China’s “Stiff Competition”

In a recent press briefing from White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, she said: “I can say and would echo what he said, which is, generally speaking, we’ve made clear our concerns about the military capabilities that the PRC continues to pursue. And we have been consistent in our approach with China: We welcome stiff competition, but we not — we do not want that competition to veer into conflict. And that is certainly what we convey privately as well.” Thinking of China as a “stiff competitor” has already attracted a great deal of criticism. I thought it worth commenting … Continue reading China’s “Stiff Competition”

Politics and Moral Neutrality

Just recently I came across this essay connecting Max Weber’s essays “Science as a Vocation” and “Politics as a Vocation” to Trump’s impeachment. According to Zaretsky, civil servants both in Weber’s time and in our own have worked with the “imperative of vocation,” even or especially when, in the words of Weber, “an absolutely immeasurable factor” like the Kaiser in Weber’s time or Trump in our own act unpredictably and without thought. They must be, Zaretsky argues, “devoted to their calling” or their vocation even in the midst of the “absolutely immeasurable factor”of a leader like Trump or the Kaiser. … Continue reading Politics and Moral Neutrality

The Problem with Presidential Narratives and the Need for Humility

As the situation in Afghanistan worsens, the President has continued to maintain that our withdrawal has mostly gone as planned. He has claimed that the significant problems aren’t ours; they are traceable to an Afghan government that wasn’t willing to stand up to the Taliban. Even if this account is correct, it still fails to solve Biden’s difficulties. As we watch the Kabul airport first fill with people, then fill with people on the outside, then fall victim to what was a predictable terrorist attack, it’s hard to believe that this was the plan. Why couldn’t the evacuation of American … Continue reading The Problem with Presidential Narratives and the Need for Humility

August 13: Can Foreigners Become Citizens and Govern?

On August 13th, they took up a debate about whether to require four years or seven years of citizenship before someone was eligible to serve in the House of Representatives. Ultimately, they settle on seven years and the Constitution still requires seven years of citizenship before being eligible. But their debate on this question is interesting for what it reveals about the founders’ varying conception of citizenship. Elbridge Gerry voices what we might call the “nativist” worry: “Persons having foreign attachments will be sent among us & insinuated into our councils, in order to be made instruments for their purposes.” … Continue reading August 13: Can Foreigners Become Citizens and Govern?

August 8th: Morris Redeems Himself

Having made the controversial argument the day before that the national vote ought to be restricted to freeholders, Morris makes an argument much more friendly to our ears on the next day. Up until this point, the Convention had mostly danced around the controversial question of slavery. The South would only enter the Union if slavery were secure; the North wanted the South to enter the Union and so it was willing to compromise on the question of slavery. On this day, it seems Morris couldn’t hold it in anymore: “He never would concur in upholding domestic slavery. It was … Continue reading August 8th: Morris Redeems Himself

August 7th: The “Freeholder” Debate

After having paused for about a month while the Committee of Detail composed a draft of the Constitution itself, the Representatives returned on August 6th to consider this draft. August 6th consisted of little more than reading the draft. On August 7th, they took up a more robust debate about the details of the new Constitution. Among other things debated that day, the question of who would have the right to vote in national elections arose. Gouverneur Morris, whose instincts had always seemed ahead of his time, made the controversial and seemingly outdated suggestion to “restrain the right of suffrage … Continue reading August 7th: The “Freeholder” Debate

July 25-26: Who Should Elect the President?

The Convention spent a considerable amount of time going around in circles regarding how to elect the President. For the most part, there was agreement that they ought not be chosen by the Legislature. So the question then became who was to choose presidents if not the legislature. Since this would be a national office, could the people as a nation choose them directly? It is often said that the Convention settled on the Electoral College partially because they wanted a filtering mechanism such that presidents would be chosen by those with more judgment and experience than the mass of … Continue reading July 25-26: Who Should Elect the President?

July 20: Impeachment

Having discussed the great strength of the President during the previous day, the Convention now turned to the crucial control on that strength: impeachment. The form of the Constitution not just here but throughout the structure always ties power to responsibility. The President can be vigorous because the President is subject both to reelection and to impeachment. All-too-often when our political culture discusses the Constitution too much emphasis is placed on the checks. In placing such emphasis on these checks, we assume the essential purpose of the Constitution was to limit governmental power. But the Presidency is the example par-excellence … Continue reading July 20: Impeachment

July 19: Executive Strength, Independence, and Re-eligibility

I apologize for posting this a day late. Unlike those in the Constitutional Convention, I think summer vacations are essential! After having completed the debate on representation discussed in our previous posts, they began another difficult debate about the strength of the executive. Whereas the debate about representation mostly centered on questions of interest, rather than those of principle, the debate about executive power was much more theoretical. Governeur Morris demonstrated once again his mastery in this Convention by beginning the debate with a vigorous case for a vigorous executive. At this point, a strong executive was tremendously controversial. As … Continue reading July 19: Executive Strength, Independence, and Re-eligibility

July 14: How Federal Would the Federal Government be?

The July 14th debate illustrates well the disagreement about whether this federal government would be a union of the States or a Union of the states. It’s hard for us now to recover fully this dispute because, after the Civil War, it became clear to everyone except the state of Texas that the national government was supreme in sovereignty to the state governments. The state governments persisted and have never been treated simply as functionaries of the national government, but there was no longer a question of ultimate supremacy. By contrast, prior to the Civil War, almost all documents say … Continue reading July 14: How Federal Would the Federal Government be?