American Conservatism • Center for American Greatness • Conservatives • Declaration of Independence • Harry Jaffa • Post

Nationalism Is Not Enough

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President Trump’s furious admonition to four extreme leftist members of Congress to educate themselves in the miseries of their ancestral homelands was met with spiteful indignation. In the media version, innocent ingenues defended their honor and their rights against a predatory, racist president.

In truth this fight is about American nationalism or patriotism versus Third World nationalism or identity politics. In brief remarks at the recent conference on National Conservatism, I asserted that a key book for understanding the issue of identity politics is The Rediscovery of America: Essays by Harry V Jaffa on the New Birth of Politics, which I co-edited with Edward J. Erler. In the words of a recent, insightful book about the late Claremont Institute political philosopher, Steven Hayward argues that Jaffa’s conservative worldview might be summarized as “patriotism is not enough. 

But that necessary condition for successful politics—patriotism—requires in addition the sufficient condition for national greatness, the most interesting part of Jaffa’s thought, that America was founded as the best possible political order, as foreshadowed in the Declaration of Independence. As Erler puts it, “Jaffa never tired of repeating, the theology of the Declaration was one of reason and revelation.”

But Jaffa was not advocating blind worship of anything. The centrality of the inquisitiveness of both philosophy and religion as key elements of this sufficient condition are presented in a thoughtful review of Rediscovery of America by David Tucker, a Jaffa student and a colleague of mine at Ashland University’s Ashbrook Center. His argument about Jaffa both complements and clashes with Erler’s and mine and is, with David Bahr’s review, a welcome addition to figuring out both the major themes and subtleties of Jaffa’s teaching.

For Tucker, the question to ask about this extraordinary thinker is “Why did Harry Jaffa change his mind?” This is no splenetic academic food-fight. At stake is how we understand our patriotism and our nationalism, and our minds and hearts.

Here’s the problem: Jaffa’s earlier book on Lincoln, Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates (1959) was hailed by leading Civil War historians and political theorists as a dazzling achievement of scholarship and analysis. This was followed, over 40 years later, by the long-promised A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War, a book that was hailed by many scholars but with less enthusiasm than the first one. 

Tucker summarizes the gap between the two books: Jaffa’s earlier Lincoln “gave the nation a new birth of freedom by creatively interpreting the claim that all men are created equal as a noble, transcendent idea of justice . . . . Whereas Crisis presented Lincoln as overcoming Jefferson, New Birth presented Lincoln as Jefferson’s greatest student.” The “transcendent morality” and, in Lincoln’s words, “sacred principle” of the Declaration of Independence made free self-government possible. The great strength of Tucker’s review is his clear explanation of this change in Jaffa’s thinking. I will, however, emphasize certain points.

In Jaffa’s later view, Lincoln was not fighting Jefferson’s modernity—that is, his political reliance on low self-interest—but rather he was preserving the “noble, transcendent,” original understanding of Jefferson and the other founders.

Here I need to dissent from Tucker’s further characterization of our collection. Contrary to what Jaffa himself wrote, Tucker argues that his last book, Crisis of the Strauss Divided: Essays on Leo Strauss and Straussianism, East and West “provides his own explanation” of his change. This book of quirky and self-referential title emphasizes the theme of reason and revelation in the thought of his teacher Leo Strauss and Jaffa’s disputes with other students of Strauss. Along with his other two books it is indispensable for understanding Jaffa. In brief, Jaffa wanted to prevent the American Founding from being mischaracterized as an anticipation of radical modernity—Madison giving way to Rousseau, Franklin to Nietzsche, and so on. Whatever shortcomings some of their abstract arguments may have had, their superior prudence or political judgment makes them our heroes today.

Jaffa’s observation from the first essay in Rediscovery shows how he dealt with Tucker’s objection: “That the Founding, which Lincoln inherited, was dominated by an Aristotelian Locke—or a Lockean Aristotle—has been a conspicuous theme of my writing since 1987.”

Our book includes major Jaffa essays that focus on this “conspicuous theme.” The Declaration itself speaks of “‘Safety and happiness,’ the alpha and omega of political life in Aristotle’s Politics.” Happiness was not some happy hour of pleasure but the pursuit of virtue. The American founding, in essence, was Aristotelian, not Hobbesian or “modern.” Its aims were those of the classical best regime and, moreover, took into account the radical change brought about by Christianity.

Thus, “Law for an ancient city and for a modern state . . . must of necessity be very different. It must be very different as to the ways and means by which it is formed, yet altogether the same for the human ends it must serve.” The prevention of tyranny (and the preservation of freedom) required recognition of the change from the gods of the ancient city to Christian monotheism: “Each individual is a citizen, actual or potential, of the City of God, before being a citizen of his own particular country.”

Oddly, Tucker finds an anti-Jefferson spirit in even the cover of the book “which features the faces of Lincoln and Washington” but also, he neglects to mention, the beginning of the Declaration, which is central and foundational. Americans, after all, are right to embrace Jefferson’s Declaration while at the same time being more selective about some of his modern philosophical tendencies, on display in his Notes on the State of Virginia, subject of a careful exposition by Tucker.

Jaffa could argue, Tucker summarizes, that “America was the best regime because for the first time in western civilization a political order did equal justice to the ‘two irrefutable and irreducible principles of human life,’ reason and revelation,” philosophy and biblical religion. Tucker’s own description rings true: “When he wrote Crisis, he was under the spell of his great books education acquired with Strauss but had not studied politics enough . . . . Jaffa thus escaped the Strauss school, while others did not. This explains Jaffa’s criticism of mere book learning and his remark to [Harvey] Mansfield that he (Mansfield) had to attend to political thought not just the history of philosophy.” Here, Tucker refers to a previously unpublished exchange in 1996 between Jaffa and Harvard’s Harvey Mansfield, a 120-page section titled “The Decline and Fall of the American Idea: Reflections on the Failure of American Conservatism.”

This failure could be seen in the political trajectory of what initially appeared to be an affirmation of Jaffa’s early Crisis of the House Divided argument for equality in the civil rights revolution.

The Civil Rights Movement’s plea for equality of rights soon turned against its natural rights foundation. And it became clear that the feminism that appropriated the civil rights revolution overthrew the authority of the Declaration, in the following way: “if public opinion no longer held that gender (sic) differences were natural, then it could no longer hold that any distinctions were natural.” This also explains why “Jaffa stoutly resisted such arguments [e.g., “for the acceptance of homosexuality”], referring to homosexuals as sodomites.” Thus, he saw that a moral revolution he initially favored and advanced as an affirmation of “equality” actually rejected equality as the foundation for political legitimacy and instead came to undermine “the authority of both reason and revelation, eroding the ground of civic friendship.”

This realization explains why Jaffa came to treat old friends and benefactors as enemies. In New Birth of Freedom, the opponents are conservative thinkers and jurists, not only the liberal historian villains of Crisis of the House Divided. Tucker incisively explains:

Jaffa came to see that Strauss’s thinking was turning into a school. This meant that political philosophy, rediscovered by Strauss, might disappear again. To preserve both the country and political philosophy, Jaffa returned to the beginning, reinterpreting the founding to emphasize its Biblical but, he now argued, no less rational morality.

Jaffa’s great purposes were patriotic, philosophic, and pious—he wanted it all. He wanted to be a good human being, which meant he also had to be a good citizen in the best regime, even as its founder in speech. He was a true friend of America, offering it unity in the bonds of mutual affection for the highest purposes.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

Photo Credit: iStock/Getty Images

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America • Declaration of Independence • History • Post • The Constitution

Memo to Kaepernick: Read More Frederick Douglass

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Many observers were quick to correct Colin Kaepernick’s recent selective quoting from Frederick Douglass’s speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” They were right to do so. Misrepresenting anyone’s words in the manner that Kaepernick did breaks one of the first rules of good writing.

In spite of his error, thanks are due as well to him for bringing attention to a very fine speech that all Americans should read. Another of Douglass’s speeches that I urge Mr. Kaepernick and others to read addresses the great document that stands next to the Declaration of Independence: the United States Constitution.

Douglass, born into slavery, escaped and purchased his freedom with the help of others who raised funds. He eventually moved to Rochester, New York and worked to end slavery by helping people reach freedom on the Underground Railroad, supporting anti-slavery political parties, and publishing his own antislavery newspaper, The North Star. It was at the invitation of the Rochester Ladies Anti-Slavery Society that he appeared on July 5, 1852 to deliver the Independence Day speech. The circumstances for his speech on the Constitution were very different. The title of the speech is in the form of a question: “The Constitution of the United States: Is It Pro-Slavery or Anti-slavery?

After Douglass’s escape from slavery he worked with the Anti-Slavery Society founded by William Lloyd Garrison. The American Anti-Slavery Convention convened in 1833 in Philadelphia to address the enslavement of one-sixth portion of the American people. They looked back 57 years to 1776 and acknowledged the effort to deliver America from a foreign yoke, stating that the Temple of Freedom was founded on the principles of the Declaration—that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights. They contrasted their efforts of relying on the spiritual and working through God to the efforts of the Founders who were forced to wage war and marshal arms. They also believed that the Constitution was a pro-slavery document.

Douglass, however, eventually split from Garrison over his interpretation of the Constitution and the use of politics and force to end slavery.

Douglass delivered the Constitution speech in Glasgow, Scotland in 1860. He began by drawing out a contrast between the American government and the American Constitution, which is always worth doing. “They are distinct in character as is a ship and a compass. The one may point right and the other steer wrong. A chart is one thing, the course of the vessel is another. The Constitution may be right, the Government is wrong.”

The issue then was not whether slavery existed at the time of the Founding, but rather whether the Constitution guarantees a right to one class to enslave or hold as property people of another class and should the union be dissolved over disagreement about the question. The Garrisonians held that the Constitution did hold such guarantees and it that it should be dissolved as a “compact with the devil.” In addition, they refused to vote or  hold office in what they understood to be a corrupt system. Douglass stated his position to the contrary: “I, on the other hand, deny that the Constitution guarantees the right to hold property in man, and believe that the way to abolish slavery in America is to vote such men into power as will use their powers for the abolition of slavery.”

The Constitution, Douglass explained, was ratified by the people and it is only they who can alter, amend, or add to it. He took issue with those who look away from the text and dismissed commentaries and creeds written by those who wished to give the text a different meaning or who searched for secret motives or dishonest intentions of those who wrote it.

He gave examples of those who misrepresented the language of the Constitution and corrected them by giving a faithful reading of the words and an interpretation consistent with the historical evidence before him. He also reminded his listeners that the preamble begins with “We, the people of these United States” and “not we the white people, not even we the citizens, not we the privileged class, not we the high, not we the low, but we the people; not we the horses, sheep, and swine, and wheel-barrows, but we the people, we the human inhabitants; and, if Negroes are people, they are included in the benefits for which the Constitution of America was ordained and established.”

Douglass did not excuse those Americans who had given the Constitution a slaveholding interpretation, but dissolution of the union, for him, was not a remedy. He openly rejected Garrison’s call for no union with slaveholders as all Americans have a duty to return the plundered rights of the black people.

Douglass had previously spoken in Glasgow in 1849 when he held different views from the ones that he advanced in his 1860 speech. He readily admitted to the positions that he held previously. “When I escaped from slavery, and was introduced to the Garrisonians, I adopted very many of their opinions, and defended them just as long as I deemed them true,” he said. “I was young, had read but little, and naturally took some things on trust. Subsequent experience and reading have led me to examine for myself. This had brought me to other conclusions.”

We should heed the direction of Douglass to read and examine for ourselves and not hesitate to reevaluate our beliefs and opinions. Perhaps Colin Kaepernick will do as Frederick Douglass did in light of his misrepresentation of the latter. The Constitution speech is a good follow up for further study, but the best place to begin is with Douglass’s Autobiography, which gives the full measure of the man.

Photo Credit: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images

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America • Center for American Greatness • Conservatives • Declaration of Independence • Donald Trump • Post • Progressivism • The Culture • The Left

They Don’t Hate Donald Trump—They Hate You

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Fourth of July parades may be banned soon in America. 

Think I’m joking?

Do you remember after the “confederate statues” debate flared up again, President Trump asked a rather provocative question: “I wonder, it is George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?” 

At the time, of course, the president was ridiculed for even uttering such a thing. 

Well, here we are, less than 24 months after he made that prediction and Thomas Jefferson is next. And this time it’s not just a statue. 

This week, just in time for our nation’s biggest national holiday, the politicians who are charged with running his hometown have decided that our third president, the man who penned one of the most important documents in human history, is now déclassé, a dead white pillar of the patriarchy who must be consigned to the “ash heap of history.” 

With just one naysayer, the city council of Jefferson’s hometown, Charlottesville, have decreed that from July 1, 2019 forth the holiday celebrating his birth is to be held no more. They have decreed that they will hold “Liberation and Freedom Day” instead as a rebuke to the former slaveowner who was a champion of Enlightenment values and the father of the University of Virginia. 

This is not a one-off. Nor is it just about history. It’s about the here and now. In fact, if you call yourself a patriot and love America, this is very much about you.

Deliberately in preparation for this year’s Independence Day celebrations, the New York Times posted a truly reprehensible “video essay” titled “Please Stop Telling Me America Is Great.” An admixture of out-and-out lies, distortions, and unbelievably cherry-picked statistics, the video ends with this admonition: “America may have once been the greatest, but today, America, we’re just OK.”

Just OK? Is that why fathers risk the lives of themselves and their 2-year-old daughters attempting to traverse the Rio Grande? 

Just OK? The nation that saw 620,000 of it’s own citizens die in its bloodiest war ever, a war to end slavery? 

Just OK? The nation whose GI’s stormed the beaches of Normandy and whose Marines took Iwo Jima in a global war that we did not start and in which we had aggressed no one? 

Just OK? The nation that stared down the deadliest ideology in human history, one that cost the lives of 100 million human souls until its embodiment, the Soviet Union collapsed? That nation is “just OK?” 

Name one other nation that meets just one similar criterion, let alone all of them. Just one.

Forget the rank perversion of the staff at the New York Times—to include all the editors and executive staff who had to clear such a piece of blatant anti-American propaganda—instead, just posit the simple question: if America isn’t “great,” then what is? 

Are the countries of Europe, which started both the first and the second world wars, which invented the concentration camps and then perfected genocide, which today are, for the most part, committing a slow collective suicide, politically and demographically—are they great?

Is Russia great for the New York Times, the nation whose leader “colluded” with our president despite all the evidence to the contrary? 

Or China, the actual dictatorship that still has labor camps today

How about Iran, the terrorist-sponsoring theocracy facilitated to the tune of $150 billion by our last self-loathing president and which threatens us daily? Is that nation great for the New York Times

What about Iran’s other sworn enemy, Israel? Can you imagine what the staffers who wrote and produced “Please Stop Telling Me America Is Great” would respond if asked whether Israel is “great?” Their responses would likely come straight out of the anti-Semitic talking points of Ilan Omar or Rashida Tlaib

The attack on historic statues, the attack on the memory of our Founding Fathers, the attack on our national holiday, isn’t just politics. It isn’t simply about hating the man who will be the focal point of today’s celebrations in Washington, D.C. This is about America and it’s about you, if you love America.

I know Donald Trump. I advised him on national security when he was one of 17 GOP candidates and then served as his strategist when he became president. 

My decision to do so was easy because within minutes of meeting him, I knew two things about the man: he was, and still is, not a politician, and he loves our country. And this is exactly why you were not meant to choose him. 

He is not part of the “elite” political class that had run our country into the ground over the preceding decades, and he did not believe that we should live in a borderless world where the writ of the United Nations is more important than what the American people want for our country. Nor did he subscribe to the establishment belief that America’s future was simply a future of “managed decline.” Donald Trump believed that America can be made great again, and it was in fact that simple belief, tuned into the MAGA campaign slogan that would propel our first non-general, non-politician into the White House. 

In the scant two-and-a-half years since his inauguration, on every field, from national security, to economics, to domestic policy, to our global standing, the 45th president has proven that not only are we a great nation but that we are again the greatest nation on the Earth. That is what the Left hates him. But they hated you first because you believed it too and you made his victory possible. 

Savor that thought today, as you celebrate our Republic and as the those who loathe America stew in their own bile. 

Happy Independence Day America.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

Photo credit: Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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America • Center for American Greatness • Conservatives • Declaration of Independence • Donald Trump • Post • Progressivism • The Culture • The Left

They Don’t Hate Donald Trump—They Hate You

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Fourth of July parades may be banned soon in America. 

Think I’m joking?

Do you remember after the “confederate statues” debate flared up again, President Trump asked a rather provocative question: “I wonder, it is George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?” 

At the time, of course, the president was ridiculed for even uttering such a thing. 

Well, here we are, less than 24 months after he made that prediction and Thomas Jefferson is next. And this time it’s not just a statue. 

This week, just in time for our nation’s biggest national holiday, the politicians who are charged with running his hometown have decided that our third president, the man who penned one of the most important documents in human history, is now déclassé, a dead white pillar of the patriarchy who must be consigned to the “ash heap of history.” 

With just one naysayer, the city council of Jefferson’s hometown, Charlottesville, have decreed that from July 1, 2019 forth the holiday celebrating his birth is to be held no more. They have decreed that they will hold “Liberation and Freedom Day” instead as a rebuke to the former slaveowner who was a champion of Enlightenment values and the father of the University of Virginia. 

This is not a one-off. Nor is it just about history. It’s about the here and now. In fact, if you call yourself a patriot and love America, this is very much about you.

Deliberately in preparation for this year’s Independence Day celebrations, the New York Times posted a truly reprehensible “video essay” titled “Please Stop Telling Me America Is Great.” An admixture of out-and-out lies, distortions, and unbelievably cherry-picked statistics, the video ends with this admonition: “America may have once been the greatest, but today, America, we’re just OK.”

Just OK? Is that why fathers risk the lives of themselves and their 2-year-old daughters attempting to traverse the Rio Grande? 

Just OK? The nation that saw 620,000 of it’s own citizens die in its bloodiest war ever, a war to end slavery? 

Just OK? The nation whose GI’s stormed the beaches of Normandy and whose Marines took Iwo Jima in a global war that we did not start and in which we had aggressed no one? 

Just OK? The nation that stared down the deadliest ideology in human history, one that cost the lives of 100 million human souls until its embodiment, the Soviet Union collapsed? That nation is “just OK?” 

Name one other nation that meets just one similar criterion, let alone all of them. Just one.

Forget the rank perversion of the staff at the New York Times—to include all the editors and executive staff who had to clear such a piece of blatant anti-American propaganda—instead, just posit the simple question: if America isn’t “great,” then what is? 

Are the countries of Europe, which started both the first and the second world wars, which invented the concentration camps and then perfected genocide, which today are, for the most part, committing a slow collective suicide, politically and demographically—are they great?

Is Russia great for the New York Times, the nation whose leader “colluded” with our president despite all the evidence to the contrary? 

Or China, the actual dictatorship that still has labor camps today

How about Iran, the terrorist-sponsoring theocracy facilitated to the tune of $150 billion by our last self-loathing president and which threatens us daily? Is that nation great for the New York Times

What about Iran’s other sworn enemy, Israel? Can you imagine what the staffers who wrote and produced “Please Stop Telling Me America Is Great” would respond if asked whether Israel is “great?” Their responses would likely come straight out of the anti-Semitic talking points of Ilan Omar or Rashida Tlaib

The attack on historic statues, the attack on the memory of our Founding Fathers, the attack on our national holiday, isn’t just politics. It isn’t simply about hating the man who will be the focal point of today’s celebrations in Washington, D.C. This is about America and it’s about you, if you love America.

I know Donald Trump. I advised him on national security when he was one of 17 GOP candidates and then served as his strategist when he became president. 

My decision to do so was easy because within minutes of meeting him, I knew two things about the man: he was, and still is, not a politician, and he loves our country. And this is exactly why you were not meant to choose him. 

He is not part of the “elite” political class that had run our country into the ground over the preceding decades, and he did not believe that we should live in a borderless world where the writ of the United Nations is more important than what the American people want for our country. Nor did he subscribe to the establishment belief that America’s future was simply a future of “managed decline.” Donald Trump believed that America can be made great again, and it was in fact that simple belief, tuned into the MAGA campaign slogan that would propel our first non-general, non-politician into the White House. 

In the scant two-and-a-half years since his inauguration, on every field, from national security, to economics, to domestic policy, to our global standing, the 45th president has proven that not only are we a great nation but that we are again the greatest nation on the Earth. That is what the Left hates him. But they hated you first because you believed it too and you made his victory possible. 

Savor that thought today, as you celebrate our Republic and as the those who loathe America stew in their own bile. 

Happy Independence Day America.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

Photo credit: Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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America • Americanism • Declaration of Independence • Lincoln • political philosophy • Post

Lincoln on the Independence Generation: ‘They Were Iron Men’

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Abraham Lincoln delivered this address, which has come to be called “the electric cord” speech, in Chicago on July 10, 1858.

Now, it happens that we meet together once every year, sometime about the 4th of July, for some reason or other. These 4th of July gatherings I suppose have their uses. If you will indulge me, I will state what I suppose to be some of them.

We are now a mighty nation, we are thirty—or about thirty millions of people, and we own and inhabit about one-fifteenth part of the dry land of the whole earth. We run our memory back over the pages of history for about eighty-two years and we discover that we were then a very small people in point of numbers, vastly inferior to what we are now, with a vastly less extent of country,—with vastly less of everything we deem desirable among men,—we look upon the change as exceedingly advantageous to us and to our posterity, and we fix upon something that happened away back, as in some way or other being connected with this rise of prosperity. We find a race of men living in that day whom we claim as our fathers and grandfathers; they were iron men, they fought for the principle that they were contending for; and we understood that by what they then did it has followed that the degree of prosperity that we now enjoy has come to us.

We hold this annual celebration to remind ourselves of all the good done in this process of time of how it was done and who did it, and how we are historically connected with it; and we go from these meetings in better humor with ourselves—we feel more attached the one to the other, and more firmly bound to the country we inhabit. In every way we are better men in the age, and race, and country in which we live for these celebrations.

But after we have done all this we have not yet reached the whole. There is something else connected with it. We have besides these men—descended by blood from our ancestors—among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe—German, Irish, French and Scandinavian—men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things.

If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and then they feel that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, (loud and long continued applause) and so they are.

That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.

Photo credit: Keystone View Company/FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images

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America • Americanism • Declaration of Independence • History • Post • self-government

Calvin Coolidge: ‘If All Men Are Created Equal, That Is Final’

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The following is an excerpt from Calvin Coolidge’s (lengthy) speech in Philadelphia on July 5, 1926, marking the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. 

We meet to celebrate the birthday of America. The coming of a new life always excites our interest. Although we know in the case of the individual that it has been an infinite repetition reaching back beyond our vision, that only makes it the more wonderful. But how our interest and wonder increase when we behold the miracle of the birth of a new nation. It is to pay our tribute of reverence and respect to those who participated in such a mighty event that we annually observe the fourth day of July.

Whatever may have been the impression created by the news which went out from this city on that summer day in 1776, there can be no doubt as to the estimate which is now placed upon it. At the end of 150 years the four corners of the earth unite in coming to Philadelphia as to a holy shrine in grateful acknowledgment of a service so great, which a few inspired men here rendered to humanity, that it is still the preeminent support of free government throughout the world.

Although a century and a half measured in comparison with the length of human experience is but a short time, yet measured in the life of governments and nations it ranks as a very respectable period. Certainly enough time has elapsed to demonstrate with a great deal of thoroughness the value of our institutions and their dependability as rules for the regulation of human conduct and the advancement of civilization. They have been in existence long enough to become very well seasoned. They have met, and met successfully, the test of experience . . .

. . . About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

In the development of its institutions America can fairly claim that it has remained true to the principles which were declared 150 years ago. In all the essentials we have achieved an equality which was never possessed by any other people. Even in the less important matter of material possessions we have secured a wider and wider distribution of wealth. The rights of the individual are held sacred and protected by constitutional guaranties, which even the Government itself is bound not to violate. If there is any one thing among us that is established beyond question, it is self-government—the right of the people to rule. If there is any failure in respect to any of these principles, it is because there is a failure on the part of individuals to observe them. We hold that the duly authorized expression of the will of the people has a divine sanction. But even in that we come back to the theory of John Wise that “Democracy is Christ’s government.” The ultimate sanction of law rests on the righteous authority of the Almighty.

On an occasion like this a great temptation exists to present evidence of the practical success of our form of democratic republic at home and the ever-broadening acceptance it is securing abroad. Although these things are well known, their frequent consideration is an encouragement and an inspiration. But it is not results and effects so much as sources and causes that I believe it is even more necessary constantly to contemplate. Ours is a government of the people. It represents their will. Its officers may sometimes go astray, but that is not a reason for criticizing the principles of our institutions. The real heart of the American Government depends upon the heart of the people. It is from that source that we must look for all genuine reform. It is to that cause that we must ascribe all our results.

It was in the contemplation of these truths that the fathers made their declaration and adopted their Constitution. It was to establish a free government, which must not be permitted to degenerate into the unrestrained authority of a mere majority or the unbridled weight of a mere influential few. They undertook the balance these interests against each other and provide the three separate independent branches, the executive, the legislative, and the judicial departments of the Government, with checks against each other in order that neither one might encroach upon the other. These are our guaranties of liberty. As a result of these methods enterprise has been duly protected from confiscation, the people have been free from oppression, and there has been an ever-broadening and deepening of the humanities of life.

Under a system of popular government there will always be those who will seek for political preferment by clamoring for reform. While there is very little of this which is not sincere, there is a large portion that is not well informed. In my opinion very little of just criticism can attach to the theories and principles of our institutions. There is far more danger of harm than there is hope of good in any radical changes. We do need a better understanding and comprehension of them and a better knowledge of the foundations of government in general. Our forefathers came to certain conclusions and decided upon certain courses of action which have been a great blessing to the world. Before we can understand their conclusions we must go back and review the course which they followed. We must think the thoughts which they thought. Their intellectual life centered around the meeting-house. They were intent upon religious worship. While there were always among them men of deep learning, and later those who had comparatively large possessions, the mind of the people was not so much engrossed in how much they knew, or how much they had, as in how they were going to live. While scantily provided with other literature, there was a wide acquaintance with the Scriptures. Over a period as great as that which measures the existence of our independence they were subject to this discipline not only in their religious life and educational training, but also in their political thought. They were a people who came under the influence of a great spiritual development and acquired a great moral power.

No other theory is adequate to explain or comprehend the Declaration of Independence. It is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp.

If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshiped.

Photo credit: History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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Center for American Greatness • Declaration of Independence • Democrats • Post • Pro-Life • Progressivism • The Left

Justice Thomas on the Dynamite That Is Natural Right

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If it’s true that “natural right is dynamite,” as political philosopher Leo Strauss wrote, then Justice Clarence Thomas just went nuclear on the abortion debate.

While Thomas’s concurring opinion in Box v. Planned Parenthood has received considerable commentary, his deepening of the judicial and, hence, the political debate over abortion demands further elaboration. His reply to the leading threat to the principles of the Declaration of Independence is his latest attempt in a career of restoring its authority.

Thomas had argued, “this [Indiana] law and other laws like it promote a State’s compelling interest in preventing abortion from becoming a tool of modern-day eugenics.” The Indiana law had barred abortion for the purposes of sex and race selection, and for fetal disabilities.

Thomas critics contend he wrongly introduced elements of the now-(justly) maligned eugenics movement into the abortion debate. But recall that Justice Blackmun in Roe v. Wade observed (as Professor David Bernstein reminded me), “population growth, pollution, poverty, and racial overtones tend to complicate and not to simplify the problem.”

I would argue instead that Blackmun was trying to obfuscate the issue, whose terrible clarity Thomas was trying to highlight: “From the beginning, birth control and abortion were promoted as means of effectuating eugenics.” Thomas’s approach even cites G. K. Chesterton’s essay on eugenics, in which the English critic harrumphed, “Most Eugenists are Euphemists.”

In his 20-page opinion, Thomas cites two contemporary advocates of contraception and eugenics:

[Dr. Alan Guttmacher] added that the question whether to allow abortion must be “separated from emotional, moral and religious concepts” and “must have as its focus normal, healthy infants born into homes peopled with parents who have healthy bodies and minds.” . . . Similarly, legal scholar Glanville Williams wrote that he was open to the possibility of eugenic infanticide, at least in some situations, explaining that “an eugenic killing by a mother, exactly paralleled by the bitch that kills her misshapen puppies, cannot confidently be pronounced immoral.” . . . The Court cited Williams’ book for a different proposition in Roe v. Wade (citations omitted).

The ugly nakedness of the eugenics dogma, with its attendant euphemisms, stands exposed in Thomas’s explanation of Roe. No longer can credible critics of the court turn away from the monstrosity and focus on federalism and substantive due process clause interpretation issues.

The new, politicized abortion goes to the core of American political principles and the abiding integrity of the Declaration of Independence. The abortion debate has long since morphed from “safe, legal, and rare” into something much more disturbing. In this, critics of Roe rightly align themselves with critics of the pro-slavery case of Dred Scott (1857), as the most thoughtful pro-life voices have done for decades. They deny that the destruction of future generations should be given no more moral significance than “the bitch that kills her misshapen puppies.”

Here’s how deeply the Thomas charge cuts: The eugenics movement, which had emphasized artificial contraception as a means of population control, was part of the Progressive movement dedicated to replacing the American Founding with the willful assertions of History. In attacking the Declaration of Independence, preeminent Progressive Woodrow Wilson mocked the document and insisted, “Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice. Society is a living organism and must obey the laws of life, not of mechanics; it must develop.” To be more precise, we in charge politically must develop it. A successor of Wilson would later declare: “We are the change.” That is, we, meaning “we women,” direct evolution.

This will to mastery of nature empowers to varying degrees all three waves of feminism—roughly, legal equality of the sexes, gender equality, and a feminism of superiority. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat compared abortion policy in feminism’s last two stages:

The legalization of abortion in America happened in the transition from this second dispensation to the third, contemporary one, in which feminist arguments predominate and reproductive policy is understood primarily in terms of female liberty and general sexual emancipation. Which is why, in those 1970s debates over abortion, you can see both arguments at work — with what [Supreme Court Justice] Ruth Bader Ginsburg once described [in an interview] as a desire to subsidize abortions for “populations that we don’t want to have too many of” coexisting with her own rights-of-woman arguments.

The third wave of feminism is in fact a new form of the old enemy of American liberty, aristocracy, government by an elite. The older forms of feminism (for women’s suffrage) and what Douthat calls “female liberty and general sexual emancipation” set the conditions for a feminism of superiority—aristocratic feminism.

The third wave of feminism dispenses with equality and now promotes its own version of freedom. The existence of future generations depends on a woman’s choice and her doctor—personal will and science. This tyranny over nature and time, which has always been contemplated as a possibility, goes back to the 5th century B.C. in Aristophanes’ Assembly of Women. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus adds science to these speculations about the malleability of human nature.

We know well the rest of the story, thanks to the scholarship of Scott Yenor, first among others. Yenor discerns the unending drama of this latest feminism: “It is difficult to imagine how the work of undoing gender could be completed: It seems to demand continual social transformation not only in the name of liberation from past impositions, but also as a way to secure recognition for tomorrow’s desires.”

Older forms of feminism had to respect natural sexual differences, but the newer version brushes aside sex as merely socially constructed “gender.” The right of abortion is a defining necessity for this new form of eugenics. Without abortion rights, the female gender lacks ultimate power over the fate of humanity. The very name of “eugenics” presupposed a common genos or species. A gyngenics or female species would destroy the human race.

Against this horror, the unalienable rights of pursuing happiness and preserving safety of the Declaration of Independence remain our anchor, as it has been against earlier forms of tyranny.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

Photo Credit: Susan Walsh-Pool/Getty Images

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America • Americanism • Center for American Greatness • civic culture/friendship • Declaration of Independence • Identity Politics • Lincoln • Post • race • The Culture

Reparations and Diversity Are Not the Path to Equality

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The revival of reparations talk signals an opportunity for a serious discussion of the revival of republican self-government or strong citizenship. Instead, we get the blithe attitudes of Democrats and the grumbling about handouts from Republicans which signal the bipartisan lack of seriousness—a deficiency also characterizing disputes over immigration and “diversity.”

The best opportunity for a serious discussion took place at Georgetown University, which had been shocked to discover the 1838 sale of 272 slaves who were owned by its predecessor, Georgetown College. Genealogists were able to track down some current descendants of those who were sold to Southern plantations in Louisiana and elsewhere. Records remain of the contemporary debate over the sales and accounts of the dividing of families

So here was a clear case of some physical connection between a wrongful deed and a living person with some connection to it. But the key question remains, what should Jesuit-founded Georgetown University (or those who benefitted from the slave sale, including the debtors that Georgetown paid off from the slave sales) do today? It’s too easy for current students to vote for a modest student fee (often paid for by parents in any case) to benefit someone or another. A tougher question is whether there should be a surtax on current Georgetown Jesuits, the faculty, and staff. Cognizant of the ties of common faith as well as a common institution, Georgetown’s Catholics may feel particular obligations, which would appropriately have included prayers and fasting. Still, the question remains of what obligations the present has concerning past misdeeds.

Current immigrants may scoff at the notion that they are financially or morally obligated to make amends for the wickedness of slavery, an institution that was abolished 150 years ago and long before the arrival of their families. In this they follow the lead of other Americans, who make the same sensible objection: It’s not right to be generous with other people’s money and deprive people of goods in order to bestow them on others you would prefer to see prosper.

If we look to Abraham Lincoln for guidance, however, we will find both the most acute American critic of reparations and its most staunch advocate. What can this mean? Despite his hatred of slavery, his argument against the institution was rooted in constitutional doctrine—which is why he insisted that his wartime Emancipation Proclamation did not free any slaves in Union-held territory but only those in rebel-held ground. Moreover, rejecting slavery is in accord with those who defend property rights today: “this argument of [Stephen Douglas] is the same old serpent that says you work and I eat….”

Or, to put it somewhat differently, “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is not democracy.” The 13th Amendment was the fulfillment of Lincoln’s Civil War statesmanship:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. 

The dramatic change for America was not only in a shift in domestic law and not only in putting an end to the category of slaves, but it was also in abolishing the category of masters and as well upending the relationship between states and the federal government concerning the freemen. But the amendment also respected the separation of powers and required Congress to act—there was no special empowerment of the president or of the Supreme Court.

Thus, Lincoln’s constitutional argument also advanced a moral understanding of the Civil War, stated most succinctly in the Gettysburg Address and above all in the Second Inaugural with its astounding appeal to the conscience of the re-United States: “With malice toward none; with charity for all,” following a conflict that devastated the country and would transform the South. “Reparations,” in this sense, would need to be made to all who suffered in the war. The purpose of the war he had seen thus:

This is essentially a People’s contest. On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is, to elevate the condition of men—to lift artificial weights from all shoulders—to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all—to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life. Yielding to partial, and temporary departures, from necessity, this is the leading object of the government for whose existence we contend.

Joining a nation is not like buying a club membership. The bonds are stronger. Its debts become those of the member’s. Each assumes the glory and the folly of the nation’s past.

In all this, the protection of the rights to property, as James Madison had emphasized at the founding, would be more important than ever. But property could no longer be held in slaves. A sensible Reconstruction policy would have assured the protection of the natural rights of freedmen and the abolition of the master class in the South. Neither took place.

Lincoln’s statesmanship was missing, and though President Grant strived to expand property rights protections for all, he was thwarted in his noble effort. The nation did not fulfill James Madison’s founding premiseas a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.” Without proper protection of property rights in their full and comprehensive sense, republican self-government is illusory. The party of “you work, I eat” remained in power, though morphing to cope with new political realities and to appeal to those it once argued should be enslaved, eventually becoming the administrative state that now rules the country.

That party in its early and later Progressive forms would then recruit immigrants into their cause. The immigrants came for work, but they stayed for more, often expressing gratitude for their new home. The ethnic diversity of immigrants, in country of origin, mores, and religion, reflected the Declaration’s equality of natural rights. But there was also a disturbing lack of concern for the suitability of immigrants for republican government, given immigrants’ past under old-world tyrannies. Nonetheless, the earlier, patriotic Progressivism along with the practical effects of time for assimilation led to their recruitment into its framework.

Today, the anti-American Progressivism of the administrative state has fostered the notion of privilege for an expanded array of allegedly oppressed groups—racial and ethnic, feminist, and now sexual. The Claremont Institute has recently published symposia on multiculturalism in its Claremont Review of Books and American Mind online magazine.

David Azerrad succinctly argues “Identity politics should be rejected not because it demands justice for those who have been unjustly treated, but because it poses a threat to republican self-government by corroding patriotic ties, fostering hatred, promoting cultural separatism, and demanding special treatment rather than equality under the law.” This is not healthy pride but aristocratic arrogance.

While each of these new identity groups needs to be understood in its particular demands on American republicanism, they all need to be distinguished from connection to the tyranny of slavery and the contemporary denunciations of “white privilege.” Briefly, the American descendants of slaves should be confident in their equality of rights and not remain in debt. Any gratitude they feel should be to the founders and to those who would perpetuate the constitutional order that finally recognized—even at the cost of some 600,000 American deaths—its obligations to them as fellow citizens.  

Alexis de Tocqueville has a useful insight here about Americans being Good Samaritans, though obviously limited in the amount of aid they will offer (Democracy in America, Volume II, Part3, chapter 4). Such limitations are not based on stinginess, however, but instead on the assumption that help given without limitation would be a sign of disrespect for the unfortunate’s ability to live freely and independently.. We today lack the restraint of Tocqueville’s earlier Americans who lived out an ethic of equality that recognized the equal human dignity of the poor and others suffering misfortune demanded treating them as persons capable of living independently.

Thus, the privilege talk, with its reminder of aristocracy, rankles our republican spirit. What the American Republic faces is that “old serpent,” in a new form, oligarchy, a form of personal privilege bestowed on oneself based on one’s origins.

For the study of multiculturalism, one should add to the Claremont Institute publications the “Symposium on American National Character” in the latest issue of Perspectives on Political Science. William B. Allen offers a refreshing bon mot, “a people who cannot lift their own heads cannot lift up their nation.” Or, as a recent president put it, “through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.”

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

Photo credit:  Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images

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Center for American Greatness • Declaration of Independence • History • Post • The Constitution

The Font of the Constitution’s Authority

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In my last response to Mark Pulliam, I challenged him to find a single statement from a prominent American Founder who denied that the Declaration of Independence provided the authoritative source of the Constitution’s authority. So far he has failed to do so, but he has forwarded to me a contemporary article that denies the relevance of the Declaration for understanding the Constitution. It seems to me, however, that the relevant authorities are the Founders themselves.

Isn’t the point of original intent jurisprudence to understand the intentions of the Founders? Pulliam claims to adhere to original intent, but he seems inordinately interested in the work of contemporary legal scholars and uninterested in the work of the actual Founders. An original intent that ignores—or subverts—the origins is difficult to take seriously.

John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, in his official letter transmitting the Declaration of Independence to the states, remarked that since it would serve as the “Ground and Foundation” of any future government, the people should “be universally informed of it.” There can be no doubt that this expressed the views of the signers of the Declaration: it would serve as the “Foundation” for the future government of America.

The contemporary article that Pulliam had forwarded to me maintains that the authors of The Federalist placed little reliance on the Declaration, citing it only twice for the “unexceptional proposition that it is legitimate to change one’s form of government.” And these references, according to the author recommended by Pulliam, were mere rhetorical flourishes not to be taken seriously. Let us examine this claim.

The references in The Federalist to changing the form of government are references to the right of revolution, hardly the “unexceptional proposition” our author claims them to be. The Declaration asserted the natural right to revolution for the first time in history; it was a world-historical event. Divine right of kings was replaced by the sovereignty of the people as the legitimate authority for the establishment of government. The principles of the Declaration, therefore, specify that the “just powers” of government must be based on the “consent of the governed.” The Federalist fully recognizes this revolutionary change when it specifies that the Constitution itself should derive “immediately from that pure, original fountain of all legitimate authority,” “the consent of the people.” This is one of the subtle (but vitally important) references to the Declaration that the author misses—the sovereignty of the people established by the principles of the Revolution demands that the people consent to government.

The Federalist’s references to the Declaration’s right to revolution mere rhetorical flourishes? This cannot be a serious claim. The authors of The Federalist recognized the Declaration as the authoritative source of the Constitution’s authority. Which of the founders did not?

Our author is mistaken about the number of references: there are three explicit references to the Declaration in The Federalist and a host of implicit references evident to the careful reader. But we have already demonstrated that our author is not a careful reader. The central reference to the Declaration in The Federalist, occurs in the central number (some readers will recognize the importance of this placement) and is a paraphrase of the Declaration which no one in the founding generation would have failed to recognize. It was used to answer the question of why the Articles had to be replaced rather than simply reformed (thereby violating the instructions given to the convention): “The first question is answered at once by recurring to the absolute necessity of the case; to the great principle of self-preservation; to the transcendent law of nature and of nature’s God, which declares that the safety and happiness of society are the objects at which all political institutions aim and to which all such institutions must be sacrificed.”

The “institutions to be sacrificed” were those of the Articles. The convention was charged with revising the Articles to make them adequate to meet the “exigencies facing the Union.” Madison argued in The Federalist that the instructions to the convention were contradictory: no revision of the Articles could make them adequate precisely because the principles upon which the Articles rested were defective. As Hamilton remarked, the Articles had created “the political monster of an imperium in imperio” that “cannot be amended otherwise than by an alteration in the first principles and main pillars of the fabric.” It would be to no avail to build a new structure on a defective foundation since the new superstructure would partake of the deficiencies of the foundation itself.

Madison explained that a sound principle of legal construction required those who were faced with contradictory commands to choose the most important. Obviously, it was more important to have a constitution that was adequate to meet the exigencies facing the Union than to try and resuscitate one that was inadequate just so the participants in the convention could say that they adhered strictly to the command that the Articles be revised.

In any case, Madison concluded, since “the plan to be framed and proposed was to be submitted to the people themselves, the disapprobation of this supreme authority would destroy it forever; its approbation blot out antecedent errors and irregularities.” In submitting the proposed constitution directly to the people, the Convention also subverted its charge to submit the revisions to Congress which would, upon approval, submit them to the State legislatures. A unanimous concurrence of the State legislatures was required under the Articles for ratification. Madison argues, however, that “the establishment of a government adequate to the national happiness was the end at which [the Articles of Confederation] themselves originally aimed, and to which they ought, as insufficient means, to have been sacrificed.” In other words, Madison clearly intimates that the Constitution itself resulted from an act of revolution appealing to the supreme authority of the people! Is it credible to believe that references in The Federalist to the natural right of revolution were mere rhetorical flourishes? Hardly!

Another important reference to the Declaration in The Federalist was missed by Pulliam’s purported authority, who seems to be an inordinately careless reader. Madison announces that Federalist 39 begins “a candid survey of the plan of government reported by the convention.” “The first question that offers itself,” he asserts,

is whether the general form and aspect of the government be strictly republican. It is evident that no other form would be reconcilable with the genius of the people of America; with the fundamental principles of the Revolution; or with that honorable determination which animates every votary of freedom to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government. If the plan of the convention, therefore, be found to depart from the republican character, its advocates must abandon it as no longer defensible.

The central reason that the Constitution must be “strictly republican” is to conform to the “fundamental principles of the Revolution,” i.e., the principles of the Declaration of Independence. This statement is further proof, if any were needed, that for the framers there was an indefeasible connection between the Declaration and the Constitution. The connection was a “strictly republican” form of government as a means of securing the ends posited by the Declaration—the “safety and happiness” of the people. If the Constitution did not conform to the principles of the Revolution as adumbrated in the Declaration, it was “no longer defensible.” Without the principles of the Declaration, the Constitution was indefensible!

How can it be maintained that The Federalist used the Declaration merely for “rhetorical flourishes” or that its references to the Declaration were infrequent and insubstantial? Any careful reader knows better. Anyone who is serious about original intent jurisprudence also knows better. Pulliam should know better. Again, I invite him and all readers inclined to agree with him to reread The Federalist and other documents of the Founding Era and stop relying on contemporary secondary sources. Careful readers will learn something.

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America • Declaration of Independence • political philosophy • Post • The Constitution

Are You Positive About Natural Right?

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Last Sunday, Edward J. Erler replied to Mark Pulliam in their battle over positivist originalism and natural rights originalism. Erler’s relies primarily on the opinions of founders and leading politicians responsible for the 14th Amendment to show the natural rights basis of both the Constitution and the 14th Amendment. The emphasis on opinion outside of the Constitution perhaps obscures some fundamental points about proper construction.

The technical rules of legal construction—containing such exotic delights as in pari materia, ejusdim generis and expressio unius est exclusio alterius—can be fairly reduced to four basic common sense principles: (1) apply the plain meaning or common usage of the language; (2) where the language is still unclear, look to the other plain language within the document to interpret; (3) where a term of art used has a customary and historical meaning, apply that meaning; and (4) if 1, 2, and 3 are insufficient to resolve the ambiguity, the look outside of the document to the stated intentions of the leading authors or proponents of the document, if reliable statements can be found. Avoid conclusions that are contradictory, absurd, or render words or provisions meaningless. For originalism, we can add that where the contemporary and original meanings of plain language are different, the original meaning should prevail.

A charter can be examined adequately using only these rules in almost all cases. But where these methods, exhausted, continue to admit of two or more reasonable meanings, a construction at odds with the principles of the authority on which the charter rests ought to be discarded. After all, what makes a charter compelling and intelligible is the authority behind it. This is true whether we are speaking of a simple corporate charter, the Magna Carta, the Mayflower Compact, or the Constitution. For this reason charters invariably open with a reference to the source of their authority: a Delaware corporation—“pursuant to the General Corporation Law of the State of Delaware”; the Magna Carta—“John by the grace of God”; the Mayflower Compact—“In the name of God, Amen . . . the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord King James by ye grace of God, of Great Britain, France, & Ireland king, defender of ye faith”; and the Constitution of the United States—“We the People.”

Let’s look at the source of the authority behind  “we the People.” Generally, legal reasoning in Anglo-Saxon-derived systems involves inductive reasoning. That is, the legal interpreter looks at the particulars, cases, words in a contract, precedents and persuasive authorities, and reasons by distinguishing and synthesizing to a unifying principle. That principle is then applied to the particular matter. The Declaration of Independence, the very first legal document in which the United States is mentioned, relies on deductive reasoning. Because it purports to transcend a positive law regime (i.e., the laws of England) and the ground of that regime (i.e., the divine right of kings) it proceeds from axioms independent both of the positive law and divine right. These axioms cannot be demonstrated but can be adequately known without further evidence. The Declaration then applies those principles deductively to answer partially the question of what is justice: the ground of just laws is the consent of the governed. Obedience to the positive law— a quintessential feature of justice as understood philosophically since Plato (Crito) and Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics)—is compelling on the ground of the consent of the governed, which is, in turn, compelling on the ground of natural sovereign equality.

The American form of government closely reflects the principles of the Declaration. The American form is a deliberately adopted and amended charter, periodically ratified with elections rooted in the principle of majority rule. Elections to offices are staggered, causing the government to embody a will separate from the momentary will of a majority and embodying the long-term consensus of a people. In a microcosm, it is also the meaning of a free individual, who is neither tool of someone else nor a tool of momentary passions. The administrative state has been criticized in these pages for displacing the long-term consensus of the people with the caprice of a clique of bureaucrats, as we have seen with career apparatchiks James Comey, Andrew McCabe, and Robert Mueller, subordinating consent of the governed to a national bureaucratic and credentialed caste. The positivist originalism says the principles of the Declaration are unnecessary—indeed are an impediment—to the just and fair (or correct) interpretation of the Constitution. The difficulty of arguing with the positivist position is it is almost entirely correct. Constitutional questions can be adequately, correctly, and more soundly derived in almost all cases using the principles of construction outlined above.

I say “more soundly” because a callow natural rights jurist who uses compact theory to resolve a problem that can be resolved using the basic rules of construction will substitute his intention for the intention embodied in the charter. If that happens the consent needed for justice is undone; the confabulations of a misguided scholar of natural right confuse the nomoi (conventions) of a charter with physis (nature).

I also say in almost all cases” because a positivist originalism that eschews natural right is akin to dead reckoning without ever looking at the stars. This positivist originalism must attempt to inductively determine the authority of the Constitution without any fixed point of reference. In this exercise the interpreter is confronted with two reasonable conflicting inductive conclusions: (1) the Constitution is pro-slavery and is designed to protect the institution of slavery by protecting the slave trade, providing for fugitive slave laws and providing fractional representation of slaves and other persons not taxed, and (2) the Constitution is anti-slavery, confining the institution of slavery by allowing the prohibition of the slave trade after a date certain, tolerating the institution for the sake of the greater good of union, and facilitating the exclusion of slavery from the territories, until the institution dies a natural death.

The reasoning of the second interpretation is that of Lincoln in the Cooper Union Speech, which relies on inductive reasoning to show that in original intent the Constitution is anti-slavery. The first interpretation answers the question of what is compelling about the laws in a troubling way. We the people are an imposition of force, and force is what makes the charter compelling. This, in a nutshell, is a core position—apart from the compact of states doctrine which is so badly at odds with the plain language of the Constitution’s preamble that it should be ignored—of John C. Calhoun. It is also, looking back further, the position of the Athenians at Melos and Thrasymachus in Plato’s Republic.

So how does one judge whether the inductive reasoning in (1) or (2) is, in fact, the correct reasoning? On the one hand, the claim to authority of (1) has the allure of antiquity, practicality, and simplicity (not to mention circularity). Regimes are in power because they have the power to remain in power. But (1) is also contradictory, and must exempt itself from its own thought. The claim to authority of (1) has no independence of the power to enforce it.

On the other hand, the claim to authority of (2) has no such internal difficulty, provided one looks to the principles of the Declaration. The authority of the charter comes from the individual sovereign equality of individuals. Their claim to rule is inalienable even in defeat, and the Constitution’s inclusion of concepts supportive of slavery can only have been intended if the authors of the document understood themselves correctly—and those who did not understand can be dismissed—to have been a temporary compromise.

That said, given that Dred Scott is behind us and, with the adoption of the Reconstruction Amendments, the question of a pro-slavery or anti-slavery Constitution is also behind us, how is natural rights doctrine today more helpful than misleading?

First, the jettisoning of natural right in hopes of curing the insobriety of particular judges does not work. Those same judges will find a worse basis (e.g., historical right) on which to rest their judgments. We have today a doctrine of substantive due process that is divorced from the natural rights origin of the Constitution. In an attempt to determine what the meaning of “due” is in “due process” the judiciary has resorted to incorporating the Bill of Rights over and against the states in increasing measures of emanating in the penumbras, as the joke goes. Most of this jurisprudence has come from the Left—for example, Gitlow (1925), Mapp (1961), Gideon (1963), Griswold (1964), Roe (1973), and Bakke (1978)—but now the Right is in on the game, such as the MacDonald gun rights case in 2010. The best argument against this substantive due process is that such elaborate imputation to the word “due” violates the principle of consent of the governed derived from the equality of the Declaration.

Second, the best argument in favor of the substantive due process advanced in the name of a “living constitution” is the Constitution is at origin a pro-slavery document whose aged clauses are not venerable but are so contemptibly wicked that decency requires they be transmuted, without need for a process of consent, as the principle of the Constitution never respected consent in the first instance.

The first check on a jurist is temperament. Whether the jurist is inclined to adventure in natural right or living constitution substantive due process will always be a function in part of that jurist’s sense of self-restraint. I would no more want to fly to Mars on rocket ship designed by some fanatical Aristotelian than I would want to be judged by an unrestrained natural rights scholar. I would take the diligent student of field equations and a sober Rehnquist or Bork in both cases, on almost all questions. But on certain questions, like what to do on Mars once I get there and whether the word “due” includes plainly arbitrary and capricious methods, I might take my chances with the zealous Aristotelian or wild-eyed natural rights champion of academe.

But, more importantly, I don’t have to choose between a sober Rehnquist or Bork and an inebriate natural rights jurist. It is a false choice. All other things being equal, I would choose the sober natural rights scholar as my judge who does all the things that the Rehnquist or Bork jurist does and understands the source of authority of the Constitution.

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America • Center for American Greatness • Declaration of Independence • History • Post • The Constitution

The People’s Sovereignty Is the Foundation of Constitutional Law

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Although I don’t believe I have ever seen so many errors in such a short essay, the principal error in Mark Pulliam’s response to my recent piece, “Don’t Read the Constitution the Way Robert Bork Did” is this: If one claims to adhere to the original intentions of the Founders, one must first understand those intentions. In that effort, Pulliam fails in every respect.

Beginning with the question of natural law and the Declaration of Independence and moving in all directions from there, Pulliam presents a blinkered understanding of the purposes and meaning of our Constitution. There is not a single prominent American Founder—not Madison, Hamilton, Adams, Mason, Randolph, Wilson or any of a host of others—who did not believe that the Declaration served as the authoritative source of the Constitution’s authority. Miss this point and you cannot understand the original intent of the Constitution.

Pulliam cites Justice Scalia as an authority. However much we may praise many of the conclusions Scalia reached on the bench, it remains that Scalia, unlike Justice Thomas, was a positivist—saying on one occasion that if the majority voted to legalize abortion, then it should be legal. Thomas, however, realizes that according to natural law principles, abortion is a violation of the natural right to life that is expressly protected by the Constitution. In the face of Thomas’ argument, Pulliam collapses: natural law—“whatever that is.” Is it really so difficult!

Consent of the Governed Meets the Ghost of Calhoun
The Founders said in the Declaration that inalienable natural rights were the gift of the Creator and endowed equally on every human being because their nature as human beings demands it. Governments were instituted to secure the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Note, too, that this equality in nature is the basis for the Declaration’s statement that “just powers” of government derive from the “consent of the governed.” Here is the social compact origins of government. When John Adams wrote the Massachusetts Bill of Rights in 1780 he gave the same, albeit more detailed, account of compact. Individuals form the social compact, not states. When Madison later said that “all free and just government is based on compact” he said the compact is made by the unanimous consent of individuals, not states.

In the central number of The Federalist, Madison recurs to the Declaration’s appeal to natural rights as the authoritative source of the Constitution. (Pulliam needs to reread his copy). Madison justifies the fact that the Constitutional Convention violated its charge merely to reform the Articles of Confederation—substituting instead an entirely new Constitution—to be submitted, not to the states (as Pulliam falsely claims) but to the people for ratification. This is justified, Madison argues, “by recurring to the absolute necessity of the case: to the great principle of self preservation: to the transcendent law of nature and of nature’s God, which declares that the safety and happiness of society are the objects at which all political institutions aim and to which all such institutions must be sacrificed.”

One has to be willfully trying to avoid it to miss the obvious reference to the Declaration of Independence.

Pulliam insists, against the historical record, that the Constitution is a compact among the states. As I reported in my last reply this was, as Madison described it, “an ingenious sophism” invented by John C. Calhoun to defend the southern slaveocracy. Calhoun agreed with Pulliam that the Declaration was a dangerous idea and insisted that “all men are not created equal,” rather “all states are created equal.”

Calhoun’s sophism would allow for the further argument that since the states created the Union, the states could leave the union whenever they believed the terms of the compact had been violated. It was in this context that I quoted Abraham Lincoln’s July 4, 1861 speech where he argued—irrefutably in my considered opinion—that the Union was older than the states, and that no state had existed independently of the union. This was a powerful argument against secession. Why Pulliam insists it was merely “self-serving” is a mystery. It clearly was in the service of the preservation of the union. To my knowledge, scarcely any founder argued that the Revolution placed the separate colonies in the state of nature with one another. No early state case contesting the matter of citizenship ever made this argument.

At any rate, Madison in The Federalist does not argue that the Constitution was ratified by the states—here Pulliam needs to reread his Federalist once again. Rather, Madison points out that the Constitution was ratified by state conventions elected by the people. It was therefore not ratification by the states, but by the people of the states. If the people of nine states agreed to ratification then the Constitution would come into force. The point: the Constitution was not, in any sense, a compact of the states.

14th Amendment Follies
Pulliam rehearses another comical argument, quoting Federalist 45: “the states will retain under the proposed Constitution a very extensive portion of active sovereignty.” The states will retain a “portion” of sovereignty, albeit “a very extensive portion.”

What, I ask, is a “portion” of sovereignty? Sovereignty means complete and plenary power. It cannot be apportioned or divided. This means that the states will not be sovereign. There will indeed be something like a “dual sovereignty,” where the states have reserved “police powers,” but the states will have none of the powers normally ascribed to sovereignty: the power to declare war, coin money, make treaties with foreign powers, etc. These all belong to the national government and in the case of conflict, Article VI gives the national government supremacy over the states. A portion of sovereignty is not sovereignty. A compact of sovereign states did not create the union. We know this for a simple reason: the states were never sovereign.

It must always be kept in mind that ultimate sovereignty rests with the people and the people always retain their sovereignty—it can never be ceded or delegated. The people delegate certain specified powers to the government to be exercised for their “safety and happiness.” The ultimate expression of the people’s sovereignty, of course, is the right to revolution which the founders understood not only to be a natural right but a natural duty as well. The Declaration was a world historical event: sovereignty rested on the people, not the divine right of kings. The self-evident truth is that “all men are created equal” meaning vox populi vox dei (“the voice of the people is the voice of God”) had replaced divine right of kings. Republican government and the rule of law could now be derived from the “consent of the governed” and the natural right of revolution would be the ultimate guarantee of the people’s sovereignty.

Pulliam also is egregiously mistaken when he says the Declaration had nothing to do with the 14th Amendment. In my original piece, I quoted a statement from Representative Thaddeus Stevens, a prominent supporter of the amendment who thought otherwise. I could have quoted a multitude of similar statements, but I cannot forbear quoting the Speaker of the House for the 39th Congress, Schuyler Colfax. After the amendment had passed both the House and Senate, Colfax praised it as the work that Lincoln had begun. After reading section one, he said: “It’s going to be the gem of the Constitution.”

“I will tell you why I love it,” Colfax continued:

It is because it is the Declaration of Independence placed immutably and forever in our Constitution. What does the Declaration of Independence say?—that baptismal vow that our fathers took upon their lips when this Republic of ours was born into the family of nations. It says that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; and that to secure these rights governments were instituted among men. That’s the paramount object of government, to secure the right of all men to their equality before the law. So said our fathers at the beginning of the Revolution. So say their sons to-day, in this Constitutional Amendment, the noblest clause that will be in our Constitution.

So much for the irrelevance of Abraham Lincoln and the Declaration! Section one of the 14th amendment incorporates the Declaration! And, if we credit the Colfax and many other members of the 39th Congress, that is the manner in which section one must be interpreted.

Pulliam claims that moral authority is embodied in the text of the Constitution solely because it was authorized by the consent of the governed. (Hasn’t Pulliam argued throughout that the Constitution is a compact of the states? Which is it?) In any case, he upbraids me for not mentioning the Obergefell case as an example of how “natural law” as a font of natural rights can miscarry. I never argued, of course, that the Ninth Amendment was a “font” of natural rights. I simply pointed out that Pulliam, following Bork, claims to be a constitutional textualist but insisted on ignoring the fact that the Ninth Amendment says plainly that there are “other” rights, not enumerated in the Bill of Rights, that are “retained by the people.” An original intent jurisprude cannot ignore this text simply because he believes that “unelected judges” may abuse their power. All judging risks abuse; that doesn’t mean that we should abolish judging because it may be abused.

Community Conscience No Match for Activist Judges or Legislatures
Pulliam seems to suggest that the “community’s ‘conscience’” should be a judge’s guide in cases like Obergefell, rather than natural law principles. And the legislative branch, rather than unelected judges are better placed to assess the conscience of the community. One wonders, however, whether community conscience is any less amorphous a standard than he claims natural law to be. As a matter of original intent, Pulliam’s descriptions of natural law have nothing in common with the way the founders understood natural law! Imagine John Adams or James Wilson saying that natural law was nonsense or incapable of any meaning! How is it possible to claim the mantle of the founders while ignoring and ridiculing their main contribution, a reliance on the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God?”

In Obergefell, Justice Scalia argued that his principal objection was that the court, rather than the legislative branch, was making the decision about same-sex marriage. It was properly a decision for the legislature to make because it was a policy or moral question, not a judicial one. Scalia said he was indifferent to the moral argument; his only concern was which branch of the government should have the authority to decide. If the legislature approved same-sex marriage then, like the majority approving abortion, it was legal and constitutional, because it expressed the conscience of the community (or at least that was the presumption).

On issues of morality Justice Scalia (and Judge Bork, and Chief Justice Rehnquist—to say nothing of Pulliam) believed that reason could play no role in arbitrating “value-disputes.” No one could simply prove that one “value-system” was better than another. The world, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, was made up of nothing but “fighting faiths” vying for domination in the marketplace of ideas. Reason cannot tell us which fighting faith deserves to win, because these “faiths” proceed from nonrational or subrational choices, various forms of ideology, private interests, religion, economic class, etc. In democracy, therefore, it is just to leave decisions of morality to the “moral conscience” of the majority. This is a kind of moral relativism that denies that there are any standards of morality that can be discerned by reason or reasonable choice. Conservatives often speak of tradition and traditional morality as the ground of morality which is supported by mainstream religions. I suspect that something like this is what Justice Scalia (and Pulliam) mean by “conscience of the community.”

I agree that Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell was utterly dishonest, arguing how important marriage was to the fabric of American life. And so it is! There is no doubt that the family is integral to the foundation of free society. But does that include all types of family structure? Polygamy? Same sex? Polyamory? Or is it simply a matter of indifference to be left to the conscience of the community (whatever that is)?

Natural law or natural right easily answers that question: marriage is between a man and a woman; the family begins with the distinction between the sexes. Community conscience cannot be the standard because the conscience of the community is ever evolving whereas the principles that brought us our Constitution are permanent, even as they are subject to prudential adaptations to meet different circumstances. It is the ever-evolving community that provides pliable and unlimited standards of the kind that encourages judicial activism. While Pulliam has his wary eyes on the activist judiciary he ignores the activist legislature which, according to the founders, was the most dangerous branch. I have my eyes constantly on the Constitution—I invite Pulliam to join me!

The principles of the Declaration are derived from “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” That is, those principles are derived from reason and revelation. No founder believed that the principles of morality could not be addressed by reason—that it had to be left to the “conscience of the community” (or the traditions of the community) as expressed in majority rule. Natural law placed moral limits on the majority—the majority, for example, could not approve anything that violated the laws of nature. Madison even went so far as to say that unanimous consent could not approve violations of the laws of nature. If the majority voted to approve slavery, for example, it might have the force and power to enforce its will, but it never have the moral authority to do so even if it is approved by tradition or the conscience of the community. It is natural law and natural right that became the new source of moral authority for America, not tradition or longstanding “moral conscience.”

I invite Mr. Pulliam to give a single quotation from any of the founders who said that the Declaration did not supply the grounds for moral reasoning or that the principles of the Declaration did not supply the foundations of the Constitution’s political and constitutional morality. Imagine George Washington or John Adams arguing that “liberty” is merely a “value judgment” that cannot be supported by reason or is only an “idiosyncratic preference” that someone attaches to something that strikes his fancy but which has no real intrinsic value. It is a simple fact that Pulliam cannot begin to articulate a jurisprudence of original intent if he denies the one thing that animated all of the founders: that Declaration provided the authoritative source of the Constitution’s authority, both moral and political.

Adjudicating Unenumerated Rights Requires Natural Law
I said I expected to be ridiculed when I referred to the famous “mystery passage” in Casey—those words penned by Justice Kennedy: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” This described what I said was a perfect summation of what Madison called “the sacred rights of conscience,” a right that does not appear in the Constitution, but one that is essential to freedom and free government. This right does encompass the right to confront the “meaning of the universe, and of the mystery of the universe.” These are things that an individual must do to determine how best to fulfill his duty to God in the manner that he believes will be most pleasing to God. Let Pulliam deny this as a fundamental right! I await Pulliam’s argument that government can intrude on an individual’s right to conscience and force him to expose his most innermost thoughts about the mystery of being as it relates to his worship of God.

If one is charged with the crime of not revealing his innermost thoughts, to what right will he appeal as protecting his rights to conscience? It is not in the text of the Constitution! Is it a part of the free exercise of religion? Not according to Madison. What do we do now? Rely on the “conscience of the community?” That is not in the Constitution either! Perhaps there are, after all, “other” rights not listed in the Bill of Rights—like the “sacred right” of conscience—that need to be exerted as part of the privileges or immunities that belong to U.S. citizens.

Pulliam complains that I did not explain why I did not believe that abortion falls within the ambit of the mystery clause. I did not because I thought any intelligent reader could see that: it violates the right to life, one of the natural rights of the Declaration and a right incorporated in the Constitution and belonging to the privileges or immunities of U.S. citizens. It is a precept of natural law written into the plain text of the Constitution. It is a natural right—it does not have to be approved by the vote of a majority or the conscience of the community. According to the Declaration, it is a right—a natural right intrinsic to human nature—that has been endowed equally upon human beings by the Creator. Was that so difficult?

Contrary to what Pulliam seems to think, I do not believe that a judge can apply natural law principles in a decision, unless those principles are reflected in the language of the Constitution. Pulliam praises the Supreme Court’s decision in the Slaughterhouse Cases (1873) as a model of constitutional interpretation. His main reason for doing so was the Court’s narrow reading of the “privileges or immunities” clause of the 14th Amendment. This narrow reading, Pulliam alleges, was a factor in curbing judicial activism because otherwise judges could have read virtually anything into such vague language. What the courts have done with “due process” and “equal protection” is an indication of what they might have done with the even more imprecise and capacious language of the Privileges or Immunities Clause. He strongly criticizes Justice Clarence Thomas for his efforts to revive the clause which was justly interred in Slaughterhouse.

Thomas believes, along with many scholars, that the Privileges and Immunities Clause was intended to be the substantive core of the amendment, and had it not been mutilated in Slaughterhouse much of the judicial activism we experience today would have been forestalled. Justice Thomas is correct and the framers of the 14th Amendment clearly argued as much. The definition of privileges or immunities was not as unknown or as unknowable as Pulliam leads us to believe.

In my last essay, I argued, in agreement with Justice Bradley’s dissent in Slaughterhouse, that the right to choose an occupation freely was a necessary means to the acquisition of property and therefore one of the privileges or immunities of U.S. citizenship. Louisiana had created a 25-year monopoly for slaughtering in the city of New Orleans. The Supreme Court alleged there were no federal rights, privileges, or immunities violated by the state law. It is true that the Constitution does not forbid the states to create monopolies nor does it protect the right to choose an occupation. The right to property is, of course both a natural right and a constitutional right. It was always described by Madison as the comprehensive right, the right that includes every other right.

In his famous essay “Property” published in 1792 shortly after the ratification of the Bill of Rights, Madison argued that monopoly was an assault on the right to property as was the denial of the free choice of an occupation. As a means to secure the right to property, Madison argued, the right to choose an occupation was a civil right (or a “privilege or immunity”) that government must protect if it is to be accounted just. Thus for any right that is protected, the means to accomplish that right must be protected as well. The means necessary to secure rights might well be denominated “civil rights,” those positive rights enacted by societies as a means to secure natural rights protected by the Constitution. If the ends are conceded—the means must also be conceded. Otherwise the enumerated rights would be nullities.

Unenumerated rights are necessary to secure enumerated rights. This is the reason that the attempts of Pulliam and Bork to excise the Ninth amendment’s protection of “other” rights “retained by the people” from the Constitution under the palpable fiction that this language is too obscure or unintelligible is purely an act of judicial activism. I suggest that Pulliam should have titled his article “How to take the Constitution Out of Constitutional Law.”

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America • Center for American Greatness • Declaration of Independence • Democrats • Identity Politics • Post • The Culture • The Left

How Do You Solve a Problem like AOC?

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I first noticed something was up in the New York City backwater called the 14th Congressional District when a friend across the aisle, a well-respected political columnist, tweeted out the news of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “upset” victory against the incumbent Democrat, Joe Crowley, just minutes after it happened.

Who cares? thought I.

Crowley, one of the last of the Irish machine politicians, had safely sailed to reelection to the House for a decade, often without even a primary challenger. But the 29-year-old AOC, as she is colloquially known, beat him in the primary with 57 percent of the vote—a number that sounds impressive until you realize that it was a mere 15,897 votes to Crowley’s 11,761, a difference of 4,136 votes. In the foregone-conclusion general election, she beat the Republican tomato can, Anthony Pappas, 110,000 to 18,000. Pappas was so indifferent to the outcome that he brushed aside offers to help and did not actively campaign.

Naturally, the media went wild immediately. Literally overnight, this former intern for Ted Kennedy, an ethnic Puerto Rican, became a national celebrity; you can tell the stories were prepped and in the can once her victory was assured.

Crowley’s name stayed on the fall ballot, under the rubric of the Working Families Party, but like the GOP candidate, he did not campaign. His reward was to land a choice spot last month as a lobbyist with the law firm of Squire Patton Boggs, whose bipartisan ranks of swamp-dwelling trough snouts include former Speaker of the House John Boehner, former Senator Trent Lott, and other Washington hacks. With his future assured, and his services to the latter-day equivalent of Tammany Hall rewarded, he finally got around to giving up his government parking pass just this week.

In other words, the fix was in. Clearly, somebody was behind the rise of Ocasio-Cortez and that somebody didn’t care much about the niceties of getting her elected—including elements of her “girl-from-the-Bronx” biography, her actual residence, and her campaign finances. Tant pis!

Democratic firebrand Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rode into office railing against the influence of big money and hidden donors in U.S. elections. Yet the political operation that helped elect her to Congress was itself less than transparent—exposing her to attacks from conservative foes.

The New York congresswoman raised a hefty $2 million for her 2018 election while refusing to take money from business-related political action committees. Of that, 61 percent came from individuals giving less than $200—the highest rate of small-dollar funding among current U.S. House members.

At the same time, Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign committee and two PACs paid almost $900,000 to a consulting company for campaign services, providing few details on what the money was for or who ultimately received it.

That’s the question, isn’t it? Two million dollars for 15,000 votes and a shoo-in general election? Her mission accomplished—the first term is the hardest election to win—she’s been “quietly removed” from the board of the Justice Democrats PAC, according to the Daily Caller:

Democratic Rep. Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez and her top aide are no longer board members of the outside PAC credited with orchestrating her political rise, according to a corporate document filed Friday to a Washington, D.C., agency.

The New York Democrat and her chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, who served as her campaign chair, joined the board of Justice Democrats in December 2017, according to the political action committee’s website. It also said the two held “legal control over the entity” at the same time it was playing a key role in supporting Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign prior to her shock victory over incumbent Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley in June 2018.”

“Orchestrating her political rise.” You have to admit the timing was impeccable. The three freshwomyn—AOC, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib need only a fourth to bring on the apocalypse, having quickly established themselves as the new triumvirate of the Democrat Party. The girl named for a city in Egypt, has openly sassed Maerose Prizzi, the speaker of the House, who, when it came time to offer even the most oblique censure of Omar’s blatant anti-Semitism, wound up deploring all “bigotry” instead, including “Islamophobia.”

Ocasio-Cortez is, as Obama was when the media invented him, too young to run for president for this cycle, but she can squeak in just under the wire in 2024 if her handlers deem that her time has come. Even then, if the example of Obama is any guide, that might be too soon: imagine if Hillary had been the nominee in 2008 and then a more mature and even more radical Obama had come along in 2016, on the tails of her two “moderate” terms; as it was, he was too inexperienced and frankly, too lazy, fully to implement the plan his backers had in mind for him.

And so, as the Democrats bum-rush to the 2020 starting gates, the two cheeks of their party have swung into view. Yes, they have become the party of peons and plutocrats, but for our purposes—and for AOC’s—they will soon be the party of geriatrics and the turkettes, who loathe their masculine forbears with true “feminist” ignorance and impatience. They know this is the last roundup for superannuated pols like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders and even the former Nancy d’Alesandro, the pride of Ballamer, and that the future—one version of it, anyway, belongs to them:

For make no mistake: these neo-Socialists—whether they call themselves national or international and whether white, brown, or black—are all fascist brothers and sisters under the skin, bent on both submission and punishment. Behold how far and how fast even the “moderate” Democrats have adopted such things as reparations, the elimination of ICE, the abolition of the Electoral College, overt infanticide and other extremist positions—if that’s the platform they hope to run on next year, then they have well and truly earned their sobriquet, the Evil Party.

There are some signs that such extremism is turning off voters; despite the media’s cheerleading, AOC has seen her popularity polls crater; it seems that the more sensible Americas see and hear of her, the less they like her. Which means there’s hope for the Republic yet—but this is no time to get complacent.

Every socialist demagogue of the 20th century started life as an underestimated figure: Mussolini was expelled from the Italian Socialists as too radical; Hitler was a comic-opera figure who wound up in Landsberg prison; Lenin was exiled twice; Stalin was a seminarian who had lost his Orthodox faith and found a substitute in the writing of Karl Marx. Ilhan Omar may not be the brightest bulb in Minnesota, much less in Congress; Rashida Tlaib’s naked hatred for the West may be jarring; and AOC’s vapid, goofy “Green New Deal” narcissism will strike mature adults as risible and clownish, not to mention ruinous.

Just remember this: they mean it. As Rosemary says in “Rosemary’s Baby”:

Wake up, America. For, as scary as this may sound, after Joe and Bernie and Nancy comes le deluge.

How do you solve a problem like Omar, Tlaib, and Ocasio-Cortez? By making sure their first terms in Congress are also their last.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

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Administrative State • Center for American Greatness • Conservatives • Declaration of Independence • Democrats • Donald Trump • Post • Progressivism • Republicans

A State of the Union 75 Years in the Making: Trump Answers FDR

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No mere spectacle, President Trump’s State of the Union address will set the course of his campaign into 2020. The basic divide he sees—whether this is how he would characterize it or not—concerns the meaning of the Declaration of Independence. Does the American Founding celebrate recognizing an equality that calls us to expand and protect the middle class or is the equality it celebrates a call for socialism? That is the distinction between the two parties and between the general citizenry and the elites of the administrative state.

Its rhetorical brilliance aside—in particular the body-slamming choreography with the ladies in white—Trump’s performance-art speech is the most important State of the Union (SOTU) address since Franklin Roosevelt’s in 1944, in which he declared a new understanding of the purpose of government by setting forth an “economic bill of rights” for America. With this speech from Trump, FDR is finally confronted with a reply from a Republican president.

First, the case for what, prior to last week, was the reigning champion SOTU is best made by President Obama’s mentor, law professor Cass Sunstein. Sunstein called FDR’s 1944 address “the speech of the century” in his 2004 book, The Second Bill of Rights: FDR’s Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need It More Than Ever. There FDR lists eight economic rights that create the fundamental right of “security,” given his premise that “Necessitous men are not free men.” He had campaigned for these rights in his first presidential campaign, back in 1932.

Today we would not think these “rights” controversial at all, but they are open to a wide latitude of interpretation. Of course Americans should be able to have good-paying jobs that provide decent wages; home ownership, health care, retirement protections, and education. These are all goods considered to be part of the deal in being American. America is supposed to afford people the opportunity to live a life where these things are attainable. But if these fruits of prosperity are understood as rights in the sense of government guarantees, problems arise.

For example, how much is enough here? FDR declared “The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.” Does “recreation” mean ski vacations in Switzerland? What is “adequate” medical care? Government-paid abortions? Likewise, what does “The right to a good education” entail? Free college tuition—at a community college? Is that a “good education”? These “rights” could be understood as simply middle-class aspirations or as open-ended, spiraling guarantees—precisely where the Left and many hapless people in both parties find themselves embroiled in dispute with their fellow Americans today.

We need to scrutinize Roosevelt’s premise: “As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights [of the original Bill of Rights] proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.” Thus, his new economic rights, we are made to understand, can change under differing political and economic conditions; they are not immutable natural rights that define the nature and limits of legitimate government. Instead, they are rather like politicians’ pledges. Their goal is, the amorphous “equality in the pursuit of happiness.” What does that mean? It depends on who you ask and when you ask it.

Here lie the seeds of the Left’s identity-politics utopianism. Is citizenship for illegal immigrants part of the security they need for their pursuit of happiness? And what about gender identity? Or protection against the humiliations of “appropriation” (viz. blackface)? Legally enforced political correctness follows. Sunstein scoffs that “the fear of tyranny is jejune”—that is, cloddish, so pre-progressive, and the province only of some zombie-like Rush Limbaugh fan. In Sunstein’s view, only such deluded people would, in their peculiar insecurities, have such fears.

But as this long experiment in evolving rights unwinds, it turns out that we deplorables need those antiquated political rights after all, which turn out to be “adequate,” and Trump is the one who finally revives them.

To perform this task, his SOTU sharpens the decisive differences among Americans so we understand where we are. In response to the alarming “new calls to adopt socialism in our country” Trump reminds that “America was founded on liberty and independence, and not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free and we will stay free.” Will we sell our birthright for a bowl of government gravy?

The context in his speech for the blast against socialism is a moral defense of strong borders, the right to life against late-term abortions, and his America first foreign policy. The entire speech is a way of interpreting Rooseveltian aspirations through an anti-New Deal lens, and not for the purpose of fooling anyone but because this is the only realistic and American way to protect and expand the middle class. In doing all of this, Trump even got his audience to laugh (and sing!) together. Like Americans.

The most vivid example of his anti-socialist goal is Trump’s early showcasing of blacks who, though once troubled, redeemed themselves. Bringing ever more blacks into the middle class has been a consistent theme of his political speeches going back to his presidential campaign. But his opponents stick to a narrative seeking to tie him to a racism that—while perhaps characteristic of the incidental supporter whose endorsement Trump did not seek—is not characteristic of Trump, his policies, or of his administration. Yet perhaps it is easier for the Left to denounce a phantom racism than it is to defend their very real advocacy of socialism?

Of course the implications of Trump’s denunciation of socialism are borne out by the indignant leftist reactions to it. Progressives since Woodrow Wilson defended the theory of socialism as legitimately democratic. Once again, Trump draws out the Left.

Recently, E.J. Dionne revived Sunstein’s argument that the “New Deal might be described as an effort not to incorporate socialist thinking but to preserve capitalism by removing its harshest edges.” But Dionne, defending the “Green New Deal,” speaks more boldly: “The s-word is not now, and, in its democratic forms, never should have been, an obscenity.”

In a free country there will always be disagreement over the common good. In its zeal to force consensus, socialism necessarily quashes individual desires. Hence, socialism dismisses political rights, which it holds to be a bourgeois concept that leads to individual achievements (and failures) and, hence, unbearable inequalities.

Today’s ardent leftists, like Dionne, object to Trump’s demonization of socialism.

But Trump is simply playing turnabout on FDR’s maligning of conservative Republicans (that is, those who believed in constitutional government) toward the end of his 1944 State of the Union: “if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called normalcy of the 1920s—then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of fascism here at home.”

Even in FDR’s time, conservative Republicans were made out to be the equivalent of the Nazis—the enemy whom Americans were about to destroy! Democrats have always made such accusations—only temporarily stifled by the Eisenhower presidency—but whenever they are pushed that earworm always returns. Trump is only striking back and restoring justice, 75 years later, as the heroes of Normandy did.

The choreography and lyrics of Trump’s speech reminds us that socialism of the national or international variety, Nazi or North Korean, demands heroic response. Decent people require liberation from their oppression. And Trump is providing it.

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America • American Conservatism • Americanism • Center for American Greatness • Conservatives • Cultural Marxism • Declaration of Independence • Harry Jaffa • Leo Strauss • political philosophy • Post

The Causes of Steve King’s Moral Relativism

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In the course of their public responsibilities and acting on concrete political problems, Congressmen should know better than to ask abstract questions—particularly when in the company of New York Times reporters with no inclination to give them the benefit of the doubt. At best, this from Steve King, seemed another provocation: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive?” Steve King, once again, just could not help himself.

The jumbling together of white nationalism and Western civilization seemed appropriate for many a leftist critic of Western civilization, but not a purported defender of it, as King is. (While I don’t know King, I do know some of his former staffers, all of whom display both intelligence and good character.) Thus, a similar utterance from a Democratic member of Congress might well have gone unnoticed or even produced solicitation for an op-ed for the leading establishment press.

But why, it must be asked, would anyone throw together three such unrelated terms in defense of Western civilization? This is the form some intelligence tests take—which of the following items doesn’t belong? King’s defense has been that he meant to disassociate the first two terms from the last and the Times erred in its punctuation of his quote. The bipartisan answer to his explanation has been to disregard it and proclaim that Steve King doesn’t belong in Congress.

But the more revealing fact about the reaction to King’s statement, reported without any context, was how it displays the creeping moral relativism that infects all our political discourse—on both the right and left.

Fortunately, a just-published book correctly diagnoses this modern disease—Harry V. Jaffa’s, The Rediscovery of America (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019). The 10 chapters—including long sections which have never been published—come from the writings of the late professor from the Claremont Colleges. Written between the late 1980s and 2010, the essays are striking for their insight into our times and current crises, because Jaffa had his eye on eternity and how the present might be illuminated by it.

Because of modern skepticism’s “passionate rejection of all ‘absolutes’” the educated, especially, are prone to make passionate instead of rational judgments about alternatives—turning the university into a “seminary of intolerance” rather than a place to grapple with the eternal questions.

The Left might rely on racial or “gender”-inspired passions, the Right—as apparently it did in King’s case—on the emotive catchwords of the day that they fear will blow back and taint them. Thus, moral relativism produces moral fanaticism, because reason, especially among the young or immature of any age, has little power. Jaffa illuminated this well in his essay provocatively titled “The Reichstag is Still Burning,” which takes on the student radicals and weak administrators of his day and recently has been the subject of a forum over at the Claremont Institute’s The American Mind.

Whatever his immediate subject, Jaffa’s “rediscovery of America” calls for the “sophisticated” to return to their citizen roots. But is it too late for such sentiments to move Americans who have become the kind of self-centered beings our universities seek to produce? Jaffa’s patriotism, indeed his nationalism, is based on the Declaration of Independence’s appeal to reason. Significantly, we Americans celebrate not the political act of our independence (which took place on July 2, 1776) but rather the declaring of that independence. In other words, we celebrate the reasoned argument for it.

Jaffa’s chapter “The End of History Means the End of Freedom” in The Rediscovery of America demonstrates how he proceeds against the relativists and nihilists, with an emphasis on those on the political right. (Earlier in his career he had emphasized his difference with scholars and politicians of the left.) Jaffa’s sobering point is that both the left and the right share in the moral relativism that many Americans sense and dread. The elites do not respect the most profound voices of the American political tradition, preferring instead the intellectuals who flatter each other.

As he does in his review of Allan Bloom’s best-selling The Closing of the American Mind, Jaffa argues that American political documents, in particular, the Declaration of Independence and Abraham Lincoln’s speeches, provide the philosophic grounding and moral teaching to guide Americans today. Francis Fukuyama, his teacher Bloom, Irving Kristol, and virtually all the heads of our universities could never agree with Jaffa on this point and offered only more versions of the same relativism.

In this way, Jaffa takes on one of the most commonly cited works of political science in the last 30 years, Fukuyama’s “end of history” argument, whose jarring 1989 article was expanded into a book. By “the end of history,” the now-Stanford professor and former member of the George H.W. Bush State Department, means not that events cease to happen but that the fundamental human choices have been made—liberal democracy and capitalism have won—and that all subsequent choices will be subsets of those. Perhaps a great man or political movement (like Islam?) might upset this consensus.

Jaffa poses this objection: “If, as Fukuyama … contends, philosophy ends with the ending of history then politics also ends. Politics can subsist only so long as it is thought reasonable for men to differ as to what they ought to pursue.” But if the quest for wisdom ends in the Wisdom of History, then philosophy as skeptical inquiry is no longer honorable or necessary.

And the same holds for faith in God. For those who seek to live by “an eternal and unchangeable order . . . recognize that democratic politics, philosophy, and religion all stand or fall together.” To believe in the end of history is to renounce all three and thereby pull down the heights of Western civilization and yoke them to one’s will. Once again relativism (historically conditioned knowledge) produces a dogmatism (the end of history) that justifies extremism (the claim of Wisdom and thereby tyranny).

All this is a mere warm-up for the most intriguing chapter of the book, an exchange of about 120 pages involving the distinguished Harvard political theorist and conservative, Harvey Mansfield, Jr., titled “The Decline and Fall of the American Idea: Reflections on the Failure of American Conservatism.” The Rediscovery of America signals the rediscovery both of philosophy and politics and thereby the refutation of relativism and its evil brother, fanaticism. At the heart of this endeavor is a recovery of the spiritedness essential for both love of country and love of wisdom.

This absence of this kind of spiritedness among so-called “conservative” intellectuals is what explains their horror at attempts to reinvigorate our politics. They should recall that without such politics, philosophy, and morality will suffer a similar decline.

Photo credit:  Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

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Administrative State • America • Americanism • Center for American Greatness • civic culture/friendship • Declaration of Independence • Democrats • Elections • GOPe • Harry Jaffa • History • Lincoln • Post • Republicans • self-government

The Crisis of the Republicans Divided

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To understand the Republican Party today, in all its cluelessness, one needs to know what it was when it was founded. One needs to know what went into the making of “the party of Lincoln”—less the details of the history than the great crisis of America that was involved.

I would argue that the Slave Power that Lincoln confronted in the 1850s and ’60s bears frightening similarity to the slave power we see today in the administrative state and its manifestations among those in academia, the media, and the corporate and political elite, where political correctness reigns.

Fortunately, a striking opportunity to rediscover this America is a marvelous recent history of republicanism in America, From Oligarchy to Republicanism: The Great Task of Reconstruction, by an emerging scholar, Forrest Nabors. Nabors views America from the time of the Founding through the Civil War and Reconstruction not only in terms of slavery, race, and section but in actual political terms—oligarchy (the rule of the few) and republicanism (democratic self-government). He carefully notes the difference between Northern and Southern lives illustrated by such measures as education, political representation, and land ownership. In this endeavor he supplements the principles supplied by his and my teacher, the preeminent Lincoln scholar Harry V. Jaffa (1918-2015).

The data lead him to the inevitable conclusion that both blacks and working class whites were under the rule of slave-holding oligarchs. Thus, the institution of slavery defined not just the despotic relationship between white master and black slaves but rather the whole society where the few ruled the many. Keep in mind that in 1860 no one in a Southern, slave-holding state could vote for Lincoln; his name did not appear on their ballots.

In responding to my friendly critique of his argument, Nabors presented a brief summary of leading themes of his book. But to be of maximum benefit to his readers, which I hope are many, his essay needs some correction, in the form of how his thesis relates to today’s political crisis.

In sum, Nabors’s response overemphasizes majority rule as the crucial principle of American republicanism. He is completely silent on its bedrock principle of natural rights. Majority rule is derivative from the central truth of natural rights, as we know from Jefferson as well as The Federalist Papers. Attempting to advocate majority rule without natural rights is the error for which Jaffa excoriated conservative legal stars such as Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Scalia.

Fortunately, Nabors’ book is not silent on natural rights. For example, he points out that the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution of the Kansas Territory declared slavery to be established by “the law of nature.” But that’s not the natural right teaching of the Founders. (Recall that Lincoln and Charles Darwin shared the same birthdate, February 12, 1809.)

In Crisis of the House Divided (1959) Jaffa attacked liberal historians in the name of Lincolnian equality, while in A New Birth of Freedom (2000) he attacked former friends, neoconservative and conservative academics and pundits in the name of the social contract. In both books he sought to destroy the credibility of both types of elites, who ignored or misunderstood the natural rights at the heart of the Declaration of Independence. Jaffa advocated natural right in its forms over the historical progress or evolution (historicism) of his opponents. While government by historical evolution is unlimited, the government by natural rights is limited to protecting individual freedoms and human happiness.

But natural right is also ever the cause of revolution and civil war. Therefore, its critics advocated historical evolution as a scientifically grounded theory. The historically advancing consensus John C. Calhoun offered in his political theory (originally as a protection of slavery), returned as a replacement for natural rights. Recall that Calhoun denounced the Declaration of Independence for its “self-evident lie” of human equality.

Calhoun and Woodrow Wilson, despite their differing defamation of the Founders, are on the side of historical progress. (FDR tried to steal the Declaration too, by embracing it and falsely interpreting it.) Liberals and their intellectual establishment embrace the departure from the Founding, easing the way to the odious Howard Zinn and his America-hating history and the rule of political correctness. Nabors himself seems not to object to the banishment of Confederate monuments, a policy that scarcely advances the Founders’ advocacy of natural rights and undermines the public appreciation of martial virtues of ancestors.

So how do Americans restore natural right today, when it becomes scandalous to point out the natural differences between boys and girls? Are we not on the verge of another civil war over natural right? Or might there be another birth of freedom?

Harry V. Jaffa, in some of these collected essays, defended nature in his denunciation of deference to “gay rights.” But he declined to pursue this angle in his later writing.

One step involves the taming of the Darwinian conception of nature, in favor of one that allows for the rationality of final causes, that is, a hierarchy of purposes in human life, as part of the science of man. This science does not necessarily involve a Creator or God, though it would not only not rule one out, it would make that possibility a core of its endeavor.

The next, related step might be to rehabilitate the American founders’ conception of property rights as natural rights, or derivative from natural rights. As Madison contended, “as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.”

I am delighted to report that both steps, as well as others, toward a “scholarship of the politics of freedom” are being taken by students of Harry V. Jaffa.

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America • Big Media • Cultural Marxism • Declaration of Independence • Defense of the West • Democrats • Identity Politics • Post • Progressivism • race • The Culture • The Left

Character Assassins in the Fake News Media

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When Donald Trump refers to the anti-Trump media—CNN, MSNBC and network television—as “fake news,” his description is not only accurate but welcome: finally, a conservative is fighting back against a press whose venomous corruption is a grave threat to American pluralism and its democratic order. But when the same “news” outlets falsely characterize political opponents, including the president, as racists and “hatemongers” to render them illegitimate, our democracy is in grave peril. In sum, the term “fake news” greatly understates the nature of the threat, and, along with it, the crisis we are facing as a nation.

As a prominent antagonist of the Left, I have been a target of its malice for decades—in fact, from the moment I departed its ranks in the 1980s, and vowed to speak to my former comrades in the same language they spoke to others. Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today? Since then I have been one among numerous conservatives victimized by their malevolent disregard for the truth, for anyone with whom they disagree, for common decency, and for the country that gave them their freedoms.

Today things are worse than ever. The Left’s lack of respect for democratic principles, for political “others,” their readiness to employ gutter tactics and mangle the truth, has spread from the Communist fringe publications of the 1960s—like The Nation, and the Daily Worker—to so-called mainstream publications like the Huffington Post, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.

A Racialized Smear
Two weeks ago, despite a 50-year public career as a civil rights advocate, and despite being the author of three published books on race—all of them championing Martin Luther King’s vision of equality—I was attacked as a racist by, among others, the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, Esquire, New York Magazine, Politico, Newsweek, and a host of Florida newspapers, including the Orlando Sentinel, the Tampa Bay Post, and the Sunshine State News. In blaring headlines, I was called “an infamous racist,” “a hatemonger,” “a white supremacist,” and a “race war theorist.” And I wasn’t even the primary target of the attacks.

That honor belonged to Florida gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, and legless war hero congressman Brian Mast, both of whom had the misfortune to attend my Restoration Weekend, which the Post designated “a racially charged event” and the others portrayed as a platform for racists.

As it happens not only do I not invite racists to my events, for 20 years I have featured prominent African Americans as keynote speakers. In addition to Turning Point USA activist Candace Owens, I have recently given awards both to Larry Elder and liberal black Democrat, Adrian Fenty, former mayor of Washington, D.C.. Fenty’s award was for the work he had done to provide scholarships for inner-city children so they could get into schools that would teach them. Other keynote speakers at my weekend have included former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts, former presidential candidate Herman Cain, Wall Street Journal editor Jason Riley, Fox Business Channel anchor Charles Payne, former U.S. Rep. Allen West, Breitbart columnist Sonnie Johnson, Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson.

Must I also mention that I have six grandchildren, whom I love dearly, of whom one is white? Or that on the weekend following these attacks I was at an intimate gathering to celebrate two birthdays with my family and close friends, half of whom were black?

All the attempts to portray me as a racist arose out of a deceitful article in the Washington Post, which bore the headline “GOP Candidate for Florida Governor Spoke at Racially Charged Events.” The transparently sleazy intention of the article was to associate DeSantis with an allegedly racist event, to show that he is a racist himself. Both claims are bald-faced lies. If we were not both public figures, the Post would be facing major libel suits right now.

No Corrections Offered
I have to confess that when I first read the article I missed all the dog whistles to left-wing race baiters, which reporter Beth Reinhard had planted in her text. Consequently, I was taken aback when the article instantaneously triggered the rash of character assassinating headlines in the publications I mentioned, targeting DeSantis, Mast, and me. I just grossly underestimated the malevolence of “liberals” in the era of anti-Trump resistance. The whole episode put me in mind of the Nazi paper, Der Sturmer, which specialized in exactly this kind of attack in the 1930s.

Of all the dog whistles marshalled by Reinhard, my favorite was her comment that one of my speakers, Milo Yiannopoulos made a joke about “black-male genitals.” The obvious implication: Members of Horowitz’s event are racist throwbacks to the era of Strom Thurmond and Bull Connor. In fact, this remark was actually a quite amusing self-referent joke about Milo’s attraction to his newly wed husband, who happens to be black. But if Reinhard had published that fact, she would have blown her whole smear.

Despite my appeals to Reinhard and her editor, Eric Rich, no corrections were offered, or opportunities to correct a damaging, reputation-shredding, election-tilting, misrepresentation of myself and my two distinguished guests. I specifically asked for an op-ed column to respond, or an objective Post profile of my events, but Rich seemed perfectly comfortable with the display of guilt by innuendo in the article and the outrageous attacks that followed. He was obviously comfortable with its consequences, which were clearly intended, and might well be severe. Being falsely tarred as racists could presumably cost two stellar individuals their quests for seats in the election. It’s also left me wondering, what elected official would want to risk such damaging attacks by attending my events in the future.

Lazy, Unprofessional—and the SPLC (Naturally)
One factor in these gutter campaigns that I haven’t mentioned is the laziness and unprofessionalism of the reporters (and editors) involved. Not one reporter participating in these character assassinations for the Post, Huffington Post, Politico, Newsweek, and the other magazines called me to check any of the specific allegations of racism made in their articles. I was interviewed by Reinhard, but she failed to mention the black genitals comment or any of the other dog whistle claims to get my views on them, including the preposterous but damaging accusation that my events were “racially charged.”

“Racially charged,” would of course be an apt description of the hand-holding sessions that Barack Obama, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Democratic Party leadership have conducted with America’s most notorious, most rabid Antisemite, and anti-white racist, Louis Farrakhan. But of course, Farrakhan’s courtiers have prominent roles in the Post’s party of choice and are not going to be held to account by Reinhard, Rich or the rest of the lapdog media, let alone tarred and feathered like Ron DeSantis, Brian Mast, and me.

In fact, all the malicious and baseless claims—that I am “hate-monger,” a “white supremacist,” an “infamous racist,” an “anti-Muslim fanatic,” come from a single source: the discredited Southern Poverty Law Center. This is an organization so reckless in its accusations that it recently paid a devout and moderate Muslim $3.4 million for having labeled him “an anti-Muslim extremist.” The payout to Maajid Nawaz was volunteered because England has much stricter libel laws than does the United States where it is virtually impossible for public figures like DeSantis, Mast, and myself to get redress for the violence that has been done to our reputations and work.

Speaking of laziness and casually malicious reporters, it was to be expected that to check such serious charges, Beth Reinhard would “research” my Twitter feed instead of read the three books I have written about race, or watch on YouTube any of the many speeches I have given on the subject over the years. As it happens, the selection of one of those tweets, illuminates why these racial attacks on myself and my guests are also attacks on this nation.

The tweet Reinhard selected was this: “Black Africans enslaved black Africans. America freed them sacrificing 350k mainly white Union lives. American blacks are richer, more privileged, freer than blacks anywhere in the world, including all black run countries.”

Of course, even though every claim in this statement is true, Reinhard and her progressive audiences see such statements as prima facie evidence of my “racism.” In their narrative, whites enslaved blacks. To imply or say, as I have, that black Americans should be grateful to Thomas Jefferson and white Americans for freeing them is to add insult to injury, and to be insensitive to their suffering. It also undermines the truly racist narrative of the Left that white people are oppressors and evil.

But of course, I didn’t say anything like that. I have never encouraged blacks or anyone else to be grateful to their oppressors. The real issue here is the foundational gift that America made in its very creation to all oppressed minorities, and to black slaves in particular. This is something that the current identity politics of the Democratic Party and the left generally ignores or denies. But if Americans can’t agree on this historic achievement, we no longer have a common bond as citizens of the same nation.

Countering the Leftist Narrative
I specifically posted my tweet as an antidote to the anti-American, anti-white racism that is rampant on the Left, in our schools, in the Democratic Party, and in its kept media, like the Washington Post. The widespread attitude in these quarters holds that American patriotism is “white nationalism.” This claim is a dagger aimed at America’s heart.

Slavery existed in Africa for 1,000 years before a white person ever set foot there. European slavers did not go into the African bush and throw nets over blacks to enslave them. They went to slave auctions in Ghana and Benin, and bought already enslaved blacks from black African slavers. Slavery had existed for 3,000 years and no one had called it immoral, until white male Christians in England and America, understanding the fundamental equality of all human beings in their natures, did so. Thomas Jefferson wrote into America’s birth certificate the revolutionary proposition that all mankind was equal and each individual was endowed with a God-given and therefore unalienable right to liberty.

This commitment launched the emancipation of black slaves in the northern states and ultimately throughout the western hemisphere. By contrast there is still black slavery in Africa today. To free the south’s slaves immediately would have precipitated a civil war; one which the free states would have lost. But within little over one generation, the dedication of Americans to a nation conceived in liberty, led to the abolition of slavery at the cost of 350,000 mainly (but not exclusively) white lives. That is something that should be a source of pride for every white or black American. That is an achievement that unifies our nation. We participated in an evil system that we inherited from the British, yes. But as a nation we dedicated ourselves to liberty and equality and ended it.

The political Left doesn’t want Americans to be proud of their country. They don’t want blacks to recognize they had benefactors who were white Christian males. So they lie about our history, and attack us as white supremacists. It is a sad comment on the state of our country that merely stating the facts of our heritage should be considered anti-black and racist, particularly by institutions like the Washington Post.

When one side insists on denying our history, attacking patriots as “white nationalists” and smearing political opponents as “white supremacists” we no longer have a common ground as a people.

Photo Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

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Declaration of Independence • political philosophy • Post • self-government

The Timeless Principles of the Declaration of Independence

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The Continental Congress voted on July 2, 1776 to declare independence from Great Britain and approved the final wording of the Declaration on July 4. John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail during the period leading up to declaring independence: “Time has been given for the whole People, maturely to consider the great Question of Independence and to ripen their judgments, dissipate their Fears, and allure their Hopes, by discussing it in News Papers and Pamphletts, by debating it, in Assemblies, Conventions, Committees of Safety and Inspection, in Town and County Meetings, as well as in private Conversations, so that the whole People in every Colony of the 13, have now adopted it, as their own Act.” This involvement of “the whole People” was not a new practice, but one that had been cultivated for generations.

Declaring independence was done in the name of the people:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation (emphasis added).

Invoking the people in the first line of the Declaration was not simply a rhetorical flourish or a dramatic overture; the former British subjects, now American citizens, were actively involved in severing ties and forming a new nation.

Calvin Coolidge, in his speech on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, stated that the act of declaring independence “represented the movement of a people.” He explained further:

It was not, of course, a movement from the top. Revolutions do not come from that direction. It was not without the support of many of the most respectable people in the Colonies, who were entitled to all the consideration that is given to breeding, education, and possessions . . . . The American Revolution represented the informed and mature convictions of a great mass of independent, liberty-loving, God-fearing people who knew their rights, and possessed the courage to dare to maintain them.

The people Adams and Coolidge described did not rise up spontaneously. The recognition of duties, liberty, and rights began in the century prior to independence. It was simultaneously a civic, cultural, and political formation that continues to this day and consciously must be perpetuated.

Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America, discovered the principle and the life of American freedom in the township and recognized that it fostered self-governance. It nurtured the growth of freedom because of what it permitted and required and because of its limited scope. “Interests, passions, duties, and rights came to be grouped around the township’s individuality and strongly attached to it. In the heart of the township one sees a real, active altogether democratic and republican political life reigning.” Though initially confined to the emigrants in New England Tocqueville observed, the two or three principal ideas that formed the bases of the social theory of the United States and were combined in New England “penetrated the entire confederation.”

The freedom that was cultivated among the New Englanders thus became a part of the habits of the nation. This point cannot be given too much emphasis. In his chapter on the principal causes of maintaining the democratic republic in the United States, Tocqueville points to mores, which he understands as the habits, opinions, usages, and beliefs of the people, as regulating and directing the democracy of the United States. These mores, Tocqueville explains, are habits of the heart and of the mind; they comprehend the moral and intellectual state of a people. The experience of the township instilled in the immigrants and their descendants the love of freedom and the habit of governing that Tocqueville saw as crucial to sustaining democratic institutions. What Tocqueville observed was consistent with Adams’s description of the people’s involvement in declaring independence.

The assertion in the Declaration that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed again recognizes the active participation of the people. The practice of consent began as early as 1610 with the Mayflower Compact that united the first settlers of the Plymouth colony. In his 1821 speech commemorating the Declaration of Independence, John Quincy Adams described the compact as “a social compact formed upon the elementary principles of civil society, in which conquest and servitude had no part. The slough of brutal force was entirely cast off; all was voluntary; all was unbiased consent; all was the agreement of soul with soul.” The shared root of the words consent and consensus is from the Latin consentire, to be in agreement, in harmony.

The Plymouth settlers drafted a compact that bound them into a body politic for better ordering and preservation, to enact and frame just and equal laws, acts, and constitutions for the general good of the colony. These same settlers were also British colonists. It is their descendants who severed ties with the British for not recognizing their inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The colonists exercised their legitimate right in 1776 to separate and withdrew consent from being governed further by the British.

The events leading up to independence began when the British levied taxes on the colonists with the passage of Sugar Act in 1764 and the Stamp Act in 1765. Individual colonies protested by sending letters and petitions to the British Parliament, but James Otis of Massachusetts, who had been advancing arguments invoking the natural rights of the colonists, suggested an intercolonial conference. Representatives from several colonies met as a body to formulate a response in the form of a Declaration of Rights and Grievances. The colonists in their private capacity also published letters and pamphlets arguing against the taxes.

While boycotts had greater impact toward ending British taxation, this initial intercolonial meeting was significant because it was a first attempt at providing a coordinated response to the British through a representative body. Following on this, the First and Second Continental Congresses met in Philadelphia in September 1774 and in May 1775, respectively, to address British actions that the colonists deemed hostile or contrary to their interests. Committees of Correspondence between the colonial governing bodies also served to develop ongoing intercolonial communication, which informed both private citizens and legislators.

We can begin to discern a pattern that has been woven into the fabric of America from these three examples: the local governments observed by Tocqueville as cultivating self-governance, private individuals adhering to a compact of their own design, and cooperative intercolonial bodies articulating rights and seeking redress for grievances. The tradition of convening groups of people, citizens, to seek common ground or resolve disputes, appointing representatives to governing bodies to meet on behalf of the people, and formulating a united response after debate, is a long standing tradition in America that preceded the formation of the states and the nation and was instrumental in declaring independence successfully from the British.

The citizenry was not only habituated to these practices, their representatives were as well. Coolidge made the following observation as it specifically related to declaring independence:

This obedience of the delegates to the wishes of their constituents, which in some cases caused them to modify their previous positions, is a matter of great significance. It reveals an orderly process of government in the first place; but more than that, it demonstrates that the Declaration of Independence was the result of the seasoned and deliberate thought of the dominant portion of the people of the Colonies. Adopted after long discussion and as the result of the duly authorized expression of the preponderance of public opinion . . . It was in no sense a radical movement . . . It was conservative and represented the action of the colonists to maintain their constitutional rights which from time immemorial had been guaranteed to them under the law of the land.

The orderly process mentioned by Coolidge is one that has become a hallmark in America, but it goes beyond the elected representatives carrying out the wishes of the electorate. Two organizations that spawned significant movements in the United States modeled their Declarations after the Declaration of Independence: the American Anti-Slavery Convention in 1833 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the Woman’s Rights Convention in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York.

Both acknowledged the rights in the 1776 Declaration, but the Anti-Slavery advocates sought to complete the recognition of those rights for all and the Woman’s Rights advocates sought to expand them. Their efforts to accomplish their goals overlapped and included sending forth agents, circulating tracts, enlisting the pulpit and the press, purifying churches from the practice of participation in slavery, encouraging the labor of freemen, petitioning state and national legislatures, and organizing Anti-Slavery Societies and holding Women’s Rights Conventions throughout the country. Their efforts to disseminate their arguments and persuade the citizenry and their elected representatives is consistent with the practice that was followed by the colonists and subsequently citizens of the newly formed United States upon declaring independence.

Among the finest examples in the twentieth century of shaping and influencing debate through an orderly process consistent with that which started with the colonists was Martin Luther King’s non-violent protests. In his “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” King explained the steps he took to achieve full recognition of those rights articulated in the Declaration of Independence. He was in Birmingham because it was the most segregated city in the United States. It had, in King’s words, an ugly record of brutality; there was no justice to be had in the courts, and the city fathers refused to engage in good-faith negotiation. Requests to the Birmingham economic community to “remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs” also failed. Like the colonists some two centuries previously whose efforts at negotiation with the British failed, King’s efforts also failed. He saw himself standing between the forces of complacency and those who called for violence. It became clear to him that other methods had to be tried; he decided on a course of direct action.

King wrote, “We would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self-purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: ‘Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?’ ‘Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?’” King prepared the protesters, in an orderly manner, for a non-violent protest with a specific aim: “The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.” This is one example of the colonists’ experiences differing from King’s efforts: in spite of repeated efforts, the British refused to negotiate; King fared better, though not before grave trials and sufferings.

While many were critical of King’s efforts, he responded:

Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue . . . . I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

Similar to the efforts of the colonists who declared independence and proclaimed that they were To assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, King used various means to achieve an equal station for those living in Birmingham and all other places that continued to suffer the gross injustices that festered in those places that previously denied life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The Anti-Slavery Society and the Women’s Rights Convention acted in a similar fashion to King and the colonists; they raised the tension by bringing to the forefront matters that needed debate. There were disagreements, but the goal was to seek a remedy and resolve the tension. The practices that date back to the colonists of acting in concert to right wrongs, to do so without violence, and to advance reasoned discourse in order to persuade have been used repeatedly throughout the nation’s history.

Returning to Tocqueville’s discussion of township, he warned that freedom can only be sustained when the institution has been among the people and its existence is part of their habits and customs. “In order to defend themselves successfully they must have completed all their developments and have been mixed with national ideas and habits.” We should remind ourselves of these practices, in private capacities and public, and embrace them anew to resolve our contentious debates.

Editor’s note: This essay is based upon a speech delivered at the St. John’s College Graduate Institute, Santa Fe, New Mexico, July 4, 2018, “Does the Declaration of Independence Still Speak to Us Today?”

Photo Credit: Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

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America • American Conservatism • Americanism • Conservatives • Declaration of Independence • Michael Anton • Post

Social Compact, American Style

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And the “debate” rages on. Mostly in nitpicky and unproductive directions. But a new attack by Robert Tracinski raises the grave and misunderstood question of the social compact, and so provides an opportunity to reorient ourselves around a true understanding of first principles.

But first, to Tracinski’s lesser points. He accuses me of “doctor[ing’]” a quote on the debate on the 14th Amendment without explaining why [I] previously failed to note the change in the quote or to explain it.”

In fact, I did note the change. That’s what brackets mean. If you see these two little symbols in a quote—[ ]—it means that the words, letters, or punctuation marks within them do not appear in the quote exactly as written. I thought that everyone who knows how to read English knew this elementary rule of punctuation. Apparently not.

As for not “explain[ing]” the purpose of the change, the charge is laughable. I explained at great length the meaning of the change. Indeed, most of the criticism of my response has been along the lines of “TL;DR.” So it’s rich now to be accused of not explaining.

Tracinski references a “series of other quotes” that I cited but he does not analyze any of them. Instead, he simply accuses me of forcing on them an “idiosyncratic interpretation.” He does not explain what is “idiosyncratic” about demonstrating, through quotations, that plain words which all say the same thing also mean the same thing. We should not be surprised that he does not do so because it would be hard to do.

To demonstrate that I am wrong, one would have to show either that all the quotes I cited either do not mean what they plainly mean, or else show that they were superseded by some later, different understanding. Tracinski does not even attempt either of these tasks. Nor do any of the rest of my critics, as far as I have been able to find . . . Read the rest at the Claremont Institute.

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America • Congress • Conservatives • Declaration of Independence • Identity Politics • Immigration • Libertarians • Post • The Constitution • The Courts • The Left

Dred Scott? Seriously?

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The radical Left’s resort to ad hominem attacks and allegations of “racism” against their political opponents has become so commonplace that the charges have become virtually meaningless. Apparently, the open-borders Right now thinks that by joining the catcalls, they can resurrect some of the old sting.

How else to explain the recent spate of scurrilous charges leveled against Michael Anton for daring to state that the 14th Amendment—as the Supreme Court itself has recognized—does not mandate automatic citizenship to children born on U.S. soil to parents who owe their allegiance to a foreign sovereign. Anton is anti-Black, anti-Asian, and anti-Hispanic—indeed, anti all non-white people—and even wants to restore the infamous holding in Dred Scott, claims The Federalist’s Robert Tracinski. He wraps himself in the flag “while loathing the republic for which it stands,” asserts Bill Kristol. His argument “is an offensive dumpster fire,” adds David Marcus, also at The Federalist.

These histrionics are not much different than those emanating from the left side of the spectrum. Garrett Epps, for example, says in The Atlantic that Anton’s position is the “constitutional equivalent of flat-earthism,” even Hitlerism. Mark Joseph Stern at Slate calls Anton’s argument “Racist, Ahistorical Gobbledygook.” What these over-the-top accusations from both the open-borders Right and the radical Left share is a refusal to confront the argument against them, which is usually a pretty good indication that they cannot. Better, then, to try to shut it down with name-calling.

What Jurisdiction Means
The argument they seek to avoid is pretty straightforward, and compelling. The language of the 14th Amendment’s citizenship clause contains two components. First, “all persons born . . . in the United States”; “and” second, “subject to its jurisdiction,” are to be automatically citizens. The phrase, “subject to the jurisdiction,” standing alone, can have two meanings: A full, allegiance-owing jurisdiction, and a partial, territorial jurisdiction. Anyone present in the United States (save for diplomats) is subject to her partial, territorial jurisdiction. Think of a British tourist temporarily visiting the United States on vacation, who is subject to the law that we drive on the right side of the road, not the left.

Even those who are in the country illegally are subject to our laws while here. Subject to the full jurisdiction, on the other hand, involves some kind of allegiance, such as arises when someone has become, or is in the process of becoming, part of the body politic. The issue, then, is which of these two meanings was intended by the drafters and ratifiers of the 14th Amendment.

On that, we do not need to speculate, because the question was posed directly to the leading sponsors of the 14th Amendment. Responding to the question whether the clause would mandate citizenship for “Indians” because they were “most clearly subject to our jurisdiction, both civil and military,” Senator Lyman Trumbull (R-Ill.), a key figure in the drafting and adoption of the 14th Amendment, responded that “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States meant subject to its “complete” jurisdiction, “[n]ot owing allegiance to anybody else.”

Similarly, Senator Jacob Howard (R-Mich.), who introduced the language of the jurisdiction clause on the floor of the Senate, contended that it should be construed to mean “a full and complete jurisdiction,” “the same jurisdiction in extent and quality as applies to every citizen of the United States now.”

And what was the “same jurisdiction” that applied at the time? It was set out in the 1866 Civil Rights Act, which the 14th Amendment was intended to constitutionalize: “All persons born in the United States, and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States.” The slight variation in language was designed to address the issue that Indian nations were not “foreign powers,” but domestic ones; it was not designed to broaden the mandated citizenship to anyone who managed to make it to U.S. soil even while maintaining their allegiance to a foreign power.

Tested in the Courts
In the 
Slaughterhouse Cases (1872), the Supreme Court agreed. This was the first case to come before it after the adoption of the 14th Amendment, and the Court there noted that “[t]he phrase, ‘subject to its jurisdiction’ was intended to exclude from its operation children of ministers, consuls, and citizens or subjects of foreign States born within the United States.” So much for the claim that the “subject to the jurisdiction” clause excluded only the diplomatic corps.

Granted, that was dicta, but it became holding a decade later, in the case of Elk v. Wilkins. There, the Supreme Court held that an “Indian” born on U.S. soil was nevertheless not a citizen by virtue of the 14th Amendment’s citizenship clause because the phrase, “subject to the jurisdiction,” required that he be “not merely subject in some respect or degree to the jurisdiction of the United States, but completely subject to their political jurisdiction, and owing them direct and immediate allegiance.” Hence, the Supreme Court made clear that the phrase, “subject to the jurisdiction,” was used in the complete sense, not the partial, territorial sense. As Thomas Cooley noted in his authoritative treatise, “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States “meant full and complete jurisdiction to which citizens are generally subject, and not any qualified and partial jurisdiction, such as may consist with allegiance to some other government.”

Much is made of the Supreme Court’s later decision in Wong Kim Ark, in which the Court held in 1898 that the child born on U.S. soil to Chinese immigrants was a citizen under the terms of the 14th Amendment. But Wong Kim Ark’s parents were permanently and legally domiciled in the United States, a point that the court went out of its way to emphasize. The holding of that case (as opposed to some of its broader dicta) therefore did not address whether the children of parents who were here only temporarily as visitors (“temporary sojourners,” to use the language of the day) and who continued to owe allegiance to a foreign power, were automatically citizens merely by birth on U.S. soil. And it certainly did not address whether the children of parents who were in this country illegally could lay claim to automatic citizenship. And no case since then has so held, either. Anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or lying.

Race Has Nothing to Do With It
The perfectly sensible distinction drawn in the 14th Amendment is between those whose lawful and permanent residence in the United States evidences an allegiance to the United States, and those whose mere temporary presence (or even unlawful presence) evidences no such allegiance. This is true no matter the region of the world at issue. Someone from Western Europe who has illegally entered the United States, or overstayed a temporary visa, has no more claim to citizenship for her child born here than does someone from Asia, or Africa, or Central or South America.

Conversely, a child born on U.S. soil to anyone who arrived legally and has become a lawful permanent residence is a citizen no matter the nation of origin of the parents. Quite simply, race has nothing to do with it. Lawful, permanent residence, sufficient to make the parents “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States in the full and complete sense, does.

More fundamentally, this original understanding of the 14th Amendment is in accord with one of the most fundamental tenets of the Declaration of Independence, namely, that legitimate governments are based on the consent of the people. What constitutes “a people” who consent to a particular government is in turn also based on consent, and it is a mutual consent, not a unilateral one. Just as the United States cannot unilaterally impose the duties of citizenship on peoples in other nations, so too, others cannot unilaterally claim the benefits of United States citizenship. That task is, under our Constitution, assigned exclusively to Congress, which has the power to set the rules for naturalization—which is to say, to define who should be offered citizenship.

Misreading the 14th Amendment to confer automatic citizenship on the children of temporary visitors and, even more troubling, on the children of those who have entered this country illegally, destroys the notion of consent, usurps Congress’s plenary power to set naturalization policy, and undermines the rule of law. Worse, it is a throwback to the old feudal notion that anyone born in the King’s realm is forever the King’s subject. Our Declaration of Independence renounced that archaic claim. We should be appalled that self-proclaimed intellectuals on both the Right and the Left want to resurrect it.

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America • Americanism • civic culture/friendship • Declaration of Independence • Defense of the West • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Greatness Agenda • Post • Progressivism • Russia • The Media • Trump White House

Trump, Russia, and Manufactured Hysteria

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It’s been a week filled with manufactured hysteria. After his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, President Trump was accused of denying American exceptionalism, implying moral equivalency, and insulting the U.S. intelligence community. Insofar as he did some of these things, doing so was predictable and prudent. But those things are also sacred cows for anyone who prescribes to a progressive foreign policy, so the talking heads in D.C. want people to go nuts. And they are willing to gaslight the country to make it happen.

Trump’s Sin Against American Exceptionalism

First, the president’s critics in Congress and in the press accuse him of denying American exceptionalism. More precisely, “He did not stand up and give a robust defense of American exceptionalism.” True. This is not to say he denied that America is an exceptionally good country. Trump clearly loves America above all other countries. Trump denied American exceptionalism in the sense that he denied that it means America has some special right and authority above all other countries to save the world.

American exceptionalism of this kind sounds good, but it isn’t. It is foreign policy speak for the idea that America plays by different rules than the rest of the world—a more palatable justification for American empire than the progressive’s old “white man’s burden.” Robert Worley describes American exceptionalism as the justification for America’s “crusading spirit” to spread democracy.

Worley attributes the idea to Tocqueville, who he says observed that “America believed that it was the exception to the rule [that nations must respect other’s sovereignty]. Its heart is pure and its intentions benign because it does not seek empire through territorial acquisition. Accordingly, American interventions abroad would be accepted, even welcomed.” In short, America is so exceptional that it has the right to meddle in everyone else’s affairs to establish what Bill Kristol has called “benevolent hegemony” over a democratic world.

So the critics are right; President Trump certainly did deny that understanding of American exceptionalism, but everyone should have expected that. Trump has been denying it the whole time and he is right to do so. He is not one to believe, as David Goldman has put it, that “the neoconservative delusion that democracy and free markets are the natural order of things.”

Trump takes people and regimes as they are, even North Korea. Individual sovereignty is a cornerstone of his foreign policy. In nearly every speech or interview on the subject of foreign policy, Trump is clear on this point. The National Security Strategy reinforces it. In the end, American exceptionalism as a justification for American empire is a direct contradiction to the sovereignty of other nations.

Trump’s Sin Against Moral Superiority

Second, Trump is accused of implying a moral equivalency between Russia and the United States. More precisely, he echoed his earlier tweet at the press conference, saying “I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we’ve all been foolish.”

The problem here is connected to the problem with American exceptionalism, because it is hard to dispute that in some ways America is morally equivalent to Russia, both good and bad. This is not to say the U.S. regime and the Russian regime are equal. Clearly, the the United States is superior. But it’s also true that the United States does many of the things Russia does. We may not violate British sovereignty by murdering people with exotic poison, but we do violate a lot of other countries’ sovereignty by killing people with drones. Likewise, we interfere in lots of other nations’ elections. The United States and Russia are also morally equivalent in a benign way insofar as both are sovereign countries. That Trump highlights this last part is what really irks the ruling class because it denies American exceptionalism as they understand it.

Jimmy Quinn at National Review puts it plainly:

The real story is not that the United States has intervened in foreign elections and influenced foreign political outcomes, but that it has done so to promote democracy and political liberty and human rights. The talking heads trafficking in examples of U.S. interference neglect to mention that the goal of American policy has always been to prop up anti-totalitarian, pro-market leaders, if operations to do so have oftentimes been messy. The Soviet Union during the Cold War, and Russia today, by contrast, sought and seek to install their allies to morally indifferent ends.

Again, everyone should already know that Trump doesn’t think the United States has special authority to do things we say others shouldn’t do. He has made that clear in multiple interviews. But ironically, Trump wasn’t saying any of this at the summit. This might be evidence that the outrage is pre-planned, much like the outrage over his supreme court pick.

When Trump spoke at the summit, he said: “I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we’ve all been foolish. We should have had this dialogue a long time ago, a long time frankly before I got to office. And I think we’re all to blame.” The equivalent responsibility and foolishness is that we have not been working toward diplomacy, not that we have been killing people or meddling in elections. Though it would not have been impossible to make a case that the United States has been guilty of such things (as I note above), this is not what Trump did. It didn’t happen. The media’s scripted gaslighting on this point is glaring when you actually watch the interview or read the transcript.

Trump’s Sin Against the Intelligence Community

Which leads to the third sin: Trump’s supposed insult to the U.S. intelligence community. Like the moral equivalency farce, the outrage here is based on fake news.

The “Trump throws the U.S. intelligence community under the bus” meme took off among the political class. Left, right, and center, nearly everyone immediately bought into the false narrative. The only person of note who didn’t seem to buy in was Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), as he stood for an interview with CNN and called out the Trump Derangement Syndrome while they pushed the meme on the news banner below him.

The meme appears to be the product of President Trump’s answer to what Angelo Codevilla rightly calls a shameful question from an AP reporter in an excellent piece on the issue. Everyone should watch the actual answer for himself before taking the fake news media at its word. Not only did President Trump not throw anyone “under the bus,” he praised the U.S. intelligence agencies. Nor did he “side with Putin,” as has been commonly reported. He specifically avoids taking either side.

That Trump was comfortable doing this was predictable, since obviously he distrusts the U.S. intelligence community. It might surprise some people in the capital, but millions of Americans distrust the intelligence community too. Even so, Trump didn’t really say as much in Helsinki. The meme that Trump insulted the intelligence community only works if disagreement with the intelligence community is the same as throwing them “under the bus.” This only makes sense if you believe the progressive line that government bureaucrats in the intelligence community are above reproach. But the myth of apolitical experts is a progressive ideological lie and more and more people know it every day.

Moreover, Trump was right to avoid taking a side. In that situation, avoidance was the only good option. Had he actually sided with Putin, the United States would have looked weak. Had he sided with the intelligence community, he would have had to condemn Putin. Doing that would have undermined the whole point of the summit, which was to build a better relationship going forward.

Look and Think for Yourself

If one takes a step back and tries to consider how the press conference between Trump and Putin should have gone, given that the decision was already made to meet and the goal was to build relationships, then Trump performed well. What else was Trump supposed to do? Perhaps he might have answered in a more polished way, but substantively, what should have been different? I cannot divine, nor have I seen anyone else offer, another option that doesn’t seem manifestly worse.

Yes, Trump could have “stood up to” Putin and “called him out” in unmistakably condemnatory terms. But this seems so obviously wrong. If the goal is enhancing diplomacy and building a working relationship, then moral posturing is also not an option. Calling someone out about the past doesn’t seem helpful when the idea is to build a future relationship.

The arguments criticizing Trump’s performance at the press conference seem to reduce down to nothing more than “America good! Russia bad!” combined with “Call him out!” and a shriek of “How dare he?!” This is the embodiment of progressive thinking: all piety and no prudence. As Chris Burkett explains in an excellent essay:

[The progressive] approach to foreign policy, driven as it was by ideology, also eschewed the Founders’ emphasis on the need for prudence in the application of just principles. In the realm of foreign affairs, the Founders believed they should choose the best course in light of particular circumstances. Prudence was also necessary to weigh the possible consequences—long- and short-term, harmful and beneficial—of our actions rather than acting impulsively in pursuit of even a just end. Wilson’s replacement of prudence with ideology in American foreign policy meant that the tempered pursuit of what is best given the circumstances would give way to the uncompromising pursuit of what is simply right.

Trump’s view of things, in contrast, is closer to that of America’s Founders. And everything he said in the summit is consistent with things he has said before. The outrage over his words could have been prewritten the moment Trump announced his plan to meet with Putin. Some of it probably was.

In the end, the critics of the Trump-Putin summit were going to hate whatever Trump said in Helsinki because they are in fundamental disagreement with the president about the nature of foreign policy for America. They knew they would hate it and they had their weapons at the ready. Trump and his foreign policy are the real threat to them, not the words spoken in Helsinki. This is the natural response of a ruling class that cannot fathom a foreign policy approach apart from the progressive cornerstones of American exceptionalism and the goodness of government bureaucracy. Thankfully Trump has a different approach.

Photo credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

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