How’s this crumpet to accompany the morning tea? Under the rubric “insanity” a friend just wrote with the news that the Department of Education has opened a civil rights investigation into New College of Florida. Why? Have they excluded black students from the tennis team? Have they made Mexican students sleep in the parking lot? Nothing so minor. No, this is serious. Put a pat of butter on that crumpet and listen: the former director of “DEI” (“diversity, equity, inclusion” for the innocents among my readers) has revealed that Chris Rufo, a trustee of New College, “mocked and misgendered” this creature after she (or so I am guessing) complained.
Serious stuff. Can a dawn raid from the Stasi (aka, the FBI) be far behind?
The news is full of such reports these days. It is partly comic, yes, but also, when you step back, profoundly depressing, for at least two reasons.
First, with respect to the individuals involved, it is evidence of a profound psychological disturbance, a wound, as it were. Anyone who tells you that she (or, as the case may be, “he”) wants to be referred to as “ze/zir” (or whatever) is issuing not only a bid for attention but a cry for help. Such folks have my (qualified) compassion.
But when we see an agency of the federal government blunder into the case with talk of “civil rights” violations and so on, such episodes are occasions for melancholy thoughts about a government that is out of control.
Indeed, such episodes—and they are legion—have me pondering various bits of wisdom from James Madison, not least this somber observation from Federalist 51:
“In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
It seems to me that it could have been written, not in the 18th century, but yesterday. We’ve done pretty well seeing to the first bit: who cannot contemplate the coercive arm of the government without uneasiness? But what about the second bit? How are we doing about obliging the government to control itself? To ask the question is to answer it. And Madison’s succeeding observation is equally to the point:
“A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”
“Auxiliary precautions.” What do they look like?
It is here that Madison lays out part of his brilliant scheme of balancing the various interests of society against one another so that no one can predominate. “This policy,” says Madison, “of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public.” He continues:
“We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other — that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the State.”
Indeed. And there are many examples one might point to close at home that dramatize what happens when those “inventions of prudence” lapse.
It would be amusing to quiz those adipose functionaries at superfluous government agencies like the Department of Education about Madison’s teaching. What steps have you taken, a patient pedagogue might ask, to assure that your department, invested with the awesome power of the state, protects and preserves the freedoms of U.S. citizens? What “auxiliary precautions” have you mobilized to assure that your bit of the government “controls itself”?
These are questions I would also like to have put to Christopher Wray, director of our Stasi, and Merrick Garland, Obergruppenführer of the entity formerly known as the Department of Justice. Perhaps a picture book version of Madison’s thoughts could be prepared for His Vacancy In Chief, Joe Biden. It would be fascinating to hear what they had to say.