Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Fundamental Division In US Politics

In a 2006 interview, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said the Constitution is “basically about” one word — “democracy” — that appears in neither that document nor the Declaration of Independence. Democracy is America’s way of allocating political power. The Constitution, however, was adopted to confine that power in order to “secure the blessings of” that which simultaneously justifies and limits democratic government — natural liberty.

The fundamental division in U.S. politics is between those who take their bearings from the individual’s right to a capacious, indeed indefinite, realm of freedom, and those whose fundamental value is the right of the majority to have its way in making rules about which specified liberties shall be respected. 
George Will is a pretty bright guy.
The argument is between conservatives who say U.S. politics is basically about a condition, liberty, and progressives who say it is about a process, democracy. Progressives, who consider democracy the source of liberty, reverse the Founders’ premise, which was: Liberty preexists governments, which, the Declaration says, are legitimate when “instituted” to “secure” natural rights. 


allen (in Michigan) said...

Will is wrong.

The argument between conservatives and lefties - for the moment, progressives - is about whether the power of government is ultimately the possession of all the citizenry or whether that power must be directed by the self-selected wise and special. For the latter, any legal transgression is subordinated to a "common good" which inevitably results in poverty, authoritarianism and distinct, and legally enforced, societal classes.

maxutils said...

I agree with Will, and with the founder about inalienable rights ... but the founders absolutely did NOT establish democracy ... and thank heavens they didn't. It's a representative democracy. They didn't trust people to vote intelligently, and rightfully so. If Nancy Pelosi can't be trusted to read a healthcare bill before voting on it... how can you expect the masses to? When we've attempted direct democracy in CA, via proposition, it almost never winds up well. Still ... I really detest 8 of our current supreme court justices. well ... 7. I find both the liberal and conservative wings completely predictable and not intellectually strong ... except for Scalia who I always like to hear from, though he makes some baffling decisions (the eminent domain case, for one). Kennedy ... I at least gets the sense that he considers each case on its merits and votes his conscience... Breyer was obviously wrong, and I guess if you want an example of a 'lefty' precept that is wrong ... it's a good one. I'm not sure it's helpful, though.

allen (in Michigan) said...

It's not like the founders had all that much choice in whether they were creating a representative form of government. I doubt the people who'd just fought a nasty, lengthy war against a monarchy would have been all that excited at the prospect of swapping one monarch for another. No, we were going down the road to democracy even if a significant percentage of the population wanted a king that being all they'd known.

Once you've determined that a democratic form is what you're going to use to build your governance structure you're faced with the details of how to go about building that government. In a sense it's an engineering challenge and not too unlike that faced by the students in this video -

The problem is to build as robust as structure as possible since the materials you're given to work with aren't the sort that can be depended upon when the stresses get severe. Not a bad metaphor for the problems faced by the founders and that's what they did - engineered a government built of flawed, unreliable material to withstand stresses both internal and external while maintaining a degree of flexibility necessary to deal with unforeseeable circumstances. So far it's held up pretty well.