Category Archives: politics

Call me a ‘conservative liberal’ please.

Up until now, when people have asked me what is my political philosophy, I’ve said that I’m a libertarian republican, both lowercase. In other words, I believe in a republican form of government (representative government with the different classes and powers balancing each other) and that this government should have powers limited by a constitution. While this still describes me, I will now be calling myself a conservative liberal.

In Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers, I wrote about how the Founding Fathers were conservative liberals. Here is what I wrote:

Eighteenth-century Britain was both conservative and liberal. Britain was conservative with its constitutional monarchy and traditional system of peerage and honours. Britain was also the most liberal nation in the world, with the people’s rights guaranteed by the Magna Carta. This conservative-liberal synthesis was brought over to the colonies, where it flourished for more than a century. Edmund Burke explains that the American colonists were “not only devoted to liberty, but to liberty according to English ideas, and on English principles.”

Unlike most revolutions, the goal of the American Revolution was not to change society. In fact, the Founders and most Americans fought to maintain society as it was. The Declaration of Independence opens with:

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…

With the Declaration of Independence, America was dissolving the political bands connecting it to Britain. America was not dissolving the bands that held its society together. Not once does the Declaration of Independence mention society or changing the social system. One Founding Father even lamented that, amid the chaos of the revolution, “For the want of civil government the bands of society are totally disunited, and the people…have become perfectly savage.” This destruction of the bands of society is not what the Founding Fathers wanted and they worked hard to prevent it.

If Britain were to overthrow its monarchical government, that would be a radical change in its society. However, for Americans, who had no inherited classes or titles, dissolving the political bands between Britain and America would leave society virtually untouched. Although the signers of the Declaration of Independence could not be considered conservative from a British viewpoint, they certainly were from an American perspective.

These leading men were also liberal in the classical sense of “a commitment to the liberty of individual citizens,” “the proper role of just government as the protection of the liberties of individual citizens,” and “a commitment to a system of free markets.” As Frederick Douglass said about the signers of the Declaration of Independence: “They loved their country better than their own private interests… In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests… They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny.”

Therein lay the delicate balance. The Founding Fathers wished to protect the liberties of the American colonists and stop British tyranny while still maintaining law and order.

I have the same goals as our Founding Fathers. I want to promote liberty by removing the tyranny of an abusive and unresponsive government. That makes me a classical liberal. (Modern liberals, or neo-liberals as I call them, believe in something entirely different.)

However, unlike many libertarians, and this is why I am abandoning that moniker, I do not want overly rapid change. While I would love to see a dramatically smaller government, I do not believe we can go from a government spending 40% of GDP to one spending just 10% of GDP overnight. It will take many years. Drastic changes in the nature of our government done overnight would create so much chaos that it would give demagogues the opportunity to seize power. This makes me a conservative in the classical sense of the word.

So please, call me a conservative liberal. More so, learn what it means to be a conservative liberal and we can follow in the footsteps of our Founding Fathers.

– Michael E. Newton is the author of the highly acclaimed The Path to Tyranny: A History of Free Society’s Descent into Tyranny. His newest book, Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers: The Fight for Control of the American Revolution, was released by Eleftheria Publishing in July.

Review of Cicero’s The Republic and The Law with some of my favorite quotes

 

The Republic and The Laws by Marcus Tullius Cicero

 

I really enjoyed Cicero’s writing and insight into politics and government, but too much of Cicero’s Republic is missing to make it a compelling read. What parts do exist are reminiscent of Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Politics, and Polybius’s Histories and Cicero certainly built upon those sources. It is interesting to read what this great man who fought against Cataline, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Octavian/Octavius/Augustus has to say on the topic. I certainly recommend Cicero’s Republic to anybody interested in Roman history or the history of political thought. However, to the more casual reader or those more generally interested in political thought, there is little benefit to reading this book if you already read or plan to read Plato, Aristotle, and Polybius. If we had all of Cicero’s Republic, I’d likely be giving it four or five stars, but it deserves only two or three stars as it exists to us today.

Turning to the second half of the book, The Laws, which appears to be more complete and thus easier to read and review, Cicero argues that laws come from nature, not men. Cicero explains, “Law was not thought up by the intelligence of human beings, not is it some kind of resolution passed by communities, but rather an eternal force which rules the world by the wisdom of its commands and prohibitions… That original and final law is the intelligence of God, who ordains or forbids everything by reason.” In this respect, I found sections of Cicero’s The Laws to be quite similar to Frederic Bastiat’s The Law.

Cicero explains that the Latin word for law, lex, comes from the word for choosing, lego. [Pages 103 and 125. But there is much uncertainty whether this is the actual etymology of the word law.] Thus, the book is primarily designed “to provide a code of living and a system of training for nations and individuals alike.”

Cicero then makes the case that “the highest good is either to live according to nature or to follow nature and live, so to speak, by her law.”

Cicero then describes Rome’s legal code and proposes some changes. This section is sometimes interesting from a historical perspective, but less so in terms of political philosophy. However, it becomes extremely tedious and dull at times when Cicero describes certain aspects of Rome’s laws in depth.

All in all, very insightful, though a bit tedious at times. But the worst aspect is the incongruous nature of the work because of all the missing text. I also wish the notes were put on the bottom of each page rather than in the back. I for one enjoy reading every note and found it difficult to flip back and forth four or five times per page.

In total, I am giving Cicero’s The Republic and The Laws just three stars (out of five). I am sure this would disappoint Cicero greatly, but I place little blame on him. If his writing existed in full, I’m sure he would easily earn four stars and possibly five, though Cicero himself admitted in The Laws that he could not compete with Plato’s writings on the same subject, which is why it would likely earn just four starts while Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics deserve five stars.

Some great quotes (besides those above) from the book:

History is “the witness of the times, the light of truth, the life of memory, the teacher of life, the messenger from the past.” [From De Oratore 2.36]

“You cannot start a history without setting free time aside; and it cannot be finished in a short period. Moreover, I tend to become confused if, after starting a project, I have to turn to something else. And it’s not so easy to pick up the threads again after breaking off as to take a thing through from start to finish.”

“Without that [authority], no house or state or clan can survive–no, nor the human race, nor the whole of nature, nor the very universe itself. For the universe obeys God; land and sea abide by the laws of the universe; and human life is subject to the commands of the supreme law.”

“Nothing is more damaging to a state, nothing so contrary to justice and law, nothing less appropriate to a civilized community, than to force through a measure by violence where a country has a settled and established constitution.”

Is religion an issue in the presidential election?

Certain people are trying to bring religion into the race to be the Republican nominee for President. Reuters reports:

Republican presidential contenders Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann refused on Sunday to wade into a controversy over a Texas pastor’s comments about rival Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith.

I love this quote from Herman Cain:

“I am not running for theologian in chief,” Cain, a former pizza executive who is rising fast in polls, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” show when asked about the views of Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress.

As for this Robert Jeffress, you have to laugh at this comment:

“Absolutely, Mormonism is a false religion,” he told Reuters. “It was invented 1800 years after the establishment of Christianity.”

Umm, Christianity came about 1300 years after Judaism. Does that automatically make Christianity a false religion? I don’t think so!

Besides, Article VI of the Constitution clearly states:

No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

So unless a candidate for office proposes establishing one religion over another, religion is not an issue. And since no candidate so far has suggested doing so, let’s drop this ridiculous idea and debate the real difficult issues in front of us.

Obama’s speech proves that Fox News has won!

The great James Taranto debates with himself about what word Obama and the Democrats will use to push their budget, which will include tax increases. Taranto writes:

The Washington Post reports that Obama will give a speech tomorrow at George Washington University “promoting a bipartisan approach pioneered by an independent presidential commission” whose recommendations he had ignored until now…

….Our guess is that the mantra will be “balance” rather than “fairness”…

…Whereas “fairness” is a readily identifiable code word for socialism, “balance”–as in “a balanced budget”–connotes living within one’s means.

If Obama and the Democrats have to choose between fair and balanced, clearly Fox News’ fair and balanced motto has already won.

McConnell talks about the path to tyranny

One of today’s top headlines:

McConnell: Health Care Reform Leads America On A Path To Tyranny

McConnell’s actual statement:

“By preventing the accumulation of excessive power, the Constitution is designed to reduce the risk of tyranny or abuse at either the Federal or state levels,” McConnell told the audience of conservative legal scholars. “The health care bill would remove an important bulwark of this protection.”

Wouldn’t it be great if somebody wrote a book about this? Maybe he could call this book The Path to Tyranny.

Was the 2010 election a referendum on Obama or a return to republicanism?

Reuters reports:

Big election losses suffered by Democrats were “first and foremost” a reflection of the economy’s weakness rather than a wholesale rejection of his policies, President Barack Obama said on Sunday.

“The party in power was held responsible for an economy that is still underperforming and where a lot of folks are still hurting,” Obama told the CBS program “60 Minutes” in an interview.

Additionally, many are calling this Obama’s Watergate.

If Obama is correct that this election was a reaction to the weak economy and the political analysts are correct in comparing this to Watergate, a reaction to corruption and political heavy-handedness, we are little better off than we were before the election. We may have better people in Congress, or maybe not, but does this election reflect a change in the American people?

It is my hope that the election was about more than just the economy and more than just a reaction to Obama’s over-reaching. It is my hope that the election was about the direction of this country more than it was a referendum on the last two years. I hope this election was a reflection of the American people’s desire for a restoration of the Constitution and a return to republican ideals.

Most likely, the election reflects both dynamics. The Obama backlash will only be temporary, lasting one or two elections. To ensure that the 2010 election is the start of an American reawakening, we must double our efforts in promoting the Constitution and republicanism.

Big Republican win expected. What now?

I fully expect the Republicans to take over the House on Tuesday and possibly the Senate. But what will they do once in power. Here’s my initial suggestion:

The first thing the Republican House should do is repeal 2.3% tax on medical equipment. The whole health-care bill was supposed to make health care more available and more affordable. This tax does the exact opposite.

The second thing Republicans should do is pass a bill permanently extending the Bush tax cuts. All of them! Including the tax cuts on high income taxpayers. They should also eliminate estate taxes. As explained in my previous post, estate taxes hurt Main Street. Additionally, it encourages tax avoidance and evasion while raising very little money for the government, about 0.8% of the federal government’s revenue.

Passing these bills will be both good policy and good politics. Maybe, hopefully, a Democratic Senate (if they hold on) will pass the House’s bills and President Obama will sign them, but I doubt it. But that makes these bills good politics as well. Republicans can claim they worked to make health care more affordable and help the American people. But the Democrats were more interested in government control and not helping the people make ends meet and health care more affordable.

These two bills would not only be a test of the Democrats’ resolve, but also of the Republicans’. I want to see these bills passed by the House without any of the crazy amendments or earmarks that too often get attached to bills. Let’s see if these Republicans really do believe in the Constitution and good governance.

These bills are not the end-all-be-all, but they will be a good start.