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
George Thomas makes an excellent case that there is more tension between judicial deference and constitutional principle than my essay on the topic acknowledged. The Constitution, he correctly notes, does not rest on a simple principle of majority rule. Legislatures might violate rights on what, like election security, would otherwise be legitimate pretexts. Let me push back, for the sake of clarifying my original point and asking George for his thoughts: First, the Constitution may not operate on a principle of simple majority rule, but neither does it have a provision for what James Madison said was ultimately the only … Continue reading Do Legislatures Have Discernible Motives?
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
Ben Kleinerman has made a compelling case that the partisan reversal on constitutional authority for U.S. airstrikes in Syria shows the separation of powers at work. I have a friendly amendment, or at least one to propose: Ben’s case is true with two qualifications. First, the reversal should be institutional, not partisan. That is, members of Congress should question presidential authority as members of Congress, not based on partisan alignments for or against President Biden. If Democrats and Republicans who stay in Congress across changes in presidential administrations are situational constitutionalists based on who occupies the White House, Madison’s case … Continue reading Syrian Airstrikes: A Friendly Amendment to Ben Kleinerman’s Post?
Thomas Koenig has published an essay at Merion West that deals with a book of mine on Madison, but that pivots to super-majority requirements like the filibuster. He raises important questions that deserve attention, including whether unreasonable obstacles to legislating divert policy disputes to the courts. The specific obstacle that concerns Koenig’s essay most is the filibuster. My own view is that Madison, a ready compromiser who was nonetheless all but ready to walk out of the Constitutional Convention over the “confessedly unjust” equality of state representation in the Senate, was too majoritarian to countenance the filibuster. That does not … Continue reading Thomas Koenig on Madison and the Filibuster
The simplest explanation for the political cravenness of Donald Trump’s enablers is that they want to retain power. The corresponding puzzle is their reticence about using it: What is this power for if they are unwilling to exercise it in order to defend their branch of government? That is a large question with an extended history. Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have long been reluctant to utilize the power at their disposal to defend legislative authority. Their go-to move is to ask the courts to adjudicate disputes between the executive and legislative branches instead. But the trend is reaching its apotheosis … Continue reading The Hoarding Compulsion in Politics
Peter Josephson is Professor of Politics at Saint Anselm College. I write for readers of an academic bent during a time of political crisis. There is a temptation to ensconce ourselves in some version of the life of leisure, to … Continue reading The uneasy conscience of the academic
I’m a bit late to the party on this, but Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida, recently offered one of the more strained arguments against an impeachment trial for former President Trump. It would be, he said the weekend before last, “arrogant” to disqualify Trump from running for office again. “Who are we to tell voters who they can vote for in the future?” Rubio mistakes not just the impeachment power but also the nature of constitutional government itself. Written constitutions place all manner of restraints on the people. Try Rubio’s argument from the opposite side. Consider, hypothetically, an … Continue reading Constitutions as Self-Restraint
I had this essay at National Review last weekend. It’s a foray into the populism/conservatism wars. I remain unconvinced that populism is conceptually compatible with conservatism, but the alternative doesn’t have to be either aristocratic elitism or technocratic expertise. Madison’s republicanism, which uses public opinion as raw material but “refine[s] and enlarge[s]” it, is a middle ground. Continue reading Madison as the Virtuous Mean
George Thomas is Wohlford Professor of American Political Institutions and Director of the Salvatori Center at Claremont McKenna College. On January 6th President Trump urged his supporters to violently storm Congress while it was in the process of formally counting the electoral votes that would recognize Joe Biden as the next president of the United States. Let’s be exquisitely clear about a few things. The President called for a violent attack on another branch of government. He did so in an effort, however feeble, to keep himself in power despite having lost the election. For the first time in American … Continue reading Congress, Impeachment, and Constitutional Redemption