Monday, October 11, 2010

The incoherence of the contemporary Right

Sandy Levinson

In a debate on the New York Times web site, conservative historian George Nash writes that "Like America's Founders, conservatives in 2010 prefer a government of an by, and not just for, the people." But if there's anything clear about the Founders, it is that they rejected far more than accepted "government by" the people, which, at least to a modern consciousness, suggests that ordinary blokes will in fact get to participate extensively in government. But, of course, the only directly elected officials in the entire national government, in terms of the original Constitution, were members of the House of Representatives (selected by the same electorate as voted for the state's more popular house, which allowed, as of 1787, a great deal of exclusions on ground not only of race and gender, but also of lack of property). And many contemporary Tea Partiers, including a number of their Republican candidates for office this year, want to repeal the 17th Amendment, which does allow for more government "by the people," inasmuch as it allows the populace to choose senators rather than leave that choice to state legislators. Furthermore, and even more obviously, there is not one smidgeon of direct democracy in the national system, even with regard, say, to ratification of the Constitution itself or of later amendments.

One must assume that the contemporary Right hates most state constitutions inasmuch as almost all of them are far, far more democratic than the United States Constitution. But the fact is that the Right really doesn't care about democratic governnace at the national level. What they want to do is to destroy the modern national political order and to replace it with a domestic America of, say, 1837, where the national government did almost nothing and the states did everything. If they were honest, they would take up the cudgels thrown down by Texas Governor Rick Perry and state forthrightly that they would rather see the Union destroyed than maintained in its present form.



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I'll say, forthrightly, that I'd rather see it destroyed, than continue on it's present trajectory. The President claiming the right to assassinate US citizens without judicial review? Why SHOULD such a government endure? In theory, citizens don't exist for the benefit of governments, it's the other way around...

Why don't you take the same stance? You're determined to get rid of the Senate, but there's no plausible route to doing that under Article V. In your heart of hearts, you must be aware that the only route to the constitution you want goes through the US government falling.

In truth, the contemporary left is no more coherent on this point, raving about "democracy" while wanting to impose on the public wildly unpopular programs such as amnesty for illegal aliens.

Lincoln was a great President, but I wouldn't call him one of the Founders. Then again, I'm not a conservative historian.

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Lincoln intended his words to reflect what the Framers put in place. It is the principle, not who said it, that is "Founder" material.

"The whites of their eyes : the Tea Party's revolution and the battle over American history" by Jill Lepore does tell us that there has been some revisionist history going on, "history" often being a matter of creation. Many events in the Old Testament of this variety.

If now is a time to destroy government and put in a new one, it must have been when Brett and Shag were children, given all the wrongs inflicted back then, in particular in respect to the latter. The recent news on another medical experiment on the unknowing is but one example.

But, Thomas Jefferson said a word or two about the dangers of destroying longstanding governments.

As to the Senate, the one vote per state representation of the Articles of Confederation managed to be changed. So, I don't think it's impossible to change the Senate, particularly if each state still had two senators, but the power of the Senate to block was altered.

I'm afraid this column reflects more pique than logic. The contemporary right may or may not be attractive, but I don't see the incoherence. That there are contradictions or differences within the movement does not detract from its general theme or reducing Government power and bringing decision-making closer to the people, and further from the established elites, than it is now.

Well, I think Sandy makes a pretty good case that the Framers did not put popular government in place. In fact, many of them were horrified by the concept.

I think even more could be made of the incoherence. After all, much of the unrest in the Republican Party is funded by wealthy individuals and corporations, which expect to take advantage of things like opposition to tax increases on their brackets and business-friendly government policies. While I hear lots of the language of populism from insurgent candidates, the actual policies are not populist at all.

There is an unbridgeable chasm in Conservative thought between small government and a Great Nation. Perry and millions of Texans at any given moment may dream of Texas sovereignty but they also want to be part of a Great Nation, the greatest of all. One that straddles the globe like a Collossus. The one that can bomb hundreds, thousands, millions to their deaths with impunity. And let's not forget Jesus and his plans for the sacred nation.

Oddly, we cannot have a Great Nation without its great banks and financial institutions but those are bankrupt. So the hated government props them up as an existential necessity and Conservatives don't know what to think of it all. Call it socialism and win the election, but then what?

As national governance collapses so will the banks.

Perhaps I'm confused, but is Professor Levinson suggesting that the Tea partiers agree with him? They want to see the Union destroyed rather than continued in its present form, just like the wise professor. How sophisticated of them!

First the 2nd amendment, and now this. Professor Levinson, I'd be careful at the ACS meetings if I were you.

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The less mainstream right will also criticize the United States for being too democratic. Hans-Hermann Hoppe of the Austrian School of Economics to which Ron Paul and his son adhere has categorized the U.S. Constitution as a failure precisely because of the democratic potential contained within it.

Is there a citation for the very interesting reference to Hans-Hermann Hoppe?



The relevant book is _Democracy: The God that Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy, and Natural Order_. The book is a very rich and interesting revisionary histroy premised on the heterodox philosophy of the Austrian School of Economics. The later chapters on Classical Liberalism and the Constitution would probably be of interest to you. Some of the arguments mirror the legality-legitimacy framework employed by Schmitt in his comparative work on constitutions.

Thanks for the reference. I have ordered the book and look forward to reading it.


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