Seeds of Our Own Destruction

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAby Mr. Lesser (GHG)3/20/15
This is not an essay where I share my viewpoint. Rather, my intention is to elicit viewpoints from others. You see, I’m frustrated because I know things are not the way they should be but I can’t figure out how we got to this point. So maybe the best place to start is to define “we” and “this point.”

“We” is America, or to be more specific, it is the American culture shaped by the American ideal. We are many peoples mixed in a melting pot where individual flavors are not lost but blended into the amalgamation of a common culture based on individual freedom and limited government and guaranteed by our founding documents.

“This point” is how radically different our culture has become from where it started. The culture war has been all but lost on every front: spiritual, family, economic, education and others. We now have less individual freedom and practically limitless government.

How did we get here? Where did it go wrong? Was there an initial misstep or were there a series of unrelated missteps? It could be argued that failure is inevitable with every human endeavor, but I don’t want to gloss over the details. I want to illuminate them. I’m just not sure what they are and I’m hoping this august group of ST’ers can help flesh them out.

To get the ball rolling, I will list some topics that seem like turning (tipping?) points to me. Certainly not an exhaustive list and maybe some not even germane. But please comment, give your studied opinion, or even just your gut feeling. Lively discussion is encouraged.

The first potential misstep is the U.S. Constitution itself. I have great respect for our founding documents and consider them on a par with the Magna Carta, if not surpassing it as the greatest of all man inspired documents (consider the Bible to be God inspired). But, the Constitution was a document of compromise, expeditious for ratification but leaving hairline fractures, some of which would be rent asunder four score and 7 years hence (actually less – but you know what I mean).

Were the seeds of our own destruction planted in the Constitution?

Some other potential missteps:

• Judicial Review (Marbury v. Madison). Was it constitutional to begin with? Has it blurred the separation of powers? Are the results good or bad?

• Lincoln’s nationalism and the Civil War’s effect on federalism and state sovereignty. The abolition of slavery was a worthy “end,” but did the “means” weaken the structure of our federal republic and give over some parts of state sovereignty to the federal government. And is that good or bad?

• The Sherman Anti-trust act and other economic legislation were intended to create a level playing field. Were the results beneficial or harmful to America’s free market system in the long run?

There are many other potential missteps and landmark events that may have contributed: Wagner Act (unions), 16th Amendment (IRS), creation and expansion of the government bureaucratic leviathan, enlightenment philosophies and science, just to name a few more.

I won’t presume to know where we’re going, but I think I have a good understanding of where we’re at. I’m hoping your contributions can help me have a better understanding of how we got here. Is this an exercise in futility? I suppose, but humor the old guy would ya.


GHG (Mr. Lesser to his friends) is a budding (no pun intended) freelance writer. • (2347 views)

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48 Responses to Seeds of Our Own Destruction

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I like this essay, Mr. Lesser.

    It is arguable that our enormous wealth, and the ease with which it is achieved, has made us fat (literally as well), lazy, and dumb. And instead of this wealth, easily achieved, invoking gratitude, it has invoked the pining for Utopia.

    It’s also brought Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of “The Princess and the Pea” to life. Now even the slightest discomfort has this ninny, nanny, nincompoop population crying for relief.

    We have regressed from adults to emotional children. All the things you mentioned are important. But perhaps the most important aspect is that this new “Progressive” way of living and educating has produced a population unable to deal with its problems.

    As much as I admire the heavy brainwork that goes on here at ST, I’m of the mind that 99% of it is beyond the population at large. That’s not a sneer. I think that’s just a fact. And both political parties are dysfunctional.

    It’s a mess. About the only thing I think we can all agree on is that we are indeed sowing the seeds of our own destruction.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    I think Brad is probably right. Wealth leads to decadence, and the decadent by nature are unwilling to protect anything but their wealth and decadence (if that). This has always been true of the very rich in society (hence the concept of middle-class virtues), but mass affluence corrupted most of society.

    But another key aspect is the modern Left in its various forms. The USA was designed as a unique nation, and as such was always going to be difficult to keep from devolving into the more common sort of nation. When the Left eventually became the alternative to traditional values, the gradual corruption of society and state became inevitable. The only question was how fast it would happen. It can still be slowed down, probably, perhaps enough to remain a recognizable America in the rest of our lifetimes (which is a lot easier when you’re in your 60s, or even older).

    • GHG says:

      I agree with the comments of Brad and Timothy that the wealth of our nation played a role in the decay of individual responsibility, which in turn played a role in the change to the social compact of individual freedom and limited government. But I’m not convinced it’s the primary reason because it can be argued the ship of state started veering off course well before decadence of wealth and decay of individual responsibility came to our shores.

      Something(s) happened to change the relationship between the governed and government. Real events, decisions made, paths chosen. Maybe the initial misstep is unknowable, it’s too complex to find “the” root cause, but there are causes and effects. I’m hoping we can identify some of these causes, especially the ones that have caused the most egregious effects.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Something(s) happened to change the relationship between the governed and government.

        If I had to give one reason: Marxism — which I still see as being enabled by other forces…which I’ll get to.

        But I think history and culture are the products of a variety of influences. I think it’s a fool’s errand (and, of course, I’m the biggest fool) to try to explicate history and culture down to a few causes. In rare instances (such as Nazi Germany or Leninist/Stalinist Russia) there are clear and distinct political causes.

        What alarms me, Mr. Lesser, is that you might be right, that this is all about the change in the relationship between the governed and government, at least to some extent. It is said that in the 19th century, a man could live most of his life and have little to no contact with the Federal government. That has obviously changed. Now, however we got there, government is a large part of the problem.

        Here’s where I’m caught between the chicken-and-the-egg syndrome. Although it’s obvious that the size and nature of a government can dramatically effect the culture, which came first, the man corrupted by Big Government or did his initial corruption (pining for Utopia, whatever) create Big Government? Whatever the case may be, there is now a vicious feedback loop between the two.

        Part of this is a simple as giving the women the vote and expanding voting beyond property owners. Combined with the Federal income tax, the recipe was unleashed for the constant, and fast, growth of government. A man (at least an American man) was generally of an independent mind. But women are nurturing and tend to look for security. And they likely tipped the balance over to this “Progressive” style of culture and government.

        It’s impolite to say so. And I think we’re clearly in the Orwellian stage where the truth is revolutionary. But there it is. I’ll play the bad cop who will say what must be said.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I think the feedback concept is very useful. There were a large number of small steps, each of which made the next easier. Think of the slippery slope and the Overton window. The result has been a gradual process, which may even have been desirable at the start (mistreatment of workers was indeed a problem) but went beyond the point of usefulness.

        • faba calculo says:

          No doubt, expanding the franchise to women hastened the forces of progressivism, but how much? I mean, yes, more women are liberal than men, but the gap isn’t huge.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Just a little tip would be all it takes. I’m talking about a general effect.

            But as we’ve seen with feminized men, it’s not women, per se, that are the problem, although Progressive culture does tend to hold up the female as the model and men are typically denigrated.

            And women themselves have been enculturated to be hardly the female archetype. They’re taught to be more outgoing, sexual, aggressive, crude, athletic, and competitive. They are taught, for all intents and purposes, to be more man-like. Conversely, the men tend to be emasculated, shamed, and marginalized.

            The reigning paradigm is the religion of Leftism. And a central tenet of that religion is the overturning of all previous standards. What’s black today will be white tomorrow given enough time. This ideology can’t help but consume itself. Whether people wise up to it is another question. The positive in all this is that many women have dampened the effects of the truly insane ideologues of the feminist left. Most women have not rejected being feminine. And most women don’t hate men. Just the general good will of many people limit the most toxic effects of the religon of Leftism.

            Unfortunately, most men have completely caved, bought off by pot, video games, beer, drugs, and somewhat being a kept man. Women don’t mind ruling the roost. And it seems the modern man doesn’t mind letter her do so as long as he has his pornography, his trucks, his video games, and his vulgar forms of entertainment.

            But with an ever-new and even more evangelized crop of skulls-full-of-mush coming up, whose to say this amelioration of the inherently toxic effects of Leftism will continue? If society at large ever mimics the Orwellian lunacy going on in universities and government, we are done. And who is teaching anyone that what they have picked up in college is garbage?

            Prepare for all these “nice,” “tolerant,” and “caring” Progressive people in the younger generations to show their Lenin-like teeth.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              As you note, femininity is not the goal. In fact, modern leftism prefers androgyny, since the idea is that all people are identical cogs in the machine of society. This is why female liberals can actually be tougher on foreign enemies than male liberals. The problem is that no one wants to be masculine. This is fine for women, who thus remain feminine by choice, but it means too many males choose to be girly-men.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                Timothy, I think the whole gender bending thing is, at heart, (and partially unconsciously) about the left’s Utopian idea about being free from all constraints. This is something they share to a large extent with libertarians.

                Nature, cruelly or not, imposes some inherent traits and limits onto us. Only a society as relatively rich and free as ours could harbor these Utopian goals. Everyone is putting on their Superman costumes even though the Creator himself has written into all things some version of “This suit will not enable wearer to fly.”

                Blacks are all eternal victims and need the welfare state to protect them. Crash. Drugs, criminal behavior, single-parent (aka “bastard”) families. “This suit will not enable wearer to fly.”

                The same will happen regarding homosexual marriage, homosexual acceptance, and homosexual adoption. The laws of nature cannot be forever ignored. The piper must be paid. “This suit will not enable wearer to fly.”

                The same is definitely happening in Europe regarding multiculturalism. The continent will be an Islamic continent by the end of this century. Europe will be dead. They thought that all cultures were equally valid and everyone could just kumbaya. “This suit will not enable wearer to fly.”

  3. Jerry Richardson says:

    Mr. Lesser (GHG),

    “This point” is how radically different our culture has become from where it started. The culture war has been all but lost on every front: spiritual, family, economic, education and others. We now have less individual freedom and practically limitless government. —Mr. Lesser

    An in addition to the serious fragmentation of values in every direction, we have this seemingly irreversible political polarization; and it has grown tremendously worse since the radical left captured the Democrat party. I’m not sure that our nation has been this divided since the days of the civil war.

    And speaking of that, and Abraham Lincoln, I’ve always wondered what would have happened if the South had simply not fired on Fort Sumter. I have long been an Abe Lincoln admirer, but I do not believe that it was Constitutional to prevent states from seceding from a union that they had voluntarily joined. But as soon as the South fired on Fort Sumter, they had attacked the US and provided justification for Lincoln to do what he did.

    Please don’t get the idea that I am trying to re-argue the civil war, or that I am trying to suggest that the notion of secession should be resurrected. But I am for the idea of Nullification of unconstitutional federal laws at the state level. I believe that federalism and the 10th Amendment justifies it as well as the fact that nowhere in the Constitution is the sole power to interpret the US Constitution given to the Supreme Court. We grouse about the power-grabs of Barack Obama, but the Supreme Court’s power-grab as sole interpreter of the Constitution has been the single, biggest, most disastrous power-grab in our nation’s history.

    I have said the above to say this:

    I think we got, in large measure, where we are as a nation because we lost the founding-father’s original vision of a federalist republic where the individual states (and the people) retain the majority of political power. The step that must be taken to reverse that, in my opinion, is to stop allowing the Supreme Court to be empowered as the sole interpreter of the US Constitution.

    Thanks for an excellent article. Keep it up.

    • GHG says:

      Jerry said “ … the Supreme Court’s power-grab as sole interpreter of the Constitution has been the single, biggest, most disastrous power-grab in our nation’s history.”

      I agree. If I had to pick only one thing among the many things that have had a deleterious effect on the governance of our country, it would be the expanded role of the Judicial Branch. The landmark case of Marbury v. Madison established precedent for judicial review and as with so many cases before the courts the reasoning used to arrive at the decision had more far reaching effects than the effect of the decision for that particular case. The Judicial Branch has wandered far from its vested authority to where it has found emanating penumbras with which to re-interpret law and more recently changed law to “help” the Legislative Branch with law making. The separation of powers was THE principle tenet of our form of government. It was the only thing capable of preventing the government tyranny that we are now realizing.

      Regarding the question “… what would have happened if the South had simply not fired on Fort Sumter?” That’s a great question. We’ll never know but it was certainly a pivot point. I agree that Lincoln didn’t have Constitutional authority to prevent secession, but again it’s one of those things where the result is good but the path taken to get there is open to debate. However, unlike Judicial Review, which could be argued was merely a stretching of original intent, I believe the tension between state sovereignty and federal government was inherent in the Constitution because of the compromises necessary for ratification. At least in hindsight the fracture seemed inevitable.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Let me ask a question. Does anyone here believe in religion? Second, does anyone believe in the power of a religious belief or movement?

    I bet most of you answered “Yes” to both those questions. Well, religion doesn’t explain everything. But the largest factor in America and the West is most likley what Dennis Prager calls the most dynamic religion in the world today, including Islam: Leftism.

    Call it political correctness, Cultural Marxism, feminism, environmental wacko-ism, secularism, socialism, naturalism, or whatever. You’re doing little more than naming the denominations of the overall religion.

    That doesn’t mean the size and scope of government itself doesn’t exert an influence. It does. But one must also understand that Big Government is precisely the secular (of sorts) instrument of the religion of Leftism.

    If you can’t name it, you can’t cure it, let alone understand it. And the evidence of this religion’s dynamism is how it has taken over almost all of Judaism and a large portion of Christianity. That’s power, baby.

    Leftism has a different vision for society. And that is the vision that is now in operation. Listing the elements of that vision will be useful. But I think most of you know them by heart by now. What those elements don’t include are any of the classically liberal/Christian/Western Civilization goals and values.

    The rest is just details. The Civil War, for instance, had nothing at all to do with this, try as Paulbots and other libertarians do to make it so. And I’m not quibbling with Mr. Lesser’s assessment. But the problem wasn’t Lincoln. The problem came later (not much later) as a general materialistic, secular, naturalistic, heavily atheistic “Progressive” culture and vision took hold. And then government exploded in breadth and scope. Why this religion was so attractive is a very good question.

    The difficult thing here is that there is no turning back the clock. You can understand when people such as Jonah Goldberg move with this generally unstated religion of Leftism. You either swim in the waters or you are irrelevant (or you’re a premiere writer for StubbornThings ;)).

    Now, I’m not chewing on anyone in particular here. I think Mr. Lesser’s article is instructive because he acknowledges clearly that the scope of this is beyond any one essay, thus he elicits opinions. But it’s interesting that this site has a very strong (somewhat traditional) Christian influence, and yet many have not named He Who Must Not Be Named (and I mean the religion of Leftism, not Voldemort).

    This is why Christians and Jews must be denigrated and why Muslims are not. This is an implicit statement by the Left of who and what has always been the foundation of Western Civilization, and they want to (wait for it) “fundamentally transform” it. Much like Hitler, these guys actually will, here and there, tell you exactly what they plan to do.

    So we look around the landscape and notice the legions of useful idiots. Mr. Kung sent me an article today in which Jay Leno recounted one of his interns commenting that it was “racist” because Jay said he didn’t like Mexican food for lunch. And to Jay’s credit, he noted that this had nothing to do with racism.

    We laugh at these pod people. But understand, these were the same ones laughing at you for believing in Christ, Moses, and all the other elements of the Judeo-Christian biblical and world view. Now the shoe is on the other foot and conservatives, orthodox Jews, and authentic Christians are the insurgents, and very weak ones at that because they don’t know what has hit them. Many have simply integrated this religion into their own views, metaphysics, and philosophies.

  5. Jerry Richardson says:

    Brad,

    Is this tirade of yours just a rhetorical rant, or do you really think the regulars here disagree with you? Do you really believe that any of the normal writers and commenters to Stubborn Things are unaware of the detrimental effect on our freedoms of Progressivism and leftism?

    Your whole tone is condescending as if only you and Dennis Prager really know what’s going on.

    And I’m not quibbling with Mr. Lesser’s assessment. But the problem wasn’t Lincoln. The problem came later (not much later) as a general materialistic, secular, naturalistic, heavily atheistic “Progressive” culture and vision took hold. And then government exploded in breadth and scope. Why this religion was so attractive is a very good question.—Brad Nelson

    Did you read any of the other comments?

    Jerry said “ … the Supreme Court’s power-grab as sole interpreter of the Constitution has been the single, biggest, most disastrous power-grab in our nation’s history.”

    I agree. If I had to pick only one thing among the many things that have had a deleterious effect on the governance of our country, it would be the expanded role of the Judicial Branch. The landmark case of Marbury v. Madison established precedent for judicial review and as with so many cases before the courts the reasoning used to arrive at the decision had more far reaching effects than the effect of the decision for that particular case. The Judicial Branch has wandered far from its vested authority to where it has found emanating penumbras with which to re-interpret law and more recently changed law to “help” the Legislative Branch with law making. —Mr. Lesser

    The above referenced decision, Marbury v. Madison occurred in 1803. Lincoln was first elected in 1860. In my mind, the single action most responsible for setting the stage for leftism to run loose in our nation was the Marbury v. Madison decision. That may be wrong, but it certainly isn’t saying that Lincoln or the civil war was the beginning of how we got where we are today, which is the major question Mr. Lesser was addressing.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Did you read any of the other comments?

      Sorry, Jerry. I don’t have the time to read everything I’d like to. But I take it you more or less agree with me and just feel offended that I assume that you did not. Well, let’s keep things simple. State where you agree, if you wish, and where you think I’m wrong, and what you think is right and what I missed.

      Regarding Marbury v. Madison, I think it was inevitable that the Supreme Court would find a co-equal constitutional function for itself. Under Article III, Section 1 it reads:

      The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court…

      Section 2 begins with:

      The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority

      That sounds likes the proper Constitutional power to decide something. I think the problem stems from the deference to the Supreme Court paid by Congress and the President. They are supposed to be co-equal branches. And I believe the history of the United States is full of instances (perhaps not as many as their should be) of Congress or the President telling the court to go fly a kite. No such balls exist in this current Congress.

      And, Jerry, you seem to have a case of the vapors. Was my post really a “tirade” or did I not make a heck of a lot of sense?

      • Jerry Richardson says:

        Brad,

        Yeah, I’ve got a slight case of the “vapors.” However, I called your statements a “tirade” because even though you stated “I’m not chewing on anyone in particular here” I felt like you were “hollering” at those of us who were making comments.

        Of course, my comments, and anyone else’s comments are fair game for criticism and disagreements. That’s what we do here. I have no problem with that at any time. The more the merrier.

        But even thought I and perhaps some other commenters are certainly not as knowledgeable as you or Dennis Prager; I feel like condescension is an inappropriate “tone” which is what your discussion sounded like to me.

        Yes, I plead guilty to a case of the “vapors.”

        My “vapors” centered around my interpretation of the “tone” of your remarks—which of course could be due to an unwarranted sensitivity on my part—and around the fact that you so often, very often, very very often mention Dennis Prager in much of what you write. I think you overdo it; which again is your privilege; but it still gives me the vapors. This is not a criticism of Dennis Prager. I read Prager a lot; I respect Prager a lot; I just can’t quite get him up on the pedestal where you seem to have put him.

        OK, I’ve now vented my “vapors”; thanks for listening.

    • NAHALKIDES NAHALKIDES says:

      Although I tackled this below in my own response to the article, Jerry, let me say again here that Marbury v. Madison is not the villain you believe it to be. Not only is the idea that the courts may strike down a law which contradicts the Constitution essential to maintain individual freedom in the face of the inevitable attempts of legislatures to overstep their bounds, it was not a new idea even in 1803 but in fact rested on historical forces as much as theoretical ones. The “historical forces” I am referring to were a number of state court decisions striking down state laws contrary to the state constitutions going back 40 years prior to Marbury v. Madison.

      Nothing in Marshall’s decision claimed the the Supreme Court was the only, or even the ultimate, arbiter of Constitutional principles – that idea came much later, the product of the desire to abuse Judicial Review to achieve Leftist political goals. And certainly there must be some check on the Judicial power just as there must be on the Legislative and Executive. But without Judicial Review, what recourse do citizens have when, for example, a law is passed to confiscate handguns? If they cannot challenge the law in court (this requires judicial review), they are left with (1) trying to change the law; (2) nullification; (3) secession; (4) knuckle under and become serfs.

      Now the problems with (2) and (3) are obvious – they are disruptive at best and lead to being executed for treason at worst. (4) means refusing to fight for your rights and agreeing to serfdom. As to (1), relying on electoral victories means all our rights are completely insecure, to be abrogated any and every time the Left wins an election. Far better to have an alert (and Conservative) judiciary ready and willing to strike down gun control, Obamacare, McCain-Feingold, etc. – wouldn’t you say? Indeed, if our rights are only to be observed when we win an election, why bother with a written Constitution in the first place? The whole idea of a written Constitution is to place some limits upon governmental power, and that implies an enforcement mechanism. The States could provide such a mechanism, and indeed it is desirable that they should – at least when the judiciary fails in its duty. A change to allow some kind of State nullification of Federal law, as you suggest, is highly desirable, but so is a judiciary that properly applies judicial review.

      • Jerry Richardson says:

        NAHALKIDES,

        Although I tackled this below in my own response to the article, Jerry, let me say again here that Marbury v. Madison is not the villain you believe it to be. Not only is the idea that the courts may strike down a law which contradicts the Constitution essential to maintain individual freedom in the face of the inevitable attempts of legislatures to overstep their bounds, it was not a new idea even in 1803 but in fact rested on historical forces as much as theoretical ones. The “historical forces” I am referring to were a number of state court decisions striking down state laws contrary to the state constitutions going back 40 years prior to Marbury v. Madison.

        Nothing in Marshall’s decision claimed the Supreme Court was the only, or even the ultimate, arbiter of Constitutional principles – that idea came much later, the product of the desire to abuse Judicial Review to achieve Leftist political goals. And certainly there must be some check on the Judicial power just as there must be on the Legislative and Executive.
        —NAHALKIDES

        Thank you for you very thoughtful and polite comments. As always you put much well-tempered (with experience) thought into your comments.

        I’m absolutely convinced that you know much more about this situation than I do; and I don’t disagree with most of what you say. Except, I disagree with your overall evaluation of the results: “it is not the villain you believe it to be”—I could be persuaded of this if it weren’t for the never absent prospect (current or historical) of unintended consequences ; and yes, “Nothing in Marshall’s decision claimed the Supreme Court was the only, or even the ultimate, arbiter of Constitutional principles.”

        However, Thomas Jefferson evidently viewed the decision in those terms:

        Jefferson disagreed with Marshall’s reasoning in this case:

        You seem to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions; a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. Our judges are as honest as other men, and not more so. They have, with others, the same passions for party, for power, and the privilege of their corps…. Their power [is] the more dangerous as they are in office for life, and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control. The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that to whatever hands confided, with the corruptions of time and party, its members would become despots. It has more wisely made all the departments co-equal and co-sovereign within themselves.

        Madison vs Malbury

        Now obviously, I know as well as you do that apart from some huge governmental shake-up, Constitutional Convention or revolution; the Supreme Court is not going to relinquish their power to be the interpreter of the US Constitution. In the political arena, power taken is never freely surrendered.

        And, would you deny, that today we have evolved to a situation in which the Supreme Court has become effectively a “super legislature” or perhaps in Jefferson’s terms “an oligarchy” in which ultimate legal power in the USA rests in their hands?

        Now of course the entire Marshall vs Marbury fracas was surrounded-with and immersed-in partisan Federalist/anti-Federalist political bickering on both sides of the fence. And while most moderns will side with you that it’s a good thing to have the Supreme Court be the ultimate final-arbiter on Constitutional issues, I think Thomas Jefferson’s concern (politically vested though his concern may have been) has been well vindicated.

        Jefferson’s concern was that if a single group of judges are the “ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions; a very dangerous doctrine indeed,” then the result would be to “place us under the despotism of an oligarchy.”

        Would you argue that there is no validity to Jefferson’s concern today? And yes, I know there exists the option of impeachment; but let’s be serious; the nation will not even impeach a demonstrably dictatorial President. Political polarization and lack of statesmen (rather than career politicians) on both-sides of the isle has effectively removed impeachment as a check-and-balance between the major branches of government.

        Moving to the issue then of what if anything can be done about the current danger of the Supreme Court having evolved into something that surely the founding fathers never intended for it to be, i.e., a small branch of government with virtually unchecked power over the other two larger branches; what do we do?

        I think both you and I agree that the emerging strategy of Nullification by state governments of unconstitutional federal laws has some chance if enough states will back it.

        But here again we run into a problem that is foreshadowed in Jefferson’s complaint: If, by definition, only the Supreme Court can decide on legal constitutionality then how can the states legitimately claim to do that?

        And it doesn’t really matter if “Nothing in Marshall’s decision claimed the Supreme Court was the only, or even the ultimate, arbiter of Constitutional principles”; that perspective has become the de facto ultimate judicial principle in today’s legal environment.

        I am reminded of the current discussion regarding Obama’s obsessive desire to make a “deal” with Iran. Many people including Netanyahu and some members of Congress have argued that No Deal is better than a Bad Deal.

        I think that outlook might have been wise when in the early 1800s our nation was politically “cutting a deal” on whether we should have one ultimate-arbiter of legal Constitutionality. I think the following maxim might have served us well then: No Ultimate-Arbiter is better than a Bad Ultimate-Arbiter.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          And, would you deny, that today we have evolved to a situation in which the Supreme Court has become effectively a “super legislature” or perhaps in Jefferson’s terms “an oligarchy” in which ultimate legal power in the USA rests in their hands?

          I certainly wouldn’t deny that, Jerry. I think the question is whether or not we are going to buy into the libertarian heresies. That heresy goes something like this: When men instituted governments, he set the stage for the oppression of people.

          No doubt the Supreme Court has evolved into something it was never meant to be. But, more importantly, what we are witnessing isn’t a problem with the court, per se, but with Justices who are lawless. And whatever system one wishes to devise, there is no perfect cure for that. There are checks and balances, indeed. And part of the problem is that other co-equal branches have not sometimes asserted their powers to override the court’s dictates. And the problem is Leftism run amok in a system never meant for this other kind of heresy.

          I think Nik does us a great service by making sure we do not run off half-cocked on ill-considered ideologies. Like you, I believe I have a lot to learn about this kind of stuff. But I don’t believe the answer is to take on board the libertarian heresies.

          I don’t know what the Founders exactly had in mind for the Supreme Court. But it does seem it was set up as a co-equal branch. And if a court can’t decided on the constitutionality of a law, then why have a “supreme” court at all? With all due respect to Jefferson, he was both right and wrong. He was right in that unchecked powers by unelected men in office for life is highly problematic. No argument there. And yet these same features were meant to give the justices protection so that they could go against the mob and reigning passions if need be.

          Regarding nullification by any one state, which is an issue that rides along with this one, the power is in the doing. A state (or states) just have to do it and see what happens. But another libertarian heresy that has infected conservatism is this idea that the Lincoln’s prosecution of the Civil War was the first stone in the wall of Big Government.

          What is conveniently forgotten by libertarians and others is the context for this war. It’s not just that the South shot first. Libertarians (for some strange psychological reason) want to portray the South as victims. But it was the South who were the bullies. They broke every peaceful compromise that have been agreed upon in terms of slavery. A sort of benign neglect — where everyone just assumed slavery would gradually die out — was no longer the watchword. The South’s intent was to spread slavery everywhere, if only as a defensive action. Lincoln had it pegged when he said in his “House divided” speech of 1858 (upon acceptance of his nomination for president):

          A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.

          This was a rebellion by the South that was put down. But it was also an inevitable conflict. This continent would indeed be either one thing or the other. And that’s exactly what happened.

          Regarding a state’s supposed right to secede, it does not exist. A Union was formed that was a melding of the states into something larger than any one of them, although the states still function as a unit within this greater union. This is one reason that the Constitution wasn’t ratified by the various state legislatures but was ratified by special state conventions. As this article notes:

          Significantly, state conventions, not Congress, were the agents of ratification. This approach insured that the Constitution’s authority came from representatives of the people specifically elected for the purpose of approving or disapproving the charter, resulting in a more accurate reflection of the will of the electorate.

          Granted, nothing is ever ultimately unchangeable and written in stone. The force of power can easily change whatever is written on paper, and then one can write a new paper justifying the actions. And such justifications may be good (the Declaration of Independence) or dishonest. But certainly states have a “right” to secede in that they are free to assert whatever power they have and see how it goes. One would expect that some kind of nullification of illegal Federal laws would have more moral authority than the South ever did given what their issue was (which was never “state’s rights” but was always and ever about slavery).

          • Jerry Richardson says:

            Brad,

            I don’t know what the Founders exactly had in mind for the Supreme Court. But it does seem it was set up as a co-equal branch. And if a court can’t decided on the constitutionality of a law, then why have a “supreme” court at all?
            —Brad Nelson

            Your conclusion begs the question in the same way that Justice Marshall did. The proper question in my mind, for a Constitutional Originalist—which I consider myself trying to learn to be—is who decides on the constitutionality of a law?

            You and Justice Marshall presume, with no enumerated Constitutional support, for there is none for it; that the Supreme Court decides. This sort of logical maneuver is very old and has a name; it is called “begging the question.” For that is exactly the question that I have re-raised (it has been raised before): Who gets to decide on the Constitutionality of an issue given enumerated constitutional support, and lack of same; not simply the status quo based upon the fait accompli of 1803.

            Of course, I know that I’m beating a dead horse. But remember the purpose was to address GHG’s question of how we got where we are today. I still claim that a political and unwarranted—not supported by the enumerated powers granted in the Constitution’s Article III—power grab by Justice Marshall and his Supreme Court started the ball rolling.

            The quote below is taken from A Critical Guide to Marbury and Madison which is available online in PDF format. The use of the term “repugnant to the Constitution” of course refers to a law that should be considered “unconstitutional.”

            The “supremacy clause” referred to in the extract below refers to “the provision in Article Six, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution that establishes the United States Constitution, federal statutes, and treaties as “the supreme law of the land.”

            The point is that Marshall arguably may have begged a critical question, i.e., he failed to acknowledge and thus to answer a question critical to the position he takes. Assuming that an act repugnant to the Constitution is not a law “in pursuance thereof’ and thus must not be given effect as the supreme law of the land, who, acording to the Constitution, is to make the determination as to whether any given law is in fact repugnant to the Constitution itself? Such alleged repugnance is ordinarily not self-demonstrating in most cases, as we well know. Marshall never confronts this question. His substitute question, whether a law repugnant to the Constitution still binds the courts, assumes that such “repugnance” has appropriately been determined by those granted such power under the Constitution. It is clear, however, that the supremacy clause itself cannot be the clear textual basis for a claim by the judiciary that this prerogative to determine repugnancy belongs to it.

            On its face, the clause does not say by whom or how or at what time it shall be determined whether certain laws of the United States were adopted pursuant to the Constitution. Again, the phrase that only such laws shall be part of the supreme law could mean merely that the people should regard the Constitution with deep concern and that they should act to prevent Congress from overstepping the Constitution.
            —-
            There is, then, no doctrine of national, substantive judicial supremacy which inexorably flows from Marbury v. Madison itself, i.e., no doctrine that the only interpretation of the Constitution which all branches of the national government must employ is the interpretation which the Court may provide in the course of litigation.

            A Critical Guide to Marbury and Madison

            Relative to issue of Nullification is the following:

            The case provides no occasion to determine the role of the states in the interpretation of the Constitution; no issue of federalism is present in the case. By itself, it does not settle any of these questions: (l) Are state courts bound by Supreme Court interpretations of the Constitution respecting the constitutionality of federal laws, and (2) are state courts bound by Supreme Court interpretations of the Constitution respecting the constitutionality of state laws? To put the matter more orthodoxly, are state court judgments involving interpretations of the United States Constitution subject to revision by the Supreme Court? This question presents new considerations of federalism not
            treated in Marbury.

            A Critical Guide to Marbury and Madison

            Here are some other interesting perspectives on the case:

            More interesting and relevant in the case are the fraud, deceit, cowardice and outright unethical behavior displayed by John Marshall in hearing and deciding the case. The Supreme Court had jurisdiction under Article III of the Constitution to hear the case. Marshall knew Thomas Jefferson would ignore an adverse decision, thus rendering the Court powerless. Instead of relying on the clear constitutional jurisdiction the court held, Marshall brought in the Judiciary Act of 1789 and declared that Congress had not the power to enact such legislation. Thus, by relying upon a statute that had no bearing on the case whatsoever and that was totally irrelevant to the litigation, Marshall, after declaring Jefferson acted wrongly, ducked the case.

            The Court heard the case as a trial court (as it should have under Article III jurisdiction). Marshall deceitfully claims the case came to court under the Judiciary Act of 1789 (in order that he could avoid making a ruling that Jefferson would ignore and thus allowing himself to declare the irrelevant Act to be unconstitutional). Marshall refers to John Adams’ Secretary of State by title, never by name. Why? Marshall was the Sec State in question. As such, he was a potential witness in the case. No judge with a gram of ethics would ever preside over a case in which the judge is a potential witness. Further, Jefferson was Marshall’s cousin and they hated each other. Additionally, Marshall’s brother James was a witness. Any of these three ethical considerations should have compelled Marshall to recuse himself.

            Finally, Marshall takes great pains to say that the Court has no power or jurisdiction other than that which is expressly stated in the Constitution. He then reaches far outside the Constitution and makes the biggest power grab in US political history, taking upon himself and his court the power to nullify the actions of the legislative and executive branches. No such power exists within the four corners of the constitution, but Marshall, in all his hypocrisy, created that power (ignoring the debates on the subject at the Philadelphia (Constitutional) Convention and without discussing the seeming conflict he created between the power he had usurped and the clear intent of Amendments IX and X.

            John Marshall’s 1803 Decision in Marbury vs Madison

            • Timothy Lane says:

              There’s an interesting discussion of Marbury v. Madison in Eric Lurio’s Cartoon Guide to the Constitution, which is accurate as far as I know. Basically, Marbury wanted a writ of mandamus forcing Madison to give him the appointment he had received at the very end of the Adams administration, and Marshall argued that the Court couldn’t issue the writ because the law allowing them to do so was unconstitutional.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              Well, given its enumerated powers in the Constitution, and that it is a “Supreme” court, ya gotta figure their job isn’t just to sit around in black robes looking pretty. Surely it would have been easy for the Founders to have written into the Constitution: “And the powers of the court shall not include deciding the constitutionality of Congressional laws or Presidential actions.”

              But they didn’t. And there is a logical need for someone to decide the Constitutionality of some issue, especially if their oath of office (which was determined by Congress) includes the words “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

              Also, there are aspects of institutions that do evolve and/or their powers are clarified over time. And although some events in a nation’s history can be decisive, most things are just a conglomeration of events, one feeding off or following another, in a very organic and somewhat chaotic process of society organizing itself.

              I just don’t think in terms of “If only x, y, and z hadn’t happened” as if we were dealing with some kind of Chinese puzzle box. What has happened is a whole lot of additive things — some good, many bad — that have over time changed the character of the nation, changed the size and scope of government, and changed the citizen’s basic expectations of government.

              Hell, even supposed conservatives are swimming in the same pond. They’ll normally check off a few things on the list — maybe guns, god, and Abraham Lincoln — but when it gets down to it you’ll find “But hands off my Social Security.” As Mark Steyn says, socialism isn’t wrong just because we can’t afford it. It’s wrong because it corrupts the people. It changes the relationship between the citizen and government to that of a junky and a pusher.

              Certainly we can see the acceleration of a new, materialist, Utopian strain in the West starting roughly in the 1890’s. This was totally different from the Kennedy approach (ostensibly). It was instead “Ask what government can do for you, not what you should do for your own damn self.”

              And there’s likely no going back. Our course is set. And quibbling over Marbury v. Madison might sound good at a Tea Party meeting. But that boat has already left the pier a long time ago. You might make a point or two amongst an intelligent conservative crowd, but not amongst an uber-intelligent conservative crowd who will tell you (as I will tell you) that the Left has done a very good job of dumbing-down the populace. Having a better argument is somewhat irrelevant because there is no fertile soil in which to plant these ideas. And I, for one, am already convinced of the wisdom of the Founders.

              And that’s where we’re at. If we are all sitting around at another Constitutional Convention, we should indeed be having these discussions. But you can’t reason with your fellow citizen about the reality of the harmlessness of CO, let alone try to argue Marbury v. Madison, or any number of things. It’s just not going to register with anyone.

              Hell, if Justice Roberts can’t follow the law, what chance has your average citizen? So my advice — and it’s just my advice, not a commandment — is to spend the time writing something (a primer for Progressives, if you will) that has some hope of explaining the very basics of things.

        • NAHALKIDES NAHALKIDES says:

          Jerry – I do agree in the main with what you are saying here, as well as most of what Brad wrote in reply (except that I believe in secession as a remedy to Federal consolidation of power). One issue is whether the Supreme Court is the sole, ultimate arbiter of Constitutionality. Like you, I do not believe that it should be, and Jefferson is on our side (so was Lincoln). The Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter only of the law as applied to specific cases and not of the correct interpretation of the Constitution itself.

          How then do we correct abuses such as Dred Scott or Roe v. Wade? The Constitution as currently written provides two remedies, Amendment, which is difficult but worked in Dred (the 14th), and an ordinary statute of Congress, which has the power to restrict the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction (see Article 3 section 2). For example, Congress could at any time put state abortion laws out of the Court’s reach, but it has not done so.

          I also believe, as you do, that some other check on the Court’s power is required to counter judicial activism, defined as the abuse of Judicial Review to bar the legislative branch from exercising its legitimate prerogatives. Some suggestions:

          1. Allow Supreme Court decisions on state laws to be overturned by a majority of the state legislatures or state Supreme Courts.
          2. Allow the people to remove Justices from office – the Senate has proved to be a poor place to try impeachments.

          One more point: judicial activism has worked great harm but notice with a small number of issues, the most egregious being abortion. In general, the Progressive program requires positive legislation and cannot be brought about by judicial activism alone. Judicial inactivism is by far the greater problem with Obamacare, anti-gun laws, the entire administrative state, etc. all needing badly to be struck down by the courts which failed to do so. Here also we obviously need some changes: I would suggest the right of any state to secede for good cause (I actually believe this already exists), or of 1/4 + 1 of the states to nullify any Federal law.

          These questions are thorny indeed, and also worthy of further exploration. As I have given them a great deal of thought over the years, I apologize to ST readers and to Brad for not having gotten to them yet since I am well-positioned to do so, but I am a very slow writer and have chosen to tie myself up with lots of other topics like the Presidential candidates.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            except that I believe in secession as a remedy to Federal consolidation of power

            Nik, let’s just be clear. Nowhere did I say that secession couldn’t be a remedy. But to assume that states have a right so secede is a different issue (they don’t). But then, the American colonies also had no legal right to rebel, per se. Power is often the ultimate arbiter of a right.

            This leads, of course, to “might makes right.” That is why the Founders knew it was absolutely crucial to write the Declaration of Independence and anchor our revolution in something more permanent and legitimate. We were not a rabble. We were not a mob. We were asserting what we understood to be certain universal rights. Unlike the French Revolution, it was not some libertarian chaos we wished to unleash. As others have noted, it was very much (and strangely) a conservative revolution. It was about retaining one’s rights as an Englishmen. That we had to break from England in order to do so was just a sad necessity.

            As Mr. Kung and Mr. Tarzwell I think have said elsewhere at previous times (and probably yourself), there are rights and moral issues that predate any political confederation. That is what grounded America’s rebellion. And it did not ground the South’s rebellion. One was legitimate. One was not.

            If a state, or a coalition of states, secedes, they will have to do so asserting not just Constitutional rights (which don’t support any right to secession), but higher, natural, god-given rights. And in this day and age, I find it very difficult to believe that you could find enough wise and informed men and women to come together under this reasoned and moral banner. If the mindset of Mark Levin were common, I would say yes. But his grasp of America is no longer common.

            I agree that further checks on the court’s powers might be good. But, again, what happens if the only thing standing between us and a truly imperial presidency is the Supreme Court? Will we have neutered its ability to act independently? The Founders were not perfect or omniscient. The Constitution was made so that it could be amended. But in trying to “fix” the Supreme Court, we could easily run into a plethora of unintended consequences, if only because the real problem is a culture of lawlessness as induced by the political philosophy of the Left.

          • Jerry Richardson says:

            NAHALKIDES,

            One issue is whether the Supreme Court is the sole, ultimate arbiter of Constitutionality. Like you, I do not believe that it should be, and Jefferson is on our side (so was Lincoln). The Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter only of the law as applied to specific cases and not of the correct interpretation of the Constitution itself. —NAHALKIDES

            I think this is a very critical point.

            Thanks for you expertise. Please weigh-in on this and related topics with some extensive articles of your own.

            Thanks.

  6. SkepticalCynic SkepticalCynic says:

    I am not a pointy-headed intellectual like so many that post here. This is the opinion of the little guy. I think what has gotten us to where we are today is not a few wrong moves but a lot of wrong moves both small and big. You guys have named a few of them but they are many. I think I can tell you where we are going to end up if we don’t change direction. We have allowed our government, all government, to bloat itself on our taxes, government wants to control every aspect of the citizen’s lives. This desire to control will eventually kill our economy. If our economy collapses, government will soon collapse. Chaos and foreign invasion could follow. Government has absolutely no self control.

    Can anything save us?
    Possibly a coup by our military could save us but I don’t think that is very likely.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      We have allowed our government, all government, to bloat itself on our taxes, government wants to control every aspect of the citizen’s lives. This desire to control will eventually kill our economy.

      Mr. Cynic, I don’t doubt that we’re talking a whole lot of causes. And, yes, government wants to control many aspects of our lives. But it’s important to look at why it is doing so….or at least under what flag it is doing so.

      They’re trying to help us. And there is no end to the things they’re going to try to help us with. And I shouldn’t say “they” as if government was a disembodied thing. The typical “Progressive” mindset (not that different from conservatives, when it comes down to it) is that there is a never-ending amount of problems they can solve via government. Most people, right or left, have accepted this. And you can see this if only by the general sense of outrage or offense if some politician were to say,”It’s not government’s job to ameliorate x, y, or z.”

      It is now considered to be abandoning people if government doesn’t at least try to help once a problem has been identified (that is, “politicized”). How many Republicans jumped up and told Sandra Fluke (if only through the channels of the press), “It’s your own damn job to buy your own damn contraceptives.” I don’t remember a single one.

      Any how many Republicans stand up and say, “If you want into this country, there is a legal process for it. If you’re in this country now illegally, you must be deported. There are people who are playing by the rules who are still waiting to get in. You deserve no special favors and have certainly earned the retribution of the law.”

      No. Any such talk is (in this feminized, nurturing, “nice” culture) considered beastly behavior. This is where we are. The very idea of people doing what they should be doing for themselves is now almost an offensive concept. To suggest they obey the law, whether at the border or in Ferguson, is considered an outrage. It’s “racist.”

      No doubt this has happened via some alchemic convergence between a Utopian-minded people and a government class that is only too glad to grow its power. But it has happened. And government will continue to grow until it is safe to say in public, “Buy your own damn contraceptives” or “If you want free health care, go find the magic money tree and pluck a few dollars off it. Short of that, there is no free lunch.”

      Nobody talks like that anymore, not even Ted Cruz (or maybe just Ted Cruz).

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Back in (I think) the 1960s there was a comic strip (a friend once got a book of them, which is how I know of it) on the theme of “There oughta be a law.” This was humorous, of course, but it also reflects the inclination to solve every problem with another law.

  7. Bell Phillips says:

    Forgive me if this is already well known here, but there is an excellent piece titled The Fate of Empires written by Sir John Glubb in the 1970’s. It can be found at http://people.uncw.edu/kozloffm/glubb.pdf

    He talks about the stages of development of various empires throughout history going back to the Assyrians. Looking back at all of his examples, it seems almost inevitable that we are where we are. He shows that empires go through 6 stages of development, with the age of decadence being the final one before collapse.

    My plan is to have no children.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I remain skeptical about reducing all of civilization (even just the empires) to six steps. Still, whatever the case may be, I think it’s safe to say we’ve entered the decadence stage.

  8. GHG says:

    Brad said “ But it’s interesting that this site has a very strong (somewhat traditional) Christian influence, and yet many have not named He Who Must Not Be Named (and I mean the religion of Leftism …”

    I mentioned “enlightenment philosophies” in the list of potential causes in the original post and I certainly agree that Marxism/leftism/progressivism has had a profound effect on our culture over the past 100+ years. However, that doesn’t get to the heart of the matter I wish to explore with this discussion. I may be guilty of scope creep or lack of clarity in what I hoped to explore, but my curiosity has more to do with how the levers of government were changed then with how our hearts and minds were changed. There were structural changes that enabled the government to go beyond the Constitutional contract. Our elected officials used the levers at their disposal to shape the relationship between the government and the governed, reflective of the ruling philosophy. But the leftists in power didn’t (until recently) affect changes by fiat – the infrastructure was waiting there for them to use. How the infrastructure was so dramatically changed interests me more than how the malleable human heart and mind were seduced by the spirit of the age. I have no confusion as to why leftists steer the ship to the left, I want to have a better understanding of why the ship is so much easier to turn than it was originally.

    As an example; the public education system is now under government control at one level or another. It wasn’t always that way. The US Dept. of Education was created by President Carter, but prior to that governmental oversight of public education was under the umbrella of several departments through the years. What were the changes that brought us from point A (private education) to point Z (governmental mandated indoctrination). Yes, the leftist influence pushed the curricular envelope, but the government’s relationship with education was changed to allow that to happen. What changed it, or what safeguard had been removed that would have prevented it?

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Public education under local/state control goes back at least to the 19th century (and one reason for it was to reduce the influence of Catholic parochial schools). Federal influence was minimal until Lyndon the Bane came along and decided that the lack of constitutional support for a federal role in education (which had gotten him in trouble in a college course, an event he petulantly resented decades later) was irrelevant. Jimmy the Creep split Education off from HEW as a favor to the NEA. Of course, with increasing federal funding comes increasing federal control, and especially increasing federal use of education as indoctrination — but the NEA would already be doing that as much as possible anyway, being very left-wing. So the real key may have been allowing unionized teachers.

      • GHG says:

        Great comment Timothy. Just the kind of stuff I was hoping for. It doesn’t get all the way back to the kernel but it illuminates some of the more recent in a chain of causes. Allowing union influence was certainly a major contributing factor in degrading the education system.

  9. NAHALKIDES NAHALKIDES says:

    Well, Mr. Lesser, I wonder if you realize the magnitude of the questions you’re asking! Even I, well known for lengthy articles and even lengthy replies to the posts of others, would not attempt to answer any of them, much less all of them, in any detail. And yet, you have hit upon some very vital and timely questions, and as I have on my own already considered them in the past, I can’t resist the urge to at least suggest the outlines of what I feel the answers are.

    1. The U.S. Constitution – the salient fact here is that the Constitution has undoubtedly failed, as the U.S. is currently (by my reckoning) a “soft” tyranny not far behind Europe on the path to “hard” tyranny. Allow me to suggest that certain small errors in the Constitution – for example the Interstate Commerce Clause – allowed men of the Left to deliberately misinterpret its limitations on government power and get away with it. More significantly, the system of checks and balances, so beloved by John Adams, was never designed to thwart a monolithic political Left hell-bent on acquiring power and dominating all three branches of government.
    Yes, there are some possible remedies, but getting into them requires more space that we have here.

    2. Judicial Review (Marbury v. Madison). Was it constitutional to begin with? Has it blurred the separation of powers? Are the results good or bad?

    There remain some Conservatives who are convinced this was the beginning of the end. Well-intentioned though they may be, they couldn’t be more wrong. Whatever the problems with Marbury – and there are many, mostly revolving around the fact that Chief Justice Marshall’s decision was largely obiter dictum (beyond what was necessary to decide the case) – as I have pointed out here on ST in the past, Judicial Review is the principal method a free people have to protect themselves from legislative overreach. Without it, our only protection from not only the majority, but the party the majority votes into power, would be the threats of secession (partition) or revolution – hardly the best way to maintain freedom, necessary though these expedients may be in extreme circumstances. Indeed, there is little purpose in having a written constitution designed to constrain government if the courts may not follow that constitution to declare legislative acts void. The abuse of this power by the aforementioned monolithic Left does not change this fact.

    Ask yourself this question: would we not be better off if much legislation were struck down as unconstitutional, from Obamacare to most of the regulatory and welfare states?

    3. Lincoln’s nationalism and the Civil War’s effect on federalism and state sovereignty. The abolition of slavery was a worthy “end,” but did the “means” weaken the structure of our federal republic and give over some parts of state sovereignty to the federal government. And is that good or bad?

    Actually, the worst effect of the Civil War today is to have discredited the very idea of nullification and/or secession, which are logically implied by the Declaration of Independence as legitimate means of addressing the abuse of the Federal power. The problem with the South was that it seceded not to vindicate individual rights, but to abrogate them. If this country is past the tipping point, where the Left wins every national election, then secession is our only hope and the idea must be rehabilitated – something the example of the Confederate South makes difficult.

    Were freedom-loving states to secede today, they would not be following the example of the South but rather of a hypothetical North, which could have been forced to secede c. 1860 had the South been able to win every Federal election, the game having been rigged by, say, the 3/5 compromise that allowed it a great advantage over the North, in order to keep the South from spreading slavery all over the Western Territories and eventually the old North itself.

    4. The Sherman Anti-trust act and other economic legislation were intended to create a level playing field. Were the results beneficial or harmful to America’s free market system in the long run?

    Unquestionably these acts did great harm. The underlying idea, that modern industrialism was somehow different morally and politically from the more agrarian era that preceded it and therefore required government intervention for social purposes, was in error. So was the concept of a business “affected with the public interest” which was a ruse to allow government to control business.

    5. You didn’t mention this, but in any democracy, what will ultimately prove fatal is to allow any group to vote itself a share of the property of any other group. The result is perpetual pressure group warfare and the moral corruption of the electorate. To put it another way, the Welfare State is both corrupt and corrupting.

  10. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    It appears many here believe that something approaching perfection in governance can be effected by mankind.

    “If we had only not passed this law or if only that court case had not come before the Supremes.” These and other “ifs” gnaw at the insides of many, but such “ifs” are generally only small steps in a historical process which we have always had the ability to shape.

    John Adams had it right when he wrote”

    Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

    Therefore, I believe Nik has called things right. There is no perfection in anything, especially human governance. But with a moral people, imperfections which arise can be discussed and corrected to some degree.

    However there comes a point at which a country with a large percentage of immoral wastrels, begins to destroy itself. When what is right loses out to what is legal. When individualism becomes a god on the one side and the commune becomes a god on the other. When common sense and work are sneered at by too many.

    At such a time, the actual meaning of a constitution becomes secondary. It is just words on a piece of parchment which can be twisted this way or that. To Marbury or not to Marbury is no longer the question.

    When the public are so ignorant or complacent as to believe our leaders who say black is white, down is up and bad is good, then theoretical propositions ala “if we had only just..” seem, to me, less important than what are we going to do to correct the situation.

    Here endeth my Monday morning rant.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Good points, Mr. Kung. And Mr. Adams’ quote is extremely relevant to this whole subject. Any set of laws is going to find it hard to stand up to people who do not respect the rule of law itself. And the Left does not.

      And we can talk about the reasons why the wet, wimpy, GOP Establishment does not defend the rule of law either. There is a different kind of rot in there indeed, but it aids and abets the Left’s lawlessness.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      A very good point. Another occurred to me this morning when I was thinking about this question. American exceptionalism has many explanations, but one is that the USA is the only country in which freedom and opportunity are more important than security, and — a related issue — in which one’s place in life is primarily thought to be the result of one’s own efforts rather than imposed by societal forces. As long as those were true of most Americans, this was still (despite the inevitable flaws of any nation) the America of our founders. But as more and more people value security over freedom, and as more and more feel that their own efforts are irrelevant (which can be a very convenient feeling), American increasingly becomes a part of Europe (or, even worse, a mixture of Europe and the Third World — which in fact is happening in Europe as well).

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        But as more and more people value security over freedom, and as more and more feel that their own efforts are irrelevant (which can be a very convenient feeling), American increasingly becomes a part of Europe…

        Good points, Timothy. And you’re also supporting my “feminine fascism” theory. 🙂 It is indeed security that is being valued over freedom.

        But I don’t boil it all down to that, although I do think it is a powerful factor.

        As you could probably guess, I would have been a Washingtonian/Adamsonian (is that a word?) Federalist rather than a Jeffersonian Republican. I’ll state my biases up front so no one has to try to divine what the hell I’m saying. But I do believe there is room for both of those points of view. And I think Jefferson called it when he said:

        When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe.

        He said that from his agrarian/Utopian point of view. No wonder he and Madison were near mortal enemies of Hamilton who was most decidedly for pilling, at least industry, up in the large cities (and small cities, and medium-sized cities for that matter).

        We know which force of nature won that battle. We’re now piled up into cities to a large degree. And I do think that changes the nature of a nation. It can’t be just a coincidence that rural areas tend to be more conservative and urban areas are full of libtards. One can go a bit cuckoo about the supposed beauty and purity of the soil (which, as I understand it, was part of the grounding of Hitler’s approach, the idealization and mythification of the common German man of the soil). But I do think, all things being equal, it’s those in the city who are easily corrupted. After all, small farm towns are not generally the centers for prostitution, drug use, sexual perversion, and crime. Cities are.

        In many ways, this next American Century will be determined by how we learn to live in cities without corrupting ourselves. So far the evidence does not look promising. We have built marvelous engineering edifices. The infrastructure is top-notch and represents the height of man’s physical abilities. But increasingly the moral, financial, economic, and politic foundation of it all is built upon sand. Enjoy the gleaming towers while they last, for Detroit could be in many city’s future.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          One might also note that one early concern about genuine democracy was that employees’ votes could theoretically be controlled by their employers (“Vote as I want — or else”), especially in that era when there was no true secret ballot. Even secret ballots are imperfect that way, and increasing use of absentee ballots means increasingly un-secret ballots — and thus the potential for increasing control of ballots by interested organizations (such as black churches busing the congregation to a vote center, and making sure they all vote — and pull the tail of the donkey in doing so).

        • NAHALKIDES NAHALKIDES says:

          Another important point, Brad. Americans are divided in many ways, and the city/rural divide is a very strong one. I would suggest that farm life necessitates a good deal of independence and self-reliance, the occasional Amish-style barn-raising notwithstanding, and such people are natural Conservatives. City life in many ways is simply too soft, and there dwell our corrupt intellectual class and also the many useless children of the wealthy who never learned that wealth has to be earned because they were simply born into it. Also, the educational and governmental elite are all city folk.

          It has occurred to me lately that the time-honored principle of majority governance (not unlimited majority rule) is probably only suitable for a homogeneous society; perhaps at the state level it should be one county, one vote.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            The philosophical argument of country vs city has been going on since, at least, ancient Greece.

            In my opinion, one of the most corrupting aspects of the big city is the anonymity. In a place where one is not known, one’s neighbors are often strangers with equally shallow roots in the area. There is often little concern for the guy next door, much less the man across the street. Traditional moral constraints are loosened and the deviant heart is set free.

            the occasional Amish-style barn-raising notwithstanding,

            I believe such activities are good examples of conservatism. Conservatives know we live in communities. We know we interact and depend on each other. In such circumstances, helping one’s neighbors is something which should be seen as a normal and conservative activity. We may all need help one day and freely given help from others is certainly more conservative than help forced through governmental coercion.

            This leads to your point:

            It has occurred to me lately that the time-honored principle of majority governance (not unlimited majority rule) is probably only suitable for a homogeneous society; perhaps at the state level it should be one county, one vote.

            This is something which people have thought for a long time. People are basically tribal. Pluralistic societies do not function as smoothly as societies in which most people believe they all belong to the same group.

            Language, culture and traditions play a huge part in this.

            Is it not clear to everyone who is willing to speak honestly that the Left clearly understand this and the Balkanization of the USA is one of their primary goals/ All this talk about diversity is simply Leftist propaganda which has taken deep root in our country. Does anyone doubt that the Liar in Chief holds a grudge against those of European heritage, wherever they may be, and the weakening of America is one of his political goals?

          • Timothy Lane says:

            There is a conservative streak among farmers, but it’s hardly immune to the corruption of government money in the form of farm subsidies. The biggest beneficiaries are actually rich or big businesses, but many small farmers insist on them too. Notice that Ted Cruz was the only Republican candidate to go against the ethanol mandate in Iowa. This has been a problem for at least half a century, because Eugene Burdick had one of his characters observe this in his 1962 novel The 480.

            I will also note that the rural/urban divide has a big affect on gun laws. This was an important aspect of The Road to Damascus. which I reviewed here a while back.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              Anyone can be bought with government money. Even farmers. I’m sure somewhere there is an Uncle Screwtape who was quite pleased with Social Security.

      • NAHALKIDES NAHALKIDES says:

        Undoubtedly, Tim, that this is a critical question. And we can immediately see the problem with third-world immigration, where contrary to Establishment GOP “wisdom,” immigrants come to America not for freedom but for economic security, and those are two very different things.

        An excellent point.

  11. Timothy Lane says:

    There are a couple of interesting items that could probably fit in here as well as they could anywhere. First, Kurt Schlichter tweeted a suggestion that the GOP should put up an anti-Iran deal that bans executive agreements with countries that execute homosexuals. The idea is that liberals have no objection to dealing with those who hate America (which liberals do too, after all) and wish to exterminate Israel (which liberals no longer object to, especially when it has a Likud government), but would be reluctant to challenge the Lavender Thought Police. To be sure, Iran is hardly the only nation to execute homosexuals, but it’s the only one where Barry Screwtape Obama wants to do an executive agreement against the will of Congress.

    One suggestion I would have, incidentally, is doing two bills. One would ban such agreements with countries whose leaders openly call for the destruction of America and the other would follow Schlichter’s suggestion. Anyone care to bet which would receive more liberal support?

    The other interesting news is that FEMA will never provide money for emergency preparations to states whose governors disagree with the Fascist Messiah on global warming aka climate change aka climate disruption. It’s the perfect example of the Obama Gang in action — intolerant of dissent (and thus undoubtedly very popular with bigoted liberals, if you’ll pardon the redundancy), arrogant, dictated without regard for other branches of government. (Sic semper tyrannis, anyone?)

    The link for a Hot Air discussion of the Schlichter tweet is:

    http://hotair.com/archives/2015/03/23/how-to-scare-democrats-into-abandoning-obamas-nuclear-deal/

  12. GHG says:

    I don’t want to be redundant with positions already expressed, but I would like explore the effect of stare decisis on jurisprudence through the door opened by judicial review. I have appreciation for the consistency stare decisis provides, but as with other tools it can wield good or bad results depending how it is used. It seems to me that it has too often resulted in edict built upon dictum which is rarely tied back to the original principle. The result is common law, based on cascading precedent, superseding statutory law. I don’t know of a solution but this seems far from the intent of separation of powers.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Liberals are very fond of stare decisis — once they’ve ignored it to create a new leftist precedent. Thus, a liberal would insist that overturning Lawrence v. Texas is a violation of proper procedure — and never mind that Lawrence v. Texas overturned Bowers v. Hardwick. Thus, the problem with stare decisis all too often is that it forces a steady (if sometimes slow) ratchet leftward of SCOTUS decisions.

  13. GHG says:

    NAHALKIDES asked me “I wonder if you realize the magnitude of the questions you’re asking! “

    I wouldn’t say I didn’t realize the magnitude, but I will say that I now have a better appreciation for the impossibility of answering these types of questions in an informal setting. I’m still curious to learn more of the machinations that got us to where we are at today, but I think the focus would need to narrow considerably to have any chance to plumb the depths necessary to answer this type of question. I may not throw in the towel completely on this general topic, but this experience has shown me to be much more focused the next time, if there is a next time.

    That said, I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated the comments, so I do feel this was a worthwhile learning experience.

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