Friday, July 2, 2010

Russell Kirk on Federalism and the Imperial Presidency

From "this essay adapted from the classic work The Roots of American Order, [in which] the great conservative thinker Russell Kirk (1918–1994) offers an enlightening look at the system of 'federalism' outlined at the Convention of 1787" — The Roots of American Order: Federalism — this certainly stands out:
    As Henry Maine notes, the office of the President really is the office of a king—the chief difference being that the American President is subject to election, at fixed terms, and that the office is not hereditary. Maine even suggests that the framers of the Constitution may have had in mind the powers of George III when they established the powers of the American presidency. In one way, the President today is more powerful than was that King: his cabinet is not responsible to any parliamentary body, but only to himself. (In 1787, England’s present system of “cabinet” government had not developed fully.) The lack of a strong executive had been one of the conspicuous defects of the Articles of Confederation, and the framers of the Constitution deliberately gave the President greater authority than any mere prime minister could have possessed. Besides, without a titular king, whose minister could such a prime minister have been? Commander-in-chief of the armed forces and director of the national civil administration, the President would be comparable to the Roman emperor—except that he is given no judicial powers by the Constitution. The first six presidents, from Washington to John Quincy Adams, were men of good education and a high sense of duty who deliberately restrained themselves in the use of their powers; had they been autocrats or demagogues, the executive branch of the American government might have reduced the legislative and judicial branches to insignificance. [Emphases mine.]
The Articles of Confederation, with their "lack of a strong executive," were arguably better. Just think of the strong executives of our history: the Lincolns, the Wilsons, the Roosevelts, the Trumans, etc. Would we not have been better off without them? How many "men of good education and a high sense of duty" have served since J.Q. Adams?

One of the cruel ironies of history is that the truer supporters of federalism were the Anti-Federalists, about whom, Laurence M. Vance, Daniel Larison, and Gary Galles respectively agree (but about the hyphen) — The Anti-Federalists Were Right, The Anti-Federalists Were Right, and The Antifederalists Were Right. That said, today, a return to the principles of their opponents at the time, the Federalists, would be a radical and welcome departure.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Abdul Alhazred said...

This is how we should remake our national government --

Head of government? The Chancellor, serving as president of his party, a parliamentary style of government.

Representatives will now be referred to as Deputies (of Parliament) -- and will carry a badge signifying that they are Deputies.

Congress will no longer be called "Congress". Instead: the Diet.

The Senate will remain the Senate.

The head of state? The Doge, like in old Venice. He (never a she) will be selected by the Senate, and appointed for life, serving in a ceremonial and symbolic capacity, offering wise advice and council from time to time.

Also, the Doge will never be allowed to leave the Doge's Palace -- formerly known as the "White House" -- during his term as the Doge. However, he will allowed to be able to take as many wives as he chooses, and to execute those wives who displease him.

Lastly, voting & office-holding rights will be extended to 14-year-olds, in the hope that they will eventually elect a counterculture fascist as the Chancellor, who will embark on a program to have everyone over age 35 imprisoned in "retirement camps" and forced to ingest LSD daily.

2:41 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

I'd like to us simply revoke the Constitution and return to the Articles.

3:01 AM  

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