FUNDAMENTAL TRUITH #17: “The raison d’être of federalism is to keep big government small.” -Old Pithy.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 8th, 2010

BONJOUR.  A LITTLE French there.  To go with the use of the French expression ‘raison d’être’.  Which means reason for being.  Sounds better in French, n’est-ce pas?

I like Canada.  Both parts.  The French and the English parts.  I’ve met and become friends with people in Toronto, Montreal, Fredericton and Corner Brook.  And elsewhere.  I like to talk to my Francophone friends about that day on the Plains of Abraham.  And I like to speak French to my Anglophone friends.  And they both like to point out to me what they believe to be America’s lack of tolerance and compassion.

The Canadians may be a tolerant and friendly people.  Everyone says that about them.  That they’re nice.  And they are.  But they have to work at it at times.  For there ain’t a whole lot of love between the French and English.  Not now.  Or then.  When French Canada became British.

Like it or not, that animosity has been at the van of Western Civilization.  And it would compete in the New World.  Colonize it.  Fight in it.  And give birth to a new nation.  One that would break from the ways of the past.

“WHO’S THAT, THEN?” one filthy peasant asked another.

“I don’t know.  Must be a king. ”

“Why?”

“He hasn’t got shit all over him.”

(From Monty Python and the Holy Grail – 1975.)

What is a king?  Besides someone who “hasn’t got shit all over him.”  A king is where sovereignty lies.  And sovereignty?  In a word, supremacy.  Supreme authority. 

The Sun King, Louis XIV of France, was an absolute monarch and his word was the absolute law of the land.  And he could do pretty much whatever the hell he wanted.  He built his gorgeous palace at Versailles.  Because he could.  Over in England, the king was sovereign, too, but Parliament checked his power.  So the British king wasn’t an absolute monarchy.  In England, the king could do whatever he wanted as long as Parliament agreed to pay for it.  For Parliament controlled the purse strings.  There would be no Versailles in England.

Now France and England were always at war.  Their fighting even spilled over into the New World.  The 7 Years War (as the Europeans called this world war) went by a different name in North America.  The French and Indian War.  The British won.  France lost Canada and other colonial possessions.  Their loss, though, was America’s gain.  The French and Indian attacks on the American Colonists ended, leaving them with peace and prosperity.  But it was costly.  As wars are wont to be.

Over in England, Parliament had to pay that cost.  But taxes were already pretty high at the time in England.  If they raised them further, it could cause trouble.  So what to do?  Well, there were some who pointed out that the American colonists really came out the clear winner in this latest contest.  They got peace and prosperity without really paying anything to get it.  Shouldn’t they pick up part of the tab?  I mean, fair is fair, right?

And they probably would have gladly contributed as good English subjects.  However, and this is a big however, they felt they weren’t treated as good English subjects.  In fact, they felt more like Parliament’s bitch than English subjects.  And to add insult to injury, they had no vote in Parliament.

Parliament passed a series of acts that the Americans would call the Intolerable Acts.  Both sides missed opportunities for compromise and peace.  Instead, tempers festered.  Parliament would bitch-slap the colonists.  And the colonists would bitch-slap Parliament.  Eventually throwing some British East Indian tea into the water.

Now Britain’s king, King George, had a bit of a problem on his hands.  The Americans were challenging his sovereign rule.  There was a name for this.  Kings call it treason.  And they kill people for it.  King George was the supreme authority.  Anyone challenging his authority was challenging his right to rule.  That’s why acts of treason are typically punishable by death.  You don’t stand up to kings.  You grovel.  And these uppity Americans surely weren’t groveling.

And just how does a king get this authority?  Well, you don’t vote for them.  They either inherit power.  Or they kill for it.  It’s a story as old as time.  Patricide.  Matricide.  Fratricide.  And sometimes the killing was by someone outside the family.  But that’s how sovereign power changed.  A king or queen died.  Naturally.  Or with a little help.  And when a new sovereign ascended the throne, he or she usually killed all other possible contenders.

If King George didn’t put down the American rebellion, it could spread.  To Canada.  To other English colonies.  Or give someone ideas back at home that the king was weak.  And challenge him for his throne.

These are things kings think about.  Power can be precarious.  Even when it’s absolute.  As King Louis XVI would learn in France.  During the French Revolution, the people, challenging the king’s sovereignty, sent him to the guillotine.  Chopped his head off.  His wife’s, too.  Marie Antoinette.

ENGLAND GAVE BIRTH to modern, representative government.  It was a balance of power between the many (the common people in the House of Commons), the few (the aristocratic rich in the House of Lords) and the one (the sovereign king).  Each provided a check on the others.  The king was the supreme power but he needed money to wage war and build things.  Parliament collected taxes and paid for things they approved of.  And the House of Lords was to keep that spending from getting out of control as they understood money and costs (that’s what rich people are good at).  They were to protect the nation from the evils of pure democracy where the people, once they realize they can, will vote themselves the treasury.

Most of the American colonists were transplanted Englishmen.  Or came from English stock.  They were English subjects (at least in name if not in practice).  They understood representative government.  Their colonial governments were in fact very British.  The Rule of Law was the rule of the land.  The governed consented to taxation.  And the government collected the taxes they consented to. 

You can probably see where this is going.

Taxation without representation was very un-English.  The fact that it was okay in the American colonies chafed the American English subjects.  I mean, it really frosted their shorts.  It wasn’t right.  By English law.  Or by precedent.  Anger at Parliament turned into anger at the king.  Questions of sovereignty arose.  Should the king be sovereign?  Or should the people?  In 1776, the American colonists stated their opinion in a very treasonous document.  The Declaration of Independence.

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 U.S. Constitution emphasized the sovereignty of the people in the preamble.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Kings were out.  The Rule of Law was in.  No aristocracy.  No hereditary offices.  In America, it would be different.  After the Battle of Gettysburg some 75 years later, Abraham Lincoln would reiterate this at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…

…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

THE AMERICAN COLONISTS rebelled and broke away from Great Britain because they were through with being her bitch.  In fact, they weren’t going to be anyone’s bitch.  That’s why there was a lot of opposition to the establishment of a strong, central government.  They didn’t want a national government taking up where Great Britain left off.  And they didn’t want an American president to be just another King George.  The people won their liberty.  And they intended to keep it.  So they could pursue that happiness Thomas Jefferson wrote about in the Declaration of Independence.

Federalism was the solution.  The states’ governments would retain most of their powers.  Only those things they could not do well (regulate ‘free-trade’ interstate commerce, negotiate trade agreements with other nations, wage war, etc.) would be done by the new national government.  The people would remain sovereign.  Strong state governments and a ‘weak’ central government would share power.  In effect, the new central government was to be the people’s bitch.  But you’d never know that by looking at things today.

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LESSONS LEARNED #14: “Christianity does not beget antidisestablishmentarianism.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 20th, 2010

THE FOUNDING FATHERS were literate.  As many in British America were.  They knew their history.  Europe’s history.  And Antiquity’s.  They read books.  They knew that a Macedonian conquered a weak confederation of Greek city-states.  That Julius Caesar marched into Rome at the head of a professional Roman Army and put an end to the Roman Republic.  That large standing armies and a bloated bureaucracy bankrupted the Roman Empire and led to her demise.  That differences in religious opinion plunged nations into war.  And they were very conscious that history repeats itself.

They studied history and applied the lessons they learned to the founding of a new nation.  And they were blessed with a blank canvas.  There were not centuries of past wrongs to right.  No grudges.  No bad blood.  They had an ocean between them and that past.  Europe may have still been fighting each other, but it was just too costly to extend that fight across an ocean.  At least, not in any large scale action.  And they had vast tracts of land to the west waiting for them to settle.  Growing space.  True, there were indigenous people on some of that land, but there was so much more land than people (even today vast tracts are uninhabited).  Not like in Europe.  There, if a nation left the confines of her borders, it bumped into another.  And, typically, professional armies did the bumping.

So there they were, the Founding Fathers, on a new continent ripe with possibilities.  They had land, resources, knowledge and timing.  It was as if God said that now was the time for a great new civilization to begin.  Or so many felt then. 

THE FATHER OF Christianity was a Jew.  A Rabbi.  Born and raised in a part of the Roman Empire that was a royal pain in the ass to them.  The Jews just did not readily submit to Roman rule.  And the Emperor was growing tired of this thorn in his side. 

The hapless procurator for this troublesome land was Pontius Pilate.  He may have been cruel.  He may have been just (in the context of the times).  He may have tried his best to keep the peace.  But he was certain to fail.  Don’t rule hard enough and order breaks down and Rome is unhappy.  Push too hard and it may cause open rebellion.  Again.  And Rome is unhappy.  Damned if he does.  Damned if he doesn’t.

Long story short, the Romans crucify Jesus Christ.  And a religion is born. 

THE CHRISTIANS WOULD became as big a pain in the ass as the Jews were for the Roman Empire.  Christ’s apostles spread His message and Christian pockets developed in the Empire.  And the Romans persecuted them.  Until one day.

The Roman Empire was in civil war.  Constantine approached the River Tiber.  Across lay Rome and Maxentius.  They would meet in battle in the morning.  Before that battle, though, Constantine had a vision.  He saw a Christian symbol.  The Christian god appeared to him.  He was to advance his armies behind this symbol.  Or so the story goes.  Anyway, Constantine did win the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.  He proclaimed that the Christian god made that victory possible.  And he would subsequently convert to Christianity.

The Roman Empire would give up its pagan past and become Christian.  Constantine would build a great Christian city and name it after himself.  Constantinople (modern day Istanbul).  Christianity would spread throughout the civilized world. Even to the place where he became emperor.  Britain.  A Christian Monk would take the religion into the hostile lands north of Hadrian’s Wall (Scotland).   There he founded a monastery called Candida Casa.  His successor at the monastery, Caranoc, probably introduced Christianity to Ireland.  St. Patrick’s missionary work took over from Caranoc.

ONE OF THE surviving institutions of the Roman Empire was the Catholic Church.  With the structure and order of Roman rule gone, it was the one uniting force that transcended the diverse remnants of the empire.  King Clovis converted to Catholicism and united the Gallic people.  Charlemagne built on this consolidation and created the French and German monarchies, setting the stage for modern, Christian Europe.

The Catholic Church was the bedrock of life in the Middle Ages.  It soothed and comforted.  It gave hope and meaning during difficult times.  Civilization became civilized when Christianized.  People lived by the Golden Rule.  They helped each other.  Christian kings ruled more compassionately, for the afterlife was important to both ruler and ruled.  A king may answer to no man, but a Christian king answered to God. And in Europe, that was the Pope, who ruled spiritually in God’s temporal world.

The Pope may be the last word on things spiritual, but he was still a man.  And like all men, power tends to corrupt.  And it would be a German priest to point this out in a grand way.

IT WAS THE 16th century and the Renaissance was under way.  Everyone was catching the fever.  Even the Pope.  Pope Leo X was renovating his St. Peter digs in the new style.  Paid for, in part, by the selling of indulgences.  You say you’ve sinned?  But you still want to go to heaven?  No problem.  I can help you.  I can forgive you.  For a nominal fee.  And really, now, can you put a price on personal salvation?  I mean, sure, you can risk eternal damnation.  But why take the chance?  Buy an indulgence today.

Or so went some kind of sales pitch.  Which caused a problem for a German priest.  Martin Luther.  He didn’t believe you could buy your way into heaven.  So he said it.  The king wasn’t wearing any clothes.  I mean, the Pope was wrong.  He nailed up his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517 and the Protestant movement was afoot.  Caused a reverberation or two.  Plunged Europe into war.  Catholic versus protestant.  Reformer versus counter-reformer.

Luther translated the Latin Bible into the common German spoken in his country.  Over in England, they were translating the Bible, too.  And speaking of England.

HENRY VIII WANTED a son.  As kings are wont to do.  But he wasn’t having any luck.  He needed a new wife.  So he wanted a divorce.  Couldn’t get one.  So he said goodbye to Rome and opened the Church of England.  He got his divorce.   And a new baby.  Another girl.

The story of England’s break with Rome is a bit more complicated than this.  Henry VIII was a Catholic.  He even persecuted Protestants.  But his third wife was a German princess married for political reasons.  And his new Church leaned Protestant.  He did a lot of things that Luther said to do.  And he hated Luther.  His subjects were even reading an English translation of the Bible.  But then the politics changed and he divorced Anne of Cleves.  And the Church swung back to Catholicism.

When Henry VIII died, Edward VI assumed the throne.  And the Church swung back to Protestant.  When he died, his sister took the throne.  His Catholic sister.  Queen Mary.  And the Church swung back to Catholicism.  People didn’t mind.  Hey, they were Catholics far longer than they were Protestants.  Then she married the Catholic King of Spain.  Started burning Protestants at the stake.  Went to war with France in support of Spain.  And lost English land on the continent in the process.  The people didn’t take kindly to this.

Then came Queen Elizabeth.  She swung the Church back to Protestant.  And the Pope thanked her for that by excommunicating her.  Pope Paul V sent missionaries into England to agitate and return England to Catholicism.  Elizabeth countered by making life very difficult for Catholics.  But the Catholics weren’t the only ones unhappy with Elizabeth.

The Puritans were Calvinists who were extremely anti-Catholic.  Yes, she swung the Church of England back to Protestantism, but it still had some Catholic flourishes (bishops, priest vestments, candles, some saints’ days and feasts, transubstantiation, etc.).  As Supreme Governor of the Church, these Puritans were challenging her authority.  So she arrested and executed them.

YOU GET THE picture.  The tug of war between Catholicism and Protestantism was a long and bloody one.  And it involved outsiders.  Catholic France was stirring up trouble in Protestant Scotland.  Mary, Queen of Scots, cousin of Elizabeth, even plotted against her cousin to take her throne (and make Scotland and England Catholic).  She failed and Elizabeth chopped her head off.

Meanwhile, Catholic Spain was stirring up trouble in Ireland.  She hated England for their break from Rome.  Wanted to bring her back to the Catholic fold.  The Catholic Irish did not like Protestant English rule. There was rebellion in Ulster.  Spain helped the rebels.  The English suppressed the rebellion.  To dilute this Catholic hotspot from causing further disturbances, England settled Ulster with Protestants.

Spain also wanted vengeance for the looting of Spanish ships (filled with gold and silver looted from the New World) by English pirates.  Spain assembled a great fleet (The Great Armada) for the invasion of England.  It was defeated.  England escaped Catholic Spanish subjugation.

SO THERE YOU have it.  Kindling for civil war in England as well as world war across the continent and in the New World as the Old World fought to colonize it.  And that history would be a bloody one.  A lot of wrongs to right.  A lot of bad blood.  A lot of grudges.  And the Founding Fathers wanted no part of it.

When the British defeated the French on the Plains of Abraham outside Quebec City, Catholic French Canada became British.  To appease the local French inhabitants, though, the British passed the Quebec Act.  And let them keep their French heritage.  Je me souviens (I remember, motto of both Quebec Province and the Royal 22e Régiment).  One part of the Quebec Act expanded Canadian territory into lands that the Americans were planning to settle.  Another part guaranteed the free practice of Catholicism.  Right in British America’s backyard.  Which was a Protestant backyard.  This infuriated the Americans.  The Protestant-Catholic simmering hatred did make it to the New World.  This was one of the last of British insults that eventually led to the Revolutionary War.

But that was the peak of anti-catholic rhetoric in America.  After the war, the states would eventually disestablish their churches.  Catholic and Protestant would live peacefully together.  Along with Baptists.  And Jews.  And any other denomination.  And religion flourished.  Especially Christianity.  By not establishing Protestantism or Catholicism, both flourished.  The new nation blossomed.  And America became that city on a hill.  If you go by immigration records.  And one day America would even have a Catholic president.  JFK.

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