eliminating the Electoral College would truly be unconstitutional. More to the point, it would be a profoundly unwise, or at least un-American, electoral revolution.
A 15-plus-sized Supreme Court? In the list of exceptionally American political ideas, the court, its magnificent DC Temple peopled with Delphic Black-Robed Pontifices Maximi (the Latin plural of Pontifex Maximus, the singular meaning the illustrious chief Roman priest) goes beyond the constitution (as president Franklin Delano Roosevelt discovered, even at the height of his power during his popular second term). The current court and its apparatus are part of America’s civil-Roman religion: Tampering with it is political sacrilege. Beyond that, and practically speaking, a big court, wherein each member “has cover,” would not impose on the justices the current sense they (should) have: They serve the constitution, but never party or faction.
Voting at 16 years of age? This children’s crusade idea is best left to the Middle Ages.
But the ideas and developments above bear vigilant watching.
“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power [for the purposes of this essay, the powerful socialist elites who would run things if America turns dead left] is ever stealing from the many to the few.” (Abolitionist Wendell Phillips 1842, also Thomas Charlton 1809, but not Thomas Jefferson.)
It is profoundly unconstitutional to dump a president by means of a constitutionally novel “Special Counsel.” It is incompatible with the idea of limited government to replace markets and contracts that now manage entire economic sectors with commissars and plans. The limited republic that the founders “gave us” remains (at the moment) at the core of American exceptionalism: Once lost, it cannot be retrieved.