When Scholars Subvert Truth to Politics

A while back, I wrote about an accusation that my criticism of Trumpism was poor strategy, since it did not serve the conservative cause. Herewith, what happens when scholars subvert truth to politics: CNN has published John Eastman’s chilling memo outlining how then-Vice President Mike Pence could declare Donald Trump to be the choice of the Electoral College in 2020. Eastman was a law professor when he wrote it, though he resigned shortly afterward. There is a long tradition in Western thought of the scholar-statesman, from Cicero to, more recently, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. It is an admirable tradition. Moreover, no … Continue reading When Scholars Subvert Truth to Politics

August 31: Ratification and Republicanism

Gouverneur Morris suffered a rare defeat, and on a key issue, on August 31. The topic was the mode of ratification for the proposed Constitution, which by then was taking reasonably clear shape as the Convention neared the end of its work. Morris, attempting to expedite ratification, suggested relaxing the draft’s requirement for popular conventions, instead allowing states to ratify as they saw fit. Madison’s response underscores his underlying republicanism. If state legislatures were allowed to drive the consideration of the Constitution, they would manipulate the process to preserve their own power. Then he struck at the heart of the … Continue reading August 31: Ratification and Republicanism

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 23: Seeds of the Second Amendment

A seemingly mundane August 23 debate over who should govern state militias helps to illuminate the purpose of what later became the Second Amendment. The proposition on the table was to empower the national government to “make laws for organizing, arming & disciplining the Militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the U. S. reserving to the States respectively, the appointment of the officers, and authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed-“ Elbridge Gerry immediately objected that enabling the national government to “arm” militias “would be regarded as an instrument of … Continue reading August 23: Seeds of the Second Amendment

Parliamentarian Autocracy and Congressional Mojo

Back in June, the Senate Parliamentarian told the U.S. Senate that it lacked the power to pass multiple pieces of legislation through the Budget Reconciliation Process in one year. Instead, Senate Democrats wishing to circumvent the filibuster in order to pass Democratic Party priorities would only get one shot to do so this year. The Reconciliation Process, wrote the Parliamentarian in a 4-page opinion, should only be used “in extraordinary circumstances” and not as a routine procedure. Today, Senate Democrats are once again bellyaching about the possibility that the Parliamentarian will rule against them, this time regarding the debt ceiling. … Continue reading Parliamentarian Autocracy and Congressional Mojo

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 9, 10 and 11: Republican Nationalism

Today is catchup day: reflections on the debates of August 9, 10 and 11. On August 9, the delegates discussed an issue with contemporary resonance: immigration. The question was how long senators should have to have been citizens before serving. The proposition on the table was four years. Gouverneur Morris, fearing foreign agents as senators—or at least foreign intrigues to influence the Senate—moved to extend it to 14 years. That sparked firm responses from Madison, Franklin and Wilson. Madison felt the restriction involved “a tincture of illiberality” that might affect all immigrants, not just senators. If the Constitution succeeded, “men who … Continue reading August 9, 10 and 11: Republican Nationalism

The Eviction Moratorium and Constitutional Distortion

Greg Weiner has a good piece at the NY Times about President Biden’s eviction moratorium and Congress’s reluctance to legislate. Biden was right the first time: Congress should act to extend the moratorium if it thinks it’s necessary. Greg captures how constitutionally distorted the system has become, with members of Congress urging the executive to act in their place. Yes, it seems likely that Congress was not going to extend the moratorium, but that does not create executive power to do so. Why not urge state and local governments to take action? But this has become routine, with Congress regularly deferring to the executive … Continue reading The Eviction Moratorium and Constitutional Distortion

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