Tag Archives: United States Constitution

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.

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The evil trinity of big government: media, public schools, and government bureaucracy

With Occupy Wall Street in the news, the decline of the American economy and competitiveness, and our growing indebtedness as individuals and a nation, I have been thinking a lot the causes of our current “unequivocal experience.” [Hamilton, Federalist No. 1] Or as Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 15, “We may indeed with propriety be said to have reached almost the last stage of national humiliation. There is scarcely anything that can wound the pride or degrade the character of an independent nation which we do not experience.”

For those who read this blog, my tweets, or my books, you already know that I firmly believe that all problems in government can be traced to the people. No government can stand long without the support–or lack of opposition–from the people, as Hamilton points out in Federalist No. 21 and Madison in Federalists No. 28 and 44.

The question then is not why the government has grown, but why the people have encouraged or allowed its growth from under ten percent of GDP to over forty percent over the past century.

Quite a while ago I came to the conclusion–and I’m sure I’m not alone in this opinion–that there is an evil trinity promoting big government.

  • The media: The print and television media has long been controlled by the left. Only with the emergence of Fox News and talk radio has the right gotten a voice. The Internet has also helped expanded “alternative” viewpoints. Nevertheless, the left still has a dominant market share among casual listeners/viewers/readers. The media has an innate interest in promoting government. The media’s job is to find a problem or crisis and blow it out of proportions to get ratings. On top of that, a story gets even more traction if there is somebody to blame. Who to blame? Well, you certainly cannot blame your customers, even if they are responsible. So, the media blames big corporations, the government, or foreign nations. If they blame a foreign nation, obviously it is the government’s job to protect us from these foreign attacks. If they blame a big corporation, only the government is large enough and powerful enough to rein them in. If they blame the government, they suggest, promote, or demand that the government do more next time to prevent its own mistakes. (Think about government stimulus, which the media says failed only because it was not big enough.)
  • Public education system: Most Americans received the majority of their education from the public school system. Public schools teach nearly 100% of K-12 students. Even in college, many universities are public with tuition subsidized by the states. On top of that, the federal government subsidizes student loans to private universities, which creates all sorts of market distortions. Public school administrators and teachers alike receive their paychecks from the government. They have chosen to work for government and most of them, by choice or mandate, join the teachers union. These teachers and administrators are brainwashed by unions and government education departments and then brainwash their own students to believe those same ideals. When election time comes, they turn out in droves and convince parents through phone calls (I received one the other day) and PTA activities to vote for their candidates and to approve propositions to increase their funding.
  • Government bureaucracy: Currently, seventeen percent of American jobs are in the government sector. On top of that, as I write in The Path to Tyranny, “these employment figures do not include all the jobs created by the 529 billion dollars worth of contracts given out by the federal government each year, two-thirds of which were for defense programs. As of 2006, government contracts to private defense companies employed an additional 1.4 million people.” Just like the teachers and school administrators above, these people want to keep their jobs and generally believe that they are doing more good than bad for the country.

With such a large percentage of Americans working for the government, either directly or through public schools, with the media’s influence on the American mind, and the public school system’s stranglehold on our children’s education, the left has been able to advance their agenda with little opposition. There should be little doubt as to why government’s size has more than quadrupled in the last hundred years and now eats up almost half of our GDP (with the cost of regulation added on top of that).

A fourth group may possibly be included: welfare recipients. Back in 2009, I wrote about this in The Path to Tyranny, but the situation has worsened since then. Here is what I wrote then:

In the first quarter of 2009, Social Security, Medicare, welfare, and other benefits provided by the government accounted for 16.2 percent of all personal income, a record high. Americans have become dependent on the government, something the Founders did not intend. After paying tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars into Social Security and Medicare, only the very rich would be able forego the benefits promised them. Every election, retirees and people approaching retirement vote for candidates who promise not to touch their retirement or health care programs. This has made fixing the structural problems behind these programs virtually impossible, but it has accomplished the goal of modern liberals and socialists of making Americans dependent on the government.

Nevertheless, I do not include these welfare/benefit recipients because they are people from all walks of life who do not represent a singular group. Though they certainly skew elections and public sentiment, there is no way to infiltrate, attack, and convince them as a group; we can only do so as individuals. The other three are institutions influencing government; this one is a loose collection of individuals. The left uses the apparatus of the left within the media, public education, and government bureaucracy to influence others. In contrast, those dependent on government are a symptom of big government more than a cause, though they certainly seek to maintain their benefits and this makes shrinking government more difficult. But these people do not necessarily promote big government. In fact, many oppose government’s actions to increase welfare because it may threaten their own benefits. Thus, welfare/benefit recipients are not including among my evil trinity.

Topic to be continued…

What Would The Founders Think? review ‘Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers’

What Would The Founders Think? posted a great review/summary of my new book, Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers: The Fight for Control of the American Revolution.

Michael Newton’s latest book, Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers, is a densely packed, meticulously researched, compendium of  historical knowledge.  Newton has done a great job assembling a formidable bibliography1 of both original sources and the works of respected historians, synthesizing them into an exposition of the forces responsible for the American experiment.

Newton documents the disparate roles played by “angry mobs” and by “Founding Fathers.”  These two forces were not always in sync with one another.  At times the irascible mobs were in control, and the aristocratic Founders struggled to reign them in, guide their passions, or even just keep up.  At other times, like during the period of Constitutional Convention, it was the Founders who struggled to convince the masses of the efficacy of their plans.

Read more…

The Bill of Rights: Good, Bad, or Indifferent?

I brought up this topic months ago and had the opportunity to lead a discussion about it at the Arizona chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition. Please join the conversation in the comments sections below.

Anti-Federalists demanded a bill of rights, BUT…

There was disagreement about what a bill of rights should contain. James Madison in Federalist No. 28 wrote about the Anti-Federalists opposition to the Constitution:

A third does not object to the government over individuals, or to the extent proposed, but to the want of a bill of rights. A fourth concurs in the absolute necessity of a bill of rights, but contends that it ought to be declaratory, not of the personal rights of individuals, but of the rights reserved to the States in their political capacity. A fifth is of opinion that a bill of rights of any sort would be superfluous and misplaced…

Some Anti-Federalists opposed the Constitution even after a bill of rights was promised. For them, a bill of rights was just a way to oppose ratification.

The Articles of Confederation had no bill of rights.

Four state constitutions, including that of New York, lacked bills of rights even though the states had been acting as independent republics for years.

Hamilton opposed a bill of rights

I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?

Madison had a mixed opinion regarding bills of rights

There are many who think such addition unnecessary, and not a few who think it misplaced in such a Constitution… My own opinion has always been in favor of a bill of rights… At the same time I have never thought the omission a material defect… I have not viewed it in an important light.

In a letter to Jefferson, Madison lists four reasons a bill of rights was not needed:

because I conceive that in a certain degree… the rights in question are reserved by the manner in which the federal powers are granted.

because there is great reason to fear that a positive declaration of some of the most essential rights could not be obtained in the requisite latitude. I am sure that the rights of conscience in particular, if submitted to public definition, would be narrowed much more than they are ever likely to be by an assumed power.

because the limited powers of the federal Government and the jealousy of the subordinate Governments, afford a security which has not existed in the case of the State Governments, and exists in no other.

because experience proves the inefficiency of a bill of rights on those occasions when its controul is most needed. Repeated violations of these parchment barriers have been committed by overbearing majorities in every State… Wherever the real power in a government lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our Governments the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the Constituents.

Upon introducing the Bill of Rights, Madison said:

It has been objected also against a bill of rights, that, by enumerating particular exceptions to the grant of power, it would disparage those rights which were not placed in that enumeration; and it might follow by implication, that those rights which were not singled out, were intended to be assigned into the hands of the General Government, and were consequently insecure. This is one of the most plausible arguments I have ever heard urged against the admission of a bill of rights into this system; but, I conceive, that it may be guarded against. I have attempted it.

Madison attempted this with the Ninth Amendment:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Discussion:

Did Madison succeed with the Ninth Amendment?

Were the arguments against a bill of rights valid then?

Are they valid today?

Have our rights been effected positively, negatively, or not at all by the Bill of Rights?

Should we focus the debate on protecting our individual rights or on limiting the government’s powers?

– 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.

Usurping the Constitution to avoid default?

A number of political pundits, legal experts, and even government officials argue that President Barack Obama should use the 14th Amendment to circumvent the debt ceiling and avoid default. The New York Times reports:

A few days ago, former President Bill Clinton identified a constitutional escape hatch should President Obama and Congress fail to come to terms on a deficit reduction plan before the government hits its borrowing ceiling.

He pointed to an obscure provision in the 14th Amendment, saying he would unilaterally invoke it “without hesitation” to raise the debt ceiling, “and force the courts to stop me.”

On Friday, Mr. Obama rejected the idea, though not in categorical terms.

“I have talked to my lawyers,” Mr. Obama said. “They are not persuaded that that is a winning argument.”

Despite President Obama’s resistance to this idea, some House Democrats are pushing it. Politico reports:

Rep. James Clyburn and a group of House Democrats are urging President Barack Obama to invoke the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling if Congress can’t come up with a satisfactory plan before the Tuesday deadline.

Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, said Wednesday that if the president is delivered a bill to raise the debt ceiling for only a short period of time, he should instead veto it and turn to the phrase in the Constitution that says the validity of the U.S. government’s debt “shall not be questioned.”

According to the New York Times article, “Jack M. Balkin, a law professor at Yale” argues:

“This is largely a political question,” he said. “It is unlikely courts would decide these questions.”

“At the point at which the economy is melting down, who cares what the Supreme Court is going to say?” Professor Balkin said. “It’s the president’s duty to save the Republic.”

Similarly, Eugene Robinson writes at the Washington Post:

It seems to me that definitive action — unilateral, if necessary — to prevent the nation from suffering obvious, imminent, grievous harm is one of the duties any president must perform. Perhaps the most important duty.

This seems all too familiar because it comes straight out of history. In ancient Rome, Sulla was given dictatorial power to restore the republic. By violating Rome’s constitution, Sulla and the Senators that gave him power established a precedent that enabled Julius Caesar to become dictator for life and destroy the republic. Similarly, men like Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler also rose to power and expanded their control under the guise of saving the nation.

The Founding Fathers, being students of history, knew that extra-constitutional actions would only undermine the republic in the name of restoring it. As George Washington explained in his farewell address:

If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.

— 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 and is now available in stores.

Book Review: Tempest at Dawn makes you feel like the 56th delegate at the Constitutional Convention

Thanks to James Best’s masterpiece, Tempest at Dawn, I felt like the 56th delegate at the Constitutional Convention. Using vivid narrative and expressive dialogue, Tempest at Dawn presents all the major issues the Founding Fathers struggled with. More impressive, you get to know the character of the men who created our great nation.

Tempest at Dawn is based primarily on Madison’s notes to the Convention. Mr. Best adds to the story events that happened outside of the State House. It is a true credit to the author that it is difficult to tell where Madison’s notes end and the author’s speculations begin.

Keeping in mind that Tempest at Dawn is historical fiction, it is a must read for anybody who wants to understand the principles and efforts that went into creating the Constitution and struggles to create our nation.

Bill of Rights. Good, bad, or indifferent?

In Federalist No. 84, Alexander Hamilton writes:

I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?

I can see both sides of this argument:

  • By listing certain rights, other are ignored and those in power will infringe on those unlisted rights, even if they are included in the ninth and tenth amendments.
  • On the other hand, it is possible the government would have more easily infringed on our rights if they were not written down for posterity.
  • Maybe the Bill of Rights has made no difference in either direction as the Constitution is increasingly ignored and reinterpreted. The government has simultaneously grown its power and reduced our rights so that the Federalist argument against bills of rights and the Anti-Federalist argument for them turn out to be the same thing: different methods of limiting the growth of government, both of which failed over time, but only after working well for many decades.

I must admit that I have an ulterior motive in bringing this up. I am writing about this in my next book. I’d love to hear your thoughts. (And if you have a great idea or quote, I may even quote you in my book.) So please, comment below.