Cold Fury

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Rethinking the Declaration

Interesting, and fodder for a little reflection.

It is not surprising that friends of the Enlightenment tend to assume that the Enlightenment was generally friendly towards the American Revolution. Richard Price had, after all, been an energetic supporter of the Colonial cause and, like Joseph Priestley, saw it as a link in the chain of “glorious revolutions” that stretched from 1688, through 1776, to 1789. Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais spent several crucial years figuring out ways of getting weapons to the American revolutionaries. There was also considerable interest in the revolution in German-speaking Europe. The Basel Aufklärer Isaak Iselin translated the Declaration of Independence for the October 1776 issue of his journalEphemeriden der Menschheit (a translation of a text by John Adams followed in a later issue). And, between 1787 and 1788 the Berlinische Monatsschrift devoted three articles to the recently enacted Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.

There were, however, a few enlighteners who were not quite so enthusiastic. The Berlin radical enlightener Andreas Riem attributed the founding of the American republic to acts of deception by American colonists and by their British governors…

And while the German Kantian turned Burkean Friedrich von Gentz, drawing up a comparison between the American and the French Revolutions, labored long and hard to emphasize how much more moderate and reasonable the Americans had been, he had some difficulties with the Declaration of Independence’s invocation of abstract rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

But the most relentless critique of the American declaration came from a thinker with impecable creditials as a radical enlightener: the great Jeremy Bentham.

Follows, a sort of pre-fisking fisking of the Declaration by Bentham. Not saying I entirely agree with it, but like I said, it’s certainly interesting. I’d have to say he got this part right, anyway:

The rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” — by which, if they mean any thing, they must mean the right to enjoy life, to enjoy liberty, and to pursue happiness — they ”hold to be unalienable.” This they “hold to be among truths self-evident.” At the same time, to secure these rights, they are content that Governments should be instituted. They perceive not, or will not seem to perceive, that nothing which can be called Government ever was, or ever could be, in any instance, exercised, but at the expence of one or other of those rights. — That, consequently, in as many instances as Government is ever exercised, some one or other of these rights, pretended to be unalienable, is actually alienated.

Which is why they sought to restrain it in the Constitution, of course. That it failed in the end I still don’t hold to be the fault of the Constitution or the Founders, but of inattention to duty of later generations of Americans, and the inexorable lust for power over them harbored by the iniquitous Progressives.

Next up, we turn to a critique of the Constitution itself, or a review of one at any rate. More specifically, it’s a critique of the presidency, and it’s worth pondering too:

It’s about time for some constitutional impiety on the right, and F.H. Buckley answers the call in his bracing and important new book, The Once and Future King. Buckley, a professor of law at George Mason University and a senior editor at The American Spectator, is unmistakably conservative. But that doesn’t stop him from pointing out that America’s not so all-fired exceptional—or from arguing that our Constitution has made key contributions to our national decline.

In the conventional narrative, Buckley writes, “our thanks [must] go to the Framers, who gave the country a presidential system that secured the blessings of liberty.” A “nice story,” he says, but one that “lacks the added advantage of accuracy.”

First off, we’re hardly “the freest country in the world.” As Buckley points out, his native Canada beats the United States handily on most cross-country comparisons of political and economic liberty. In the latest edition of the Cato Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World rankings, for example, we’re number 17 and we don’t try harder. Meanwhile, as Buckley points out, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s “Democracy Index” ranks us as the 19th healthiest democracy in the world, “behind a group of mostly parliamentary countries, and not very far ahead of the ‘flawed democracies.'”

There’s a lesson there, Buckley argues. While “an American is apt to think that his Constitution uniquely protects liberty,” the truth “is almost exactly the reverse.” In a series of regressions using the Freedom House rankings, Buckley finds that “presidentialism is significantly and strongly correlated with less political freedom.”

Again: not saying I agree or disagree (lectures on freedom from as benighted a source as Once Great Britain and its Commonwealth subsidiaries, with their vigorously enforced speech codes and outright bans on both gun possession and legitimate self-defense, do and of right ought to leave something of a sour taste in any real American’s mouth), but still fodder for reflection at the very least.

I just threw up in my mouth a little update! And then there’s this utter, abject horseshit. If lectures on freedom from fading, no-longer-free monarchies leave a sour taste, attempts to redraw the Constitution as “progressive” from a liberal-fascist hack and all-round nitwit like EJ Dionne are downright vomitous. Especially when, almost from jump, he cites the old liberal-fascist saw used to undermine and dismiss the Constitution for decades now: “The framers could not possibly have foreseen what the world would look like in 2014.” No, but they knew well enough what government would look like if we failed to remain vigilant against it..and they were right on the money there.

And for the record: asserting that “they got some important things wrong” is NOT a very convincing demonstration of your regard for our founding ideals. In truth, Dionne and his fellow collectivist would-be rewriters of the Constitution are precisely what the Founders feared and tried to warn us about. Far from being their proper defenders, they are not the true heirs and guardians of their immortal principles, but deadly and insidious enemies of them. Try as they might to obfuscate it, that’s the plain fact. Why, one might even call it self-evident, all the chowderhead Dionne’s lying gyrations notwithstanding.

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1 thought on “Rethinking the Declaration

  1. What I don’t like about the parliamentary systems that eliminate the separate Executive Branch of Government (like we have) is that someone has to act as the Executive on a national level ie lead in times of war, negotiate and sign treaties, etc. Invariably that power gets vested in the Prime Minister, who is the leader of the majority party or coalition of parties in the Legislative Branch. In essence this means both legislative and executive power rests in one branch of government, the Legislative Branch, in the Parliamentary system.

    As originally foreseen, the President’s powers were focused on external relations and were very limited internally and were checked by the legislatures of our Bicameral Congress. The president’s checks on the legislature were mostly in the form of the Veto which could be overturned. Another power was the Veep’s role as President of the Senate, casting tie breaking votes. So the Presidency in theory is weaker or at best equal to the Legislative Branch, with more power focused externally while the Legislature had more domestic power.

    It makes more sense under the checks and balances, separation of powers system we have.

    One other thing. In a parliamentary system there really is no “national” elections. You vote for your representative only. Depending upon his party affiliation, he becomes one “vote” towards the Prime Minister. Here’s the problem with that. Suppose you like a local politician of one party. You believe he is honest and on most issues he is aligned with your views. You view his opponent as untrustworthy and actually not aligned with your views (remember when some Southern Democrats were more conservative than some Northeast Republicans? Yes, I know, probably some kind of urban myth). However, nationally you favor a different party. In the US you can vote for the representative for the legislative office and for a person from a different party for POTUS. No such ability in a parliamentary system.

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