John Locke, Charles de Montesquieu, Republican Government, Separation of Powers, Enumerated Powers, Federalists and anti-Federalists

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 26th, 2012

Politics 101

Funny thing about the Americans is that they just didn’t Like Paying Taxes

United we stood.  For awhile.  Until we defeated the British at Yorktown.  And negotiated the Treaty of Paris where Great Britain recognized our independence from the British Crown.  But people grew weary of the war.  On both sides of the Atlantic.  And those in the once united states (small ‘u’ and small ‘s’) were eager to retreat to their states.  And forget about the Continental Congress.  The Continental Army.  And everything to do with the confederation.  Threatening to undo everything they fought for.  Because of their sectional interests.

Shays Rebellion nearly pushed the country into anarchy.  It was the tipping point.  They had to do something.  Because if they weren’t united they would surely fall.  They owed Europe a fortune that they had no hope of repaying.  Funny thing about the Americans.  They just didn’t like paying taxes.  Making it difficult to repay their debts.  The Europeans gave them little respect.  France tried to sell them out during the peace talks to rebalance the balance of power in their favor.  Spain wanted to keep them east of the Mississippi River.  And off of the Mississippi.  Even refused them passage through the Port of New Orleans.  Britain didn’t evacuate their western forts.  The Barbary pirates were capturing American shipping in the Mediterranean and selling their crews into slavery.  And Catherine the Great of Russia wouldn’t even meet the American ambassador.  So the Americans were the Rodney Dangerfield of nations.  They got no respect.

In 1787 delegates gathered in Philadelphia.  To revise the Articles of Confederation to address these problems.  Some enthusiastically.  Some begrudgingly.  While one state refused to attend.  Rhode Island.  For they were quite happy with the way things were.  As the smallest sate in the union they had the power to kill almost any legislation that didn’t benefit Rhode Island.  For some legislation the vote had to be unanimous.  And they enjoyed charging other states tariffs for their goods unloaded in Rhode Island ports.  Things were so nice in Rhode Island that they didn’t need much taxation.  Because they had other states funding their needs.  Thanks to those tariffs.  Of course, this did little to benefit the union.  While imposing taxes on their neighbors in the union.  Sort of like taxation without representation.  Funny thing about Americans, though.  They didn’t like paying taxes.

Montesquieu said a Republican Government must Separate Power into Three Branches

Thomas Jefferson was in Europe in 1787.  John Adams, too.  But just about every other “demi-god” (as Jefferson called those at that gathering) was in Philadelphia in 1787.  America’s patriarch Benjamin Franklin.  The indispensable George Washington.  The financially savvy Alexander Hamilton.  The studious James Madison.  The Framers of the Constitution.  Highly principled men.  Well read men.  Prosperous men.  Who were familiar with world history.  And read the great enlightenment philosophers.  Like John Locke.  Who especially influenced the writing of the Declaration of Independence.  With his inalienable rights.  Consent of the governed.  And property rights.

As they gathered in Philadelphia to revise the Articles it became clear that they needed something more.  A new constitution.  A stronger federal government.  With the power to tax so they could raise money.  For without money the union could not solve any of its problems.  So they set upon writing a new constitution for a new government.  A republican government of republican states.  As they began to frame this constitution they drew on the work of a French philosopher.  Charles de Montesquieu.  Who championed republican government.  The ideal government.  A government of the people who ruled at the consent of the governed.  With built-in safeguards to protect the people’s inalienable rights.  The key requirement being the separation of powers.

Montesquieu said a republican government must separate power into three branches.  The legislature, the executive and the judiciary.  A nation of laws requires a legislature to write the laws.  Because the laws must respect the inalienable rights of the people the people must elect the legislature from the general population.  So the legislature’s interests are the people’s interest.  However, if the legislature was also the executive they could easily write laws that represented their interests instead of the people.  Elevating the legislature into a dictatorship.  If the legislature was also the judiciary they could interpret law to favor their interests instead of the people.  Elevating the legislature into a dictatorship.  Likewise if the executive could write and interpret law the executive could elevate into a dictatorship.  Ditto for the judiciary if they could write the law they were interpreting.  So the separation of powers is the greatest protection the people have against a government’s oppression.

If a Power wasn’t Delegated to the New Federal Government it Remained with the States

During the Constitutional Convention they debated long and they debated hard.  The Federalists were in favor of a stronger central government.  The anti-Federalists were not.  The Federalists included those who served in the Army and the Congress.  The anti-Federalists were those who didn’t serve ‘nationally’ and favored states’ rights.  In general.  So one side wanted to increase the power of the central government while the other side wanted no central government.  For their fear was that a new federal government would consolidate power and subordinate the states to its rule.  As if the last war never happened.  And the states would still bow to a distant central power.  Only this time to one on this side of the Atlantic.

So the balance they struck was a two-house (i.e., bicameral) legislature.  A House of Representatives.  And a Senate.  The people in each state elected a number of representatives proportional to their state’s population.  So a large state had a large representation in the House.  So that house represented the will of the people.  To prevent the tyranny of the minority.  So a small privileged class couldn’t rule as they pleased.  Whereas the Senate prevented the tyranny of the majority.  By giving each state two senators.  So small states had the same say as big states.  Together they represented both the majority and the minority.  Further, states’ legislatures chose their senators (changed later by Constitutional amendment).  Providing the states a check on federal legislation.

To round things out there was an executive they called the president.  And a judiciary.  Providing the separation of powers per Montesquieu.  They further limited the central government’s powers by enumerating their powers.  The new federal government could only do what the Constitution said it could do.  Treat with foreign powers.  Coin a national currency.  Declare war.  Etc.  If a power wasn’t delegated to the new federal government it remained with the states.  To give the new federal government some power.  Including the power to tax.  While leaving most powers with the states.  Striking a compromise between the Federalists and the anti-Federalists.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #18: “Man-given rights are only privileges allowed by the privileged elite.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 15th, 2010

JESUS CHRIST!  You’ll hear that in a foxhole.  When hunkered down as bullets and shrapnel fly thick overhead.  By theist and atheist alike.  Of course, one is most probably in prayer while the other in vain.  Considering the circumstances, though, the Lord would probably forgive the latter. As long as you’re fighting on the side of good, that is.

When emotions are running high, people tend to say things.  Sometimes bad things.  Sometimes, even philosophically inconsistent things.  What’s that joke?  At the height of confusion someone shouts out, “Thank God I’m an atheist!”

People tend to get more intimate with God when they are about to personally find out the answer to that age-old question – is there an afterlife?  Can’t blame them.  Your own mortality can be a scary thing.  And no one wants to rush that.  That’s why, in the age of the Enlightenment, people thought of government not as a force of coercion, but as protection from coercion.  People wanted to live as long as they could.  And as free as they could.  So people made governments that would function within the Rule of Law.  To better their lives.

England made great strides in protecting its citizens from the arbitrary use of force.  After some un-English-like treatment in the New World, the British America colonies broke from the mother country.  But they would build on the English ideals.  The Declaration of Independence stated:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….

The key here is that rights are God-given.  That meant kings could be wrong.  As well as Parliament.  Even the Church.  Kings, aristocracies, bishops, etc., are positions created and held by men.  Nature/God did not grant them this power.  They granted it to themselves.  And once some have power, it’s not long before some use it to oppress those who don’t.

So when it comes to determining the origin of rights, the atheists should thank God he or she is an atheist.  For if God gives them that right (to be an atheist), no man can take it away.  But if rights are not God-given, then they must be man-given.  And whatever man giveth, he can taketh away.  Especially if you piss off the powers that be.

DRUNKEN FARMER JONES was oppressing the animals on Manor Farm.  Having had enough, the animals rose up and seized power.  They renamed the farm Animal Farm.  The pigs Snowball and Napoleon were the leaders of the revolution.  They created a new political doctrine called Animalism.  It rested on the following 7 commandments painted on the side of the barn:

  1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
  2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
  3. No animal shall wear clothes.
  4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
  5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
  6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
  7. All animals are equal.

Snowball wanted to do good.  The new farm started out as an anarcho-syndicalist commune.  Sort of.  Then Napoleon seized power.  He and his pigs became the ruling elite for the benefit of animal kind on Animal Farm.  And life was good.  For the pigs.

Napoleon fabricated lies about Snowball.  With the animals turned against him as planned, Napoleon had his dogs chase him off of Animal Farm. 

The animals worked harder.  But there were setbacks.  And at every setback, Boxer, the old workhorse, lamented that he would have to work harder.  And he did.  Until his strength failed him and he collapsed while working.   The pigs then sent him to the vet.  Only the side of the vet’s wagon said ‘Horse Slaughterer and Glue Boiler’.  Most of the animals couldn’t read.  Benjamin could.  He told them what the van said.  But it was too late. 

Benjamin, Boxer’s friend, was an old donkey.  And wise.  He saw a lot in his long life.  Little good, though.  Life was no different under the pigs than it was under the humans.  But he wasn’t surprised.  For that was life.  “Life will go on as it has always gone on—that is, badly.”

The pigs started to act more humanlike.  They started to walk on two legs so they could carry riding crops.  They began wearing clothes.  Slept in beds.  Drank alcohol.  And sent off Boxer to his death for some whiskey money.  The pigs slowly revised the 7 Commandments to agree with their new behavior.  Until, one day, there was but a single commandment remaining.  “All animals are equal.  But some animals are more equal than others.”  And life was good.  For the pigs.

GEORGE ORWELL WAS a socialist who volunteered to fight for the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War.  He got shot in the throat and was declared medically unfit for further duty.  While healing, the political climate was deteriorating.  His socialist group, the Workers’ Party of Marxists Unification (or, in Spanish, Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM)) fell out of favor with the pro-Soviet Communists.  They accused the POUM of being affiliated with Joseph Stalin’s archenemy, Leon Trotsky.  So the Communists outlawed the POUM.  It’s complicated.  Suffice it to say that Orwell made it back to England.  And had no love for Stalin or Soviet Communism.

Then, of course, came World War II.  And the Hitler-Stalin Pact of Nonaggression, further increasing the love between Orwell and Stalin.  And by love I mean hate.  For Orwell hated totalitarianism.  And for all the Utopian talk, Communism had devolved into nothing more than an oppressive totalitarian regime. 

This is the story of Animal Farm.  Napoleon is Joseph Stalin.  Animal Farm becomes the police state of Soviet Communism.  At about a hundred pages, it’s the biggest little book you will ever read.  If you haven’t yet, do so.  And then pick up Orwell’s 1984.  It’s a little longer and a little darker but, wow, what a story.

SO THERE’RE TWO revolutions.  The American and the Russian.  Both ended up on ‘top ten’ lists.  One for liberty.  The other for genocide.  Can you guess which? 

As an ideology, Communism has killed more people than any other in history.  It killed more than the Nazis.  More than the Christian Crusades.  More than the Black Death even.  No other ideology (or plague) comes close. 

So why was one revolution so much bloodier than the other?  Well, the Americans were Christian.  The Russians were Orthodox Christians.  But the Soviets were atheists.  There were no God-given rights in the Soviet Union.  Only privileges allowed by the privileged elite.  And fear.  For people could disappear at someone’s slightest whim. 

That’s the down side of atheism.  And secularism.  It removes the fear of God from a people’s rulers.  And if they aren’t worrying about the afterlife, there’s not a whole lot to dissuade them from doing unspeakable things in the here and now.

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