Browsing "Future Political Conundrums"

Judicial Overthrow of State Governments

The framers of our second constitution in 1787, as they did in their previous Articles of Confederation, clearly intended to protect their States, and their citizens, from an oppressive central government like the one they had just freed themselves from. And in no way would they have wanted a federal agent intruding into State domains and forced compliance with regulations formulated by distant bureaucrats. With an all-powerful federal bureaucracy emerging victorious in 1865, no State – North or South – could dare challenge the federal interpretation of the Constitution or what passed for federal law.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circ a1865.com

 

Judicial Overthrow of State Governments

“Two hundred and eight years ago, when the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, there was general agreement with its text: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Two hundred and eight years ago, Americans thought of themselves as citizens of their States first, and only secondarily as citizens of a national federation. Now it is unclear that most Americans are aware of the Tenth Amendment, let alone the principle that the federal government is supposed to be one of limited and enumerated powers.

How did we come to this pass? Is there any hope that the federal courts will once again read the Constitution and, at least to the extent implied by that document, resurrect something of the doctrine of States’ rights? [Even] Washington, Hamilton and Madison would have been astonished at present-day incursions of the central government and its courts.

Passed after the Civil War, the 14th Amendment was originally designed to allow newly freed blacks to own property and to make contracts. But it became a tool, in the hands of mid-20th century federal courts, to impose a centralized, secularized and egalitarian social system on the entire nation.

Federal judges began to read the 14th Amendment provisions that no State should be permitted to deprive any person of the “equal protection of the laws” nor to deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without “due process” as a license to turn the restrictions of the Bill of Rights against the States and to set up strict rules about which State policies were permissible and which were not.

With the scantiest evidence, and in the face of overwhelming data to the contrary, the Supreme Court declared that the 14th Amendment was designed to “incorporate” at least some, and perhaps all, of the protections of the Bill of Rights against State governments.

There is no doubt that the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, had been drafted in the late 18th century in order to reassure the proponents of strong State governments that the federal government would not infringe on the sovereignty of the States or their people. Without even acknowledging the usurpation, the federal courts turned the Bill of Rights into a tool to reduce radically the discretion of the State governments.

The First Amendment clearly provides, for example, that “Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech . . . or regarding an establishment of religion,” but the congressional prohibition was soon read – blatantly contrary to the intention of the frames of the Bill of Rights, if not the framers of the 14th Amendment itself – to extend to State legislatures and officials as well.

It may be too late to save State sovereignty and the original intention of the Constitution. A slew of bold supreme Court appointments by a conservative Republican president might help, but so far only Justices Thomas and Scalia, and occasionally Justice Rehnquist, have acknowledged that the Court has been operating for one or two generations in clearly unconstitutional territory.”

(Sisyphus and States’ Rights, Stephen B. Presser; Chronicles, April 1999, excerpt, pg. 13-14)

 

Consolidating the Northern Triumph

At North Carolina’s 1867 State convention at Raleigh, Northerners were actively creating Republican Party organizations in every county, and all featured the revival of secret political societies like the Heroes of America and the infamous Union League. White Republicans were quick to realize that mobilizing the black vote was the key to dominating and controlling Southern politics. As Joseph G. de R. Hamilton wrote in “Reconstruction in North Carolina (1914, pg. 242), “In a spectacular way the colored delegates were given a prominent place in the convention. Most of the white speakers expressed delight at the advancement of the Negroes to the right of suffrage.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Consolidating the Northern Triumph

“With the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment and the elimination of slavery, every African-American was counted as one person and not three-fifths of a person for purposes of congressional representation.

If the white and black voters of the South united, the southern and Northern Democrats could possibly control both houses of Congress. The Republican Party went into panic mode – what was to be done?

The answer was simple: export racial hatred from the North to the South with a little twist. Instead of white people being taught to hate black people, as was so common in New England, Republicans would teach Southern black voters to fear and hate Southern white voters.

It should be pointed out that most Northern States at that time still prohibited African-Americans from voting. By mobilizing a large bloc of angry black voters and prohibiting large numbers of white Southern voters from exercising the right to vote, the Republican Party insured its rule in Washington.

The Republican Party’s fear of a racially untied South was made even more frightening when former Confederate leaders spoke out in favor of black/white unity. Just a few months after the close of the War, from New Orleans, General [PGT] Beauregard stated:

“The Negro is Southern born; with a little education and some property qualifications he can be made to take sufficient interest in the affairs and prosperity of the South to insure an intelligent vote.”

No one can question the Confederate General who is slandered the most as an evil racist is Nathan Bedford Forrest. In a speech to a group of black voters, Forrest reflected the goodwill that had existed before Republican Reconstruction, He states:

“We were born on the same soil, breathe the same air, live in the same land, and why should we not be brothers and sisters . . . I want you to do as I do – go to the polls and select the best men to vote for . . . although we differ in color, we should not differ in sentiment . . . do your duty as citizens, and if any are oppressed, I will be your friend.”

The use of race-hatred became a very successful Republican tool to divide the South into warring parties. These warring parties, both black and white, failed to realize that in the process of enriching Republican industrialists, bankers and politicians, they were at the same time impoverishing themselves.”

(Punished with Poverty: The Suffering South, Prosperity to Poverty & the Continuing Struggle; James & Walter Kennedy, Shotwell Publishing, 2016, excerpts, pp. 65-66)

Liberator and Imperial Protector

What General Enoch Crowder warned of below was reminiscent of Reconstruction’s political control in the South, as Washington-recognized Northern carpetbag governors and legislators gained official recognition and were free to engage in fraudulent political methods and elections to remain in power. Under Lincoln and the Republican Radicals, the US government became “a blind instrument for fastening an undesirable or fraudulent government upon a people” – 50 years later the Cuban people were assured of fraudulent government fastened by Washington.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Liberator and Imperial Protector

“The conditions imposed on Cuban independence at the end of the American military occupation in 1902 had effectively subjected Cuban sovereignty to U.S. supervision. “The Government of Cuba,” Article III of the Platt Amendment stipulated, “consents that the United States may exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the preservation of life, property and individual liberty, and for discharging the obligations with respect to Cuba imposed by the Treaty of Paris on the United States.

By virtue of the Platt Amendment, Washington assumed ultimate responsibility for underwriting the solvency of national administration. The very conduct of [Cuban] national politics emerged as a source of policy concern in Washington. The American presence in Cuba loomed pervasively, functioning always as the understood coefficient of all political strategies.

Specifically, the Platt Amendment, as the understood basis of U.S. Cuban policy, encouraged outright an incumbent party, assured of American support, to embark on a course of partisan excesses, including reelection through illegal, if ostensibly constitutional, methods.

As early as 1912, General Enoch H. Crowder, the U.S. legal advisor during the second intervention, caution Washington against becoming captive to the political maneuvers of any single faction in Cuba. With a sober understanding of . . . U.S. – Cuban treaty relations, Crowder warned:

“Having once gained the official recognition of this government, and so become “the duly constituted authority,” . . . it could by fraudulent practices as was undoubtedly done in the last election for President prior to the election of 1906, secure its apparent reelection, and if the protest became too violent to overcome, such government would only have to notify the President of the United States and request assistance. The right of a people to change their rulers, and in fact change their form of government when it becomes subversive of the principle for which it is instituted . . . is essential to the preservation of a free government . . . Provision should be made that the United States will not be made the blind instrument for fastening an undesirable or fraudulent government upon a people whom we profess to be preserving a free government.”

Crowder’s plea went unheeded. On the contrary, within a year, Woodrow Wilson proclaimed constitutionality as the cornerstone of US Latin American policy . . . “We are the friends of constitutional government in America, Wilson averred, “We are more than its friends, we are its champions.”

(Intervention, Revolution and Politics in Cuba, 1913-1921; Louis A. Perez, Jr., University of Pittsburgh Press, 1978, excerpts pp. 11-12)

Today’s Tower of Babel

Like Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations — the victors imposing their order on defeated and newly-created ethnic “nations” in a utopian fashion — the later United Nations goal was to create the same and prevent future wars. Wilson naively believed that the League could prevent unethical behavior by states and use force to control them which did nothing but spark future wars. Today, formerly Christian nations in Europe have shed their historical identities to become merely market collectives with no borders, and populations of multi-ethnic tribes warring against each other.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Today’s Tower of Babel

“[Western] nations are obviously evolving into godless societies; they hail not the sovereignty of God but of man, and claim that religious beliefs are essentially detrimental to peace. But it takes only common sense to realize that atheism goes hand in hand with unfettered individualism.

Modern times are times of hostility to religion; it is no happenstance that they have also seen the birth of radical individual freedom. Epicurus long ago taught that there could be no society among men but that which obtains among small circles of friends; it is no happenstance that he also taught that there are no gods.

Inasmuch as a nation is a cohesive body whose members are the individual citizens, it needs some sort of cementing mortar to bridge the gap that the freedom of each unavoidably creates between them, and all the more as such freedom becomes absolute. Building such a bridge presupposes that all citizens participate in something . . . [that] transcends them all . . . binding them without oppressing them.

And since this is the very definition of a religious belief, it must be concluded that no nation exists that is not upheld by some religious faith. Nations are terrestrial vessels anchored in the skies.

But Europe used to believe in a religion that (even though the passions of men led them too often to ignore it) preached a love of one’s neighbor that did not imply hatred of foreigners. Indeed, classic orthodox Christianity always taught men to love their own countries together with all men, irrespective of their nationalities. But then it meant that, just as is the case for individuals, nations – though distinct entities – felt they were parts of the same world; not a political one, since they all retained some sort of independence, but a spiritual one, whose unity was manifested at the time by their common compliance with one spiritual authority.

Today, we have something paradoxically called the United Nations, whose more or less goal is to unite mankind in a worldwide society built on the ruins of all nations. It is our Tower of Babel.”

(The Agony of Nations in the West, Claude Polin, Chronicles, February 2016, excerpts, pg. 13)

Suppose a Triumphant Confederate Government

The writer below left New York for South Carolina in November, 1870 for a position as a law clerk for a US Attorney and State Senator David Corbin, a New York native and fellow carpetbagger. Expecting to see “orange groves and palms” upon his arrival, the writer instead gazed upon blackened ruins “rudely shattered by a conquering foe.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Suppose a Triumphant Confederate Government

“Ten years after the secession of South Carolina and less than six after the close of the consequent Civil War between the States, I became a South Carolina “carpetbagger.” That is, I migrated from our “Empire” to the “Palmetto” State.

What I say [about carpetbaggers and scalawags] is said in no caviling temper. Whether to the debit or credit side, it must go to the account not of South Carolina nature in particular, but of human nature in general. No doubt the inhabitants of every other community in the world would in similar circumstances have acted as South Carolinians did. Take Massachusetts, for instance, the State which in those days and for two generations before was cross-matched with South Carolina in the harness of American politics.

Suppose the Confederacy had triumphed in the Civil War. Suppose it had not been satisfied with establishing secession of the Southern States, but had forcibly annexed the other States to the Confederacy under provisional governments subordinate to the Confederate authorities at Richmond. Suppose that in pursuit of this policy the Confederacy had placed Southern troops in Massachusetts, established bureaus in aid of foreign-born factory hands, unseated Massachusetts officials, and disenfranchised all voters of that aristocratic Commonwealth of New England who rejected an oath of allegiance they abhorred.

Suppose that in consequence Southern “fire eaters” and Massachusetts factory-hands had together got control of the State and local governments, had repealed laws for making foreign-born factory hands stay at home of nights and otherwise to “know their place,” and were criminally looting the treasury and recklessly piling State and county debts mountain high.

Suppose also that the same uncongenial folk were administering national functions under the patronage of a triumphant Confederate government at Richmond – the post offices, custom houses, internal revenue offices and all the rest. And suppose that this had been forcibly maintained by detachments of the victorious Confederate army, some of the garrisons being composed of troops recruited from alien-born factory hands.

Suppose moreover that there had been sad memories in Boston, as there were in fact in Charleston, of a mournful occasion less than ten years before, when the dead bodies of native young men of Brahmin breed to a number equaling 1 in 100 of the entire population of the city had lain upon a Boston wharf, battlefield victims of that same Confederate army now profoundly victorious. And suppose that weeds had but recently grown in Tremont Street as rank as in an unfarmed field, because it had been in range of Confederate shells under a daily bombardment for two years.

I am imagining those conditions in no criticism of Federal post-war policies with reference to the South nor as any slur upon the factory hands of New England, but for the purpose of creating the state of mind capable of understanding the South Carolina of 1871 by contrasting what in either place would at the time have been regarded as “upper“ and “lowest” class. If my suppositions do not reach the imagination, try to picture a conquest of your own State by Canada, and fill in the picture with circumstances analogous to those in which South Carolina was plunged at the time of which I write.”

(A “Carpetbagger” in South Carolina, Louis F. Post; Journal of Negro History, Carter G. Woodson, editor, Volume 10, January 1925, excerpts, pp. 11-12)

Millennialism’s Fresh Set of Insoluble Dilemmas

Author M.E. Bradford wrote that in America, “race (at last as far as the Negro is concerned) has proved to be an almost indestructible identity,” and has led to us stepping away from cherished liberties. He goes on that despite its ill-effect upon our original principles, it was predictable “that liberty, as our tradition understands the term, should begin to reassert its original hegemony, that the oldest of liberties honored among us – rights grounded in the fundament of English inheritance” shall return to favor, “though in new disguises.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Millennialism’s Fresh Set of Insoluble Dilemmas

“Jefferson’s fire bell sounded in the legislative darkness, tolling the “knell” of the Union he had so much helped to shape. After Missouri, States achieved full membership in the federal compact only after meeting federally determined prescriptions concerning the status of blacks within their boundaries – conditions not imposed upon the original thirteen and without real precedent in the Northwest Ordinance.

Predictably, Jefferson’s Union did die – in 1861. And in the latter stages of its ruin, the connection between blacks and American millennialism intensified. With Equality (capital E) the new Republic played some verbal and opportunistic games. I leave aside for the moment the merits and demerits of this “second founding.”

For, once completed . . . the Trojan horse of our homegrown Jacobinism was rolled away to some back stall within the stable of received American doctrines. Emancipation appeared to have changed nothing substantial in the basic confederal framework. Neither did it attempt any multiracial miracles.

Most certainly, New England has had its high expectations of a City on a Hill; likewise, even the South owed, from its earliest days, some inertia to a hope of Eden over the sea. Moreover, in company with the frontier States, both regions drew comfort from the idea of a “manifest destiny.” Yet the total nation has, characteristically, despised and rejected who or whatever aspired to dragoon its way to such beatitudes through the instruments of Federal policy.

The only full exception to this rule, I insist, is the “civil rights revolution” of the past thirty years. In connection with the difficult question of the Negro’s place within our social compact, an imperative was discovered, stronger than any ever pressed upon us before: there discovered because the Negro’s lot within that compact was so difficult (and so slow) to improve.

With it we have made fair to force the issue, even if liberty (and its correlatives: law, localism and personalism) loses much of its authority as a term of honor: is diminished especially insofar as it applies to that nondescript but substantial many who captain, man and propel the ship of state.

Of course, as Lenin wrote, the only way to make men equal is to treat them unequally. And Lenin’s advice does not function inside our curious native dialect. The only equality Americans can universally approve is accidental, a corollary of liberty or simple equality before a law with limited scope.

In 1820 . . . we took an initial step away from liberty; in 1861-1877, a few more. And from these examples, from our uneasiness at the – to the millennialist sensibility — greatest of built-in American “scandals,” in the post-World War II era we arrived at converting at least one feature of millennialism into a positive goal. To use the late William Faulkner’s idiom we set out to “abolish” the Negro we knew, both as a presences and a problem. The results begin to speak for themselves, the fresh set of insoluble dilemmas which, with each dawning day, cry out for more potent magic than the cures for yesterday’s injustice which spawned them into existence in the first place.”

(Remembering Who We Are; Observations of a Southern Conservative, M.E. Bradford, UGA Press, 1985, excerpts pp. 47-48; 50-51)

Conservative Robert A. Taft

Like other Old Right conservatives (rightly said to be the spiritual descendants of antebellum Southern conservatives), Robert A. Taft looked askance at the newly-discovered “civils rights” and saw the Constitution as controlling any and all civil liberties. The likely 1948 and 1952 presidential candidate of the GOP, he was thrust aside by the developing liberal wing of that party in favor of Thomas Dewey and Dwight Eisenhower.  The same liberal wing of the GOP helped defeat conservative Barry Goldwater’s presidential run in 1964.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Conservative Robert A. Taft

“In 1945 he voted against a compulsory federal Fair Employment Practices Committee, declaring that “Race prejudice is a deplorable thing . . . but I don’t believe it is possible to legislate human prejudice out of existence. This seems to me an interference by Federal Government in millions of employer-employee relationships – the regulation of business and individual life. I particularly object to giving some Federal board power to pass on the motives of the employer, a fact almost impossible to determine in most cases . . .”

Taft . . . in an address to the colored students of North Carolina College . . . told his audience that the “control of education under our Constitution is in the jurisdiction of the States and not of the Federal Government. As long as States provide equal educational facilities for white and colored children in the primary schools, I do not think the Federal Government has the constitutional power to require a State to change its established system of education.”

This qualification was not calculated to please the audience. Taft’s position was that if qualitative equality of segregated schools existed in fact, then the federal government possessed no constitutional authority to intervene; presumably he would not have assented to Chief Justice Earl Warren’s later decision that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

Negroes interested in politics generally were friendly toward Senator Taft. One colored citizen of Ohio remarked, “Our Senator Taft’s record is wonderful . . . Senator Taft is not pro-Negro. He is not pro-white. He is not pro-labor, nor pro-management. The man has some strange passion for justice. He is not trying to win our votes so much as he is trying to do what is right.”

Asked to explain his general position on civil rights, Taft replied that civil liberties could be understood only in the context of the Constitution; therefore an unqualified endorsement of Negro claims, in the abstract, was impossible for him.

“Broadly speaking,” he continued, “the question is whether I feel that the Federal Government should intervene to protect individuals in their constitutional rights against the actions of other individuals and State and local governments.” He believed that the federal authorities should intervene when such action was clearly sanctioned by the Constitution.

(The Political Principles of Robert A. Taft, Russell Kirk, James McClellan, Fleet Press, 1967, pp. 74-76)

Wilson Confronts Old-Fashioned Imperialism

Despite being one of the most scholarly men to ascend to the presidency, professional historian and political scientist Woodrow Wilson was described as being “surprisingly uninformed about foreign affairs.” After election on the promise that no American boys would die on Europe’s battlefields, he was bullied into the war by steel, munitions and financial lobbies, as well as British propaganda, while dreaming of his part in erecting a world peace that would endure forever. Washington presciently warned of foreign entanglements; Wilson’s secrecy and blunders brought nearly 117,000 American dead by 1918, and as he helped lay the foundation for a German nationalist to replace the Kaiser, another 407,000 American dead in World War Two.  It was far better to leave European intrigues to Europeans.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Wilson Confronts Old-Fashioned Imperialism

“President Wilson apparently at first thought that American participation in the war would be confined primarily to economic and financial contributions, with the navy to help cope with the U-boat menace. As Allied needs became more fully known, however, it became apparent that victory would necessitate the training and transportation to the western front of vast numbers of American troops.

Wilson and Secretary [of State Robert] Lansing, despite subsequent denials to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, were aware prior to the peace conference of the existence of the secret treaties among the [European] Allies which provided for territorial gains after the war. These treaties and agreements, such as the 1915 Treaty of London between the principal Allies and Italy, were not necessarily evil but were in fact the inevitable results of a coalition war.

To Wilson, however, they represented old-fashioned imperialism which would endanger the future stability and peace of the world. During his visit to America, [Britain’s Lord] Balfour had revealed most of the terms of the territorial arrangements whereby Germany’s colonies were to be apportioned among the victors and important territories in Europe and the Near East would be similarly allocated.

The only major agreement of which the major American officials were not then informed was that relating to Japan’s acquisition of the German holdings in Shantung Province, China. There can be little doubt that the president and his secretary of state knew the essential details long before the peace conference convened. The official attitude, however, remained one of indifference and formal ignorance:

“This Government is not now and has not been in the past concerned in any way with secret arrangements or treaties among European powers in regards to war settlements. As to the secret treaties [released in Russia] . . . the Department [of State] has no knowledge of their existence or their terms except through reports emanating from the Bolshevik press.”

Aware of these arrangements to divide the spoils, Wilson wrote [Colonel Edward] House that “England and France have not the same views with regard to peace that we have by any means.” Yet to discuss postwar settlement at that time would only precipitate disagreements and a probable weakening of the war effort, to the benefit of Germany.”

(The Great Departure, The United States and World War One, 1914-1920, David M. Smith, John Wiley and Sons, 1965, excerpts, pp. 85-87)

Bad to Legislate for Minority Groups

 

Representative Graham A. Barden of North Carolina was adamant that federal aid to education should be controlled by the States, and that no public money should go to private schools. On the other side was Catholic Rep. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who wanted federal money to help pay for bus service to parochial schools. Barden was a strident opponent of growing federal intrusion into States, stating that Federal housing officials are “piling up little caves and cliff dwellings in the city for people who have no jobs and expect to live off someone else.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Bad to Legislate for Minority Groups

“In the 1948 presidential campaign both political parties noted the need for improvements in public education. The Republican platform favored “equality of educational opportunity” and “promotion of educational facilities.” The Democrats forthrightly advocated “Federal aid for Education administered by and under the control of States.”

[Third District of North Carolina, US Representative] Graham Barden had approached the issue of Federal aid with reservations, but by 1949 he had become convinced that Federal assistance was necessary . . . but he was unwilling to accept Federal control or interference and would “not agree to the appropriation of Federal tax money to private or church schools.”

[Barden introduced his bill which] unequivocally prohibited States from allocating money to nonpublic schools. The bill also allowed taxpayers who felt this provision was being violated to bring suit in the Federal courts.

[On] June 14 Dwight David Eisenhower, then president of Columbia University, publicly stated his opposition to Federal laid because it would promote more control of the country by the central government. “In short,” he said, “unless we are careful, even the great and necessary educational processes in our country will become yet another vehicle by which the believers in paternalism, if not outright socialism, will gain additional power for the Federal Government.”

Barden, himself fearful of centralization, must have been amused to know that in the mind of the General he was promoting socialism.

The charge that the bill was discriminatory towards Negro children added a new dimension to the debate and was a charge Barden did not understand. He believed in the doctrine of separate but equal schools for Negro children, but . . . equal meant equal. As a member of the North Carolina State Legislature, he had been an advocate of paying Negro and white teachers the same, transporting the children of each race at State cost in the same manner, and providing buildings of the same quality.

Barden replied: “The charge of discrimination against Negroes is simply a piece of manufactured propaganda emanating from those who did not have the nerve to stand on the real objection to the bill, to wit that it prohibited the use of funds for private or parochial schools. Dealing specifically with the Negro question, my approach to this problem differed from the Senate approach. The Senate dealt with the Negro as a minority group. I dealt with them as being Americans for I fear it is a bad precedent for us to continue to legislate for minority groups.

When asked about the possibility of compromise, Barden [replied]:

“If you leave [the bill] open for supporting any private school [with public money], you leave it open for supporting any school that exists or may be organized – by anybody from the communists on up.”

(Graham A. Barden, Conservative Carolina Congressman, Elmer L. Puryear, Campbell University Press, 1979, excerpts, pp. 80-83; 86-89)

Liberal Visions and Missionary Rhetoric

 

With Lincoln’s revolutionary actions in April 1861 — assuming the power to raise armies, suspect habeas corpus at will and arrest Supreme Court justices who defied him — the presidency changed from one of conciliation and compromise to near dictatorship. He and his liberal Northern power base concentrated all power in Washington, and thus ended the formerly decentralized federation of republics. The office of president became an end in itself with powers remaining impaired today, and never-ending crusades.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Liberal Visions and Missionary Rhetoric

“Since the beginning of this century, American liberalism has made little measurable progress toward two of its most important goals: a more equitable distribution of income and an improved level of public services. Confronted by the realities of corporate power and the conservatism of Congress, the reforming zeal of the liberal state has been easily frustrated.

This is mirrored in the stymied hopes of the New Freedom by 1916, the stalemate of the New Deal by 1938, and the dissolution of the Great Society by 1966. What is left by these aborted crusades is not the hard substance of reform but rather the major instrument of change – the powerful central state.

The demands of a strong central government and an aggressive foreign policy were ideologically reinforcing. The liberal search for national unity and an expanding domestic economy could not be separated from the vision of an internationalist order which was “safe from war and revolution and open to the commercial and moral expansion of American liberalism. This was a vision shared by Woodrow Wilson and Cordell Hull.

To Hull and Wilson, and later Dean Rusk, peace required the structuring of diplomacy through an elaborate network of collective security arrangements; prosperity demanded the removal of national trade barriers.

Such a vision . . . could not contain within it the forces of either revolution or reaction and led almost inevitably to a foreign policy marked by conflict and crisis. Each new foreign policy crisis in turn strengthened the state apparatus and made the “National Idea” seem even more appropriate – a development which liberals, especially of the New Deal vintage, could only see as benign.

Peace and prosperity, political themes of the Eisenhower years, were considered indulgences by Kennedy liberals . . . Eisenhower’s cautious leadership was considered without national purpose. To those liberals the American mission could be no less than “the survival and success of liberty.”

The “National Idea,” glorified by such transcendent goals, became a Universal Mission, viz., Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s assessment, “The United States has an active and vital interest in the destiny of every nation on the planet.” President’s felt mandated not to complete a mere domestic program but rather, to quote the Kennedy inaugural, “to create a new world of freedom.”

Nevertheless, such missionary rhetoric was eminently compatible with the liberal vision of governmental problem solving and reform emanating from the top. For those who gloried in the legacy of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, the president was the incarnation of the “National Idea,” or in Richard Neustadt’s phrase, “the sole crown-like symbol of the Union.”

After a generation of such fawning rhetoric, it is little wonder that the modern president’s conception of himself bears closer resemblance to the fascist notion of the state leader than even to a Burkean concept of democratic leadership. As President Nixon described his role, “He (the president) must articulate the nation’s values, define it goals and marshal its will.

Republican presidents replaced Democratic presidents without affecting the slightest diminution of executive power. At the propitious moment of international crisis the Congress is circumvented, the public, then most vulnerable to demagoguery and deception, is confronted with a fireside chat, a special address, or a televised press conference.

The result, as conservative James Burnham has pointed out, is Caesarism – the culmination of the executive state: “The mass of people and the individual Caesar, with the insulation of the intermediary institutions removed, become like two electric poles . . . the vote is reduced to a primitive Yes-No . . . and the assemblies become a sounding board for amplifying Caesar’s voice.”

(The Ideology of the Executive State, Robert J. Bressler; Watershed of Empire, Essays on New Deal Foreign Policy, L. Liggio and J. Martin, editors, excerpts, pp. 2-7)

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