Charles Kesler’s Crisis of the Two Constitutions

I’ve written a review of Charles Kesler’s recent book Crisis of the Two Constitutions for National Review. The book is worth reading. Its insights on issues ranging from Federalist 10 to Washington’s conception of civility are excellent and characteristic of its learned author. But I do pick a few fights. One is whether Kesler can maintain his seemingly bemused aloofness from Trumpism. Another is how conservatives should treat the rhetoric of crisis. I’m an originalist. I think the Constitution got a lot right in 1787 and that many of its imperfections have been corrected by amendment. Moreover, I agree that … Continue reading Charles Kesler’s Crisis of the Two Constitutions

Recommended Reading: “The Delusions of the Radical Centrist”

I highly recommend this article from last week by Eric Levitz, which is mostly about Michael Lind’s 2020 book The New Class War, but which touches on all kinds of important questions about American party politics today. The pathologies that Levitz ascribes to Lind are present in many others (Patrick Deneen comes foremost to my mind). Here’s one of the best parts: Lind’s insistence that America’s dominant class is a (vaguely defined) professional elite — rather than a smaller cohort of ultrarich capitalists — is tendentious at best. And this is far from the only defect in his political analysis. … Continue reading Recommended Reading: “The Delusions of the Radical Centrist”

The Case Against Funding Local Journalism

This column by Brian Klaas of The Washington Post correctly diagnoses a malady of contemporary republicanism—the decline of local journalism and the rise of celebrity politics at the national level—but prescribes a perilous treatment: public subsidies. Klaas correctly notes that Americans trust local media more but pay attention to it less. But there is something worse than a continued erosion of local reporting: local reporting dictated, or substantially influenced, by government. It’s a bad idea for the same reason James Madison said public funding of religion was a bad idea. In his “Memorial and Remonstrance,” Madison had this to say … Continue reading The Case Against Funding Local Journalism

GAR: Against the “Lost Cause” and in Favor of Holding Traitors Responsible

This is a a fascinating article mostly focusing on the GAR (The Grand Army of the Republic), a Civil War veterans’ organization that focused a great deal of energy on arguing and lobbying against the post-Civil War attempt by the South to change the narrative of the Civil War so as to include themselves in the memorials to it. About this attempt, the Department Commander for the Indiana GAR wrote in 1914: “While I have long since forgiven my ex-Confederate brother for the terrible mistake he made in trying to destroy this Union of ours…you should remember and never forget … Continue reading GAR: Against the “Lost Cause” and in Favor of Holding Traitors Responsible

Judicial Deference, Legislative Motives, and Constitutional Ends

Greg offers a thoughtful response to the tension between judicial deference and constitutional principle. Let me begin with our agreement. I think Greg is altogether correct that protecting liberties is not the task of the judiciary alone. It is, as he puts it, the important work of “civic cultivation” that cannot simply be handed off to the judiciary. And insofar as representatives, citizens, and associations in civil society leave this to the judiciary alone, our liberties are likely to be less secure. As Judge Learned Hand, famous for situating himself in the tradition of judicial deference with James Bradley Thayer, put it … Continue reading Judicial Deference, Legislative Motives, and Constitutional Ends

Is Judicial Deference Principled?

Greg Weiner articulates a compelling argument for judicial deference—all things considered—to the elected branches of government. As he puts it: judges “can avoid decisions because someone else has already made them: elected officials. A reasonably consistent posture of deference to the elected branches . . . serves dual institutional purposes.”  I want to push the tension between principle and deference a bit more than Greg does. On its face, judicial deference offers a modest institutional role for judges. This understanding rests squarely on a view that decisions made by legislative majorities are preferable to unelected judges. It is a powerful take. And right, … Continue reading Is Judicial Deference Principled?

Politics as Worship: Madison Warned Us

The Southern Baptist Convention has embarked on what is all but a purge of leaders–such as Russell Moore–deemed insufficiently loyal to former President Trump. The episode is reminiscent of one of the lesser-noticed points in James Madison’s 1785 “Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments,” a petition against Patrick Henry’s proposal for the State of Virginia to provide public funds for Christian religious instruction. Madison likens that support to a religious establishment. Madison’s primary argument deals with the rights of religious minorities. But his seventh point notes that religious establishments are no better for religion than they are for politics: Because … Continue reading Politics as Worship: Madison Warned Us

A New Constitution for the United States

Democracy: A Journal of Ideas today published a new draft constitution for the United States. Editor Michael Tomasky describes this special symposium as “probably the most ambitious project ever undertaken by this journal.” This was an extraordinary endeavor that brought together legal academics, political scientists and some journalists to return to the fundamentals and rethink the American political order and the role the present Constitution plays in generating or enhancing the political pathologies now gripping the United States. I was one of the 55 delegates to this drafting convention that spent the last year deliberating — and I have an … Continue reading A New Constitution for the United States