The GOP and Constitutional Democracy

The late political scientist E.E. Schattschneider famously said that “modern democracy is unthinkable save in terms of the parties.” Two healthy political parties committed to the constitutional order, even while disagreeing in powerful ways, are essential to maintaining constitutional democracy. While it is true that both parties on occasion have factions that are less committed to constitutional democracy than would be ideal, the GOP has taken a particularly dangerous turn in recent years as these forces have largely taken over the party.  As Peter Wehner writes in The Atlantic: “All Americans should hope the Republican Party regains its philosophical bearings and moral … Continue reading The GOP and Constitutional Democracy

Calhoun, Madison, and Minority Rule

Adam Jentleson has an essay at The Atlantic on the problems of minority rule and the filibuster. The filibuster is often justified as fostering deliberation, requiring the building of broad and complex majorities that cross the partisan divide. It might be particularly defensible when it comes to the appointment of judges—requiring 60 senators to approve of such lifetime appointments. But that’s no longer the case. In point of fact, as Jentleson shows, the filibuster really serves to empower a minority veto on routine lawmaking. It owes far more to the thinking of John Calhoun than James Madison:  “In his Disquisition on Government, Calhoun complained … Continue reading Calhoun, Madison, and Minority Rule

The Flight 93 Riot

Shep Melnick has an excellent essay at Law and Liberty on the “Claremont Institute’s Constitutional Crisis.” He rightly suggests we should think of the violent assault on the Capitol on January 6th as the “Flight 93 Riot” and looks at how the folks at the Claremont Institute seem intent on tearing down the Constitution while giving lip service to praising it.   Continue reading The Flight 93 Riot

Academic Freedom and Constitutionalism

Following Jeff, let me highlight the important work Keith Whittington has done in spearheading the Academic Freedom Alliance to protect and preserve academic freedom. I am also honored to be among the founding members.  But let me also highlight the link between education and constitutionalism. The modern American university and the American liberal arts college are, in many ways, outgrowths of American constitutionalism. These “learned institutions” are also a complement to American constitutionalism. Academic freedom is essential to the development of knowledge and truth, which help shape our political culture. This includes university education of a wide-ranging sort that includes things we do not usually associate … Continue reading Academic Freedom and Constitutionalism

Mask Mandates are Reasonable

I suppose I understand Ben’s point that a responsible conservatism does not need a state mandate to enforce socially responsible behavior during a pandemic. That individuals and private associations are willing to act in responsible ways and require mask wearing even if the government does not mandate it. And that’s in contrast to “Trumpian” conservatism that emphasizes rebellion against the state. The latter engages in a kind of posturing, which leads supporters to refuse to wear masks even when they are mandated by private entities rather than government agents. It makes masks a partisan issue subject to the performative politics … Continue reading Mask Mandates are Reasonable

A Clarification on the Separation of Powers

I agreed with Ben’s essential point that within the separation of powers we can expect President Biden to have a somewhat different perspective on executive power than candidate Biden or, especially, Senator Biden. That point was about the institution shaping the occupant of the office. That’s embodied in Madison’s famous line about the interests of the office holder being connected to the “constitutional rights of the place.”  I am skeptical, however, that this understanding of the separation of powers captures our contemporary Congress. Ben takes heart that even while Republicans were reluctant to resist President Trump, the fact that they … Continue reading A Clarification on the Separation of Powers

Separation of Powers? Or Separation of Parties?

I think Greg Weiner’s friendly amendment to Ben Kleinerman’s argument may be more than an amendment. What Greg rightly notes is that the logic of the separation of powers should be institutional, not partisan. It is not particularly odd that President Biden sees things differently than Senator Biden. He occupies a different office with different obligations and responsibilities. This is the constitutionally induced hypocrisy that Ben speaks of. (Having said that, Greg is entirely right that there should be principled limits on what the executive is willing to push.) But when members of Congress are what Greg calls “situational constitutionalists,” … Continue reading Separation of Powers? Or Separation of Parties?

Civic Education and Civic Virtue

An upcoming AEI event, Recovering republican virtue in a fractured age, puts these questions front and center. In the first essay of the “Federalist Papers,” Alexander Hamilton noted that it fell to the American people to decide “whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.” To secure the former would depend on cultivating a kind of public-spiritedness now commonly referred to as “republican virtue.” But what exactly is republican virtue? How should it intersect with … Continue reading Civic Education and Civic Virtue

Democracy and the Constitution

David Frum has an excellent essay at The Atlantic, The Founders were Wrong about Democracy. The Constitution was meant to cultivate complex majorities rather than empower minority rule. Yet Frum is right to ask whether devices meant to channel and refine popular understandings have empowered minority rule. In many instances, they clearly have. But Frum pushes further, asking whether these devices create disorder and instability. Would we better off with simple majority rule on a host of issues? Frum makes a powerful case that “The United States in the 21st century has reached a point where the best way to attain the … Continue reading Democracy and the Constitution