Thursday, July 5, 2012

Progressive Ideology and the Founding Fathers

This Independence Day, I noticed an interesting trend promoted by a number of progressive columnists to try to link their vision and their ideology to that of the Founding Fathers of the United States.  It is as if they are attempting to revise history in order to create a meme that the expansion of government, the expansion of entitlements, 'social justice', 'fairness', and 'fundamental change' they are currently pushing are no different from the steps the Patriots took to break with Great Britain and form the United States of America.

EJ Dionne, writing for the Washington Post, puts his case this way...
The Founders would no doubt be gratified that we still care so passionately about their work. But they might be quite surprised to learn how much of our health-care debate focused on a careful parsing of what the Constitution’s clauses on regulating commerce and levying taxes allowed us to do to solve a problem that would have been unknown to them. We would be truer to the Founders’ intentions and spirit if we followed Madison in having more confidence in our own good sense and our knowledge of our own situation.

The genius of the Founders is that they created a government designed to act, and so I’d propose a new patriotic ritual involving an annual reading of the preamble to our Constitution:

“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.”

Yes, the first word of the Constitution is “we,” and its purposes include establishing justice and promoting the general welfare. Before we expend enormous energy deciding how many angels can dance on the head of the commerce clause, we would usefully keep in mind the broader objectives of our great experiment.

Yes, let's not spend a lot of time or effort deciding how many angels can dance on the head of the Commerce clause, because the recent Supreme Court of the United States ruling on Obamacare's Individual mandate clearly answered that question. The SCOTUS ruling also clearly answered the question as to if the Individual mandate was constitutional under the 'Necessary and Proper' clause. In both cases, the majority of the Supreme Court of the United States clearly stated that the Individual mandate was unconstitutional under both of those clauses of the US Constitution. Furthermore, the opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts specifically took steps to narrow the interpretation of the Commerce clause - the first narrowing of it since it was expanded considerably during the New Deal era.

There is a fundamental difference between today's (or Woodrow Wilson's) progressives and the Founding Fathers of this country. The Founding Fathers clearly established the Constitution of the United States as a framework that limits the power of the federal government- defining specifically what the federal government could do and reserving all remaining powers to the states and the people of the United States. They defined a government that is accountable to the people - not a framework of a people accountable and responsible to / for the government.

They established a process for the 'evolution' of the Constitution - the process of passing amendments. They made this process particularly challenging so that it would not be easy to expand the reach and the power of the federal government without the direct consent of the governed.

The Founding Fathers of this country were motivated by the likes of John Locke and not the likes of Jean-Jacques Rousseau who is not only the model for progressives, but also for the Jacobin's of the French Revolution, the Bolsheviks, the Nazis, Mao's Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot, and OccupyWallStreet.

Rousseau saw government as the tool to implement the 'general will' with a few defining that 'general will'. He advocated the use of the unchecked power of the state so that the government (or state) would be able to 'force men to be free' and be more 'moral' that they would be outside of the direct control and influence of the state. The first major implementation of the Rousseau approach came through the Jacobin's of the French Revolution - a revolution that shares only the term 'revolution' with that of the American Revolution. The Jacobin's envisioned a new society - a 'fundamental change' and ruthlessly with the power of the state and Madame Guillotine embarked on a bloody reign of terror to ensure the creation of the new society.  It did not last.

Unlike the American Republic which has lasted 236 years, the French Revolution ended in a dictatorship, followed by a return to the monarchy, and nearly 80 years passing before a republic would be formed.  Today, if I counted correctly, France is on it's fifth republic.  We remain on our first.

Rousseau's concept of 'We' was in that the collective, the believers, needed to use the power of the state to reconstruct society to meet the demands of the 'general will' - which is exactly what Dionne means when he says 'promoting the general welfare' as well as his focus on 'We'...

This is all about the power of the state, the power of the collective we, to ensure and justify that their ends are obtained regardless of the wishes, desires, or freedom of the individual.

The 'classical liberalism' of John Locke has nothing in common with today's liberals or progressives. Classical liberalism advocates limited government, constitutionalism, rule of law, due process, individual liberties including freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and free markets. It draws heavily on Adam Smith's writings, in particular 'Wealth of Nations' when it comes to economics, trade, and the marketplace.

The Founding Fathers, in their forming of the United States, built a country on the foundation of this classical liberalism. This foundation of classical liberalism is the cornerstone of not only the core American values that we treasure, but the values of today's Reagan / Buckley conservatives. What we wish to 'conserve' is this foundation based on classical liberalism introduced to us by those remarkable men who we call our country's Founding Fathers.

What we celebrate on the Fourth of July is their vision and wisdom...and it is our conservative principles that are, Mr. Dionne, true to the Founders' intentions and spirit of a nation based on 'classical liberalism'.

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