Saturday, March 11, 2017
The consistent challenge with all federalism structures is the irresistible gathering of power at the federal (top) level, forcing one-size-fits-all solutions on localities that are very different from one another in geography, history, culture and customs. While this consolidation of power plagues the Federal Republic of Germany as well, Germany's implementation of federalism is unique. (At least I am not aware of any other federal state or treaty organization that has replicated it.) According to The Constitution of Germany, legislative power is concentrated in the federal Parliament, but federal law is largely enforced through the German states (the Länder). This "executive federalism" would in theory ensure that the enforcement of laws is balanced with the local needs of the states and the people, respecting local sovereignty and freedoms. While the states have apparently been divested of most legislative power (for example, taxes for the states are completely set at the federal level), the states have direct involvement in the German federal law-making process through the Federal Council (Bundesrat). State representation in the Federal Council is composed of state government delegations, often led by the state's prime minister. (For German readers who disagree with this assessment, I would love to hear your perspective in the comments.)
While I would not replicate the consolidation of all legislative power into the U.S. Congress, I think the German model has some lessons for the United States. Even if the U.S. did not amend its Constitution to change the composition of the Senate, devolving enforcement of U.S. federal laws through the state governments rather than independent federal agencies could provide a missing check on federal overreach. Through executive federalism, there is a good chance that the U.S. could gain the benefits of a common federal framework to problems of an interstate nature while avoiding the oppression of one-size-fits-all solutions. This would also trim the federal bureaucracy, which is extremely bloated (there is no way the United State government needs over 2.8 MILLION civilian workers), unresponsive (who can possible respond to 80,260 pages in the Federal Register), and has of late assumed delusions of grandeur that it is authorized to make laws.
Wednesday, September 02, 2015
Governance and the Bible
Controlling The Word
The Bible and Slavery
- The Bible doesn’t declare holding slaves as a sin, thus a righteous man may have slaves.
- If we believe that the Bible is inerrant than must we also believe that slavery is acceptable to God?
- Over millennia humanity comes to believe that slavery is wrong.
- In a country that outlaws slavery can a righteous man have slaves and remain righteous since there is no Biblical prohibition?
- If it is no longer possible to be considered righteous solely for having slaves than from what authority does righteousness come, and who decides?
- If the Bible doesn’t claim that slavery is wrong than do we have no authority to claim otherwise?
- If we conclude that slavery is wrong than how can we claim the Bible is the sole arbiter of righteousness?
- If we conclude that the Bible is the sole arbiter of righteousness than how do we support a claim that slavery, not being banned by the Bible or otherwise declared sinful, should be outlawed?
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Kelly ponders in his latest, cleverly-named article, Calvin and Hobbes, if the views of sixteenth-century theologian Reformation leader John Calvin toward the poor have infested modern-day America's views of the poor. The implication is, I would think, that those who do not believe government welfare programs are (1) constitutional or (2) proper functions of government do not believe that the poor are worth helping, supporting, etc.
While this proposition is tidy, it is too clever by half and paints a view of the truth both too simple and one-sided. Calvin's theological positions on predestination cannot be used to suggest that Calvin generally blamed the poor for their own plight. While he was a staunch defender of private property as a means for Christians to provide for the needs of themselves and their families, he was just as adamant that Christians should use their earnings over and above their own needs to help the suffering and dispossessed.
In his commentary on Isaiah 58:7 Calvin writes,
I would submit that Kelly points to a strain in Christian (Protestant) ethics that brings to light a more nuanced difference between liberals and conservatives regarding the role of government in helping the poor. The difference between them is over how to help the poor, not whether to help the poor.
The conservative position draws forth from the old Protestant work ethic that work is a vital expression of service to God and the world and that a person cannot honor who they are in God if they do not contribute to the world through their work. When coupled with the ancient biblical mandate to God's people to make provisions for the poor, we are closer to understanding the conservative position that a man is only whole when he his working in his field of calling (what he was created to do, gifted to do, passionate about, etc) and that the social safety net is there for those who stumble as a temporary hand up to get back on his feet, not a hand out that consigns him to the downward spiral of dependence. This latter destroys a man's (and woman's) sense of self and short-circuits his or her ultimate potential contributions to society. Notice here the importance of the social safety net being provided by civil society, not civil government.
The liberal view that the only way to help the poor is through the government not only works over time to destroy the man and his sense of self and sense of obligation to the community, but it also works over time to destroy the community by creating a permanent underclass of dependence and by diverting the government from its own proper role in providing for the general welfare (the good of society as a whole) and the common defense. The fact that liberals suspect conservatives - or constitutionalists - of not caring for the poor unless they support a myriad of government welfare, wealth distribution programs betrays their own skewed view of government, community and what it means to be human.
The Democrats in the Senate this past week voted to restrict the use of the filibuster by the minority Party in consideration of presidential executive and non-SCOTUS judicial nominees. As this blog has called for since 2007, this is a move whose time is past due, especially given the increasing partisanship of Congress and Washington DC and the increased difficulty to move anything legislative along.
What is disappointing, however, is the hypocrisy demonstrated by both Parties on this matter. In 2005, Republicans were decrying the use of the filibuster to stymie President Bush's nominations while the Democrate were clutching to the sacred tool of the minority to defeat the designs of an "imperialist President." Even Senator Obama himself called for the respect of the voice of the minority party. Now that the designs of their own (imperialist? - no more so or less than Bush was) president have been thwarted by the Republicans in the Senate (who now love the filibuster as much as the Democrats in 2005), the Democrats can not believe how unfair and antiquated the filibuster is so moved to change it. "Enough is enough," as President Obama proclaimed.
Well then, fair enough as well. I trust the Democrats will be as faithful to their principled stand today when they next stand as the Senate Minority Party.
Saturday, November 23, 2013
"In the United States, the majority takes charge of furnishing individuals with a host of ready-made options, and it thus relieves them of the obligation to form their own. There are a great number of theories on matters of philosophy, morality or politics that everyone thus adopts without examination, on the faith of the public; and if one looks very closely one will see that religions itself reigns there much less as revealed doctrine than as common opinion."
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
I've been listening to a course about European history and the development of Western Civilization. It is quite eye-opening how many parallels exist between events from centuries ago and those of today's age. In the time between the Roman Empire and World War I there was no shortage of princes, kings, empires and the privileged classes that seemingly always surround those in power. The idea of "the divine right of kings" was accepted on faith, somewhat through theological arguments but I think mostly it was due to the simple fact that people who argue with those in power tend to lead much shorter lives (can we say, gaining an up close perspective with the business ends of blades and/or ropes), so let's call that pragmatism which over time became a matter of custom. It was just the way things were.
When Thomas Hobbes published Leviathan he set the world to thinking about new ways to think about the relationship between the state and the individual, like the civil society or the social contract.
So when the reform movement began it was easy to divide the groups into those who fought for change (liberals) and those who defended the status-quo (conservatives).
While it is informative to review the list of ideas resisted by conservatives, I will leave that for another article. I want to focus on John Calvin and Geneva. Calvin was one of the reformers who wanted to return to a simpler church, one that focused on the Bible more so than centuries of doctrine and orthodoxy. Some of the attitudes were that the poor were that way due to some moral failing, and thus shouldn't complain but work to be more pious instead because they must be being punished by God. Calvin believed that the power of the State was needed to insure people would not sin and instituted a rigid set of policies of private behavior along with system of informers to make sure that no sin went undiscovered nor unpunished regardless how small or venial. Another view was that since everyone's fate was predestined, one should not resist whatever plight might befall but rather embrace it as the will of God. Both attitudes meant it became easy if not acceptable to dismiss the poor as 'not my problem' or 'they must be lazy'. Calvin's theology was strong enough to being an entire city under his influence, stifling dissent even to the point of burning critics like Servetus at the stake for heresy with very little room for tolerance(*).
That brings me to the modern day and political debates on reformist ideas like minimum wage, healthcare, food stamps, immigration, spending policies, and the like. In the comment section of some article not unlike one about the Texas healthcare system and its poorest citizens, one commenter bravely described her 3 bouts with cancer, not being able to hold down a job, barely being able to afford cancer treatments - and the someone had the gall to reply with 'get a job!'. Yes that person may be trolling but the sentiment seems to be a common one these days and it really exposes an attitude by a large number of people who refuse to emphasize with others. Maybe they are so overwhelmed by stories of the downtrodden that they've become convinced that the world can't be that bad and evidence otherwise must be either hoaxes or from swindlers gaming the system. The danger with this new attitude is that it reveals a callous nature, if not outright selfishness.
Here we come full circle, and the question of the day: have the beliefs of Calvin instituted in Geneva been reconstituted in America?
(*) From the John Calvin Wikipedia article,
Following the execution of Servetus, a close associate of Calvin, Sebastian Castellio, broke with him on the issue of the treatment of heretics. In Castellio's Treatise on Heretics (1554), he argued for a focus on Christ's moral teachings in place of the vanity of theology, and he afterward developed a theory of tolerance based on biblical principles.
Tuesday, October 09, 2012
This clever juxtaposition of the Article I word of "armies" and the Second Amendment's preamble on militias by Akhil Reed Amar in his latest book on the Constitution, The Unwritten Constitution, serves to illustrate the concept of America's unwritten Constitution through deed and action ("We the People .. do ordain and establish…") that Amar seeks to impart in the second chapter of his book. In this case, the national draft is a constitutional exercise of Congress' power to raise armies granted in Article 1 because of the enactment played out in the adoption of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment. After the Civil War, the Union Army played a vital role in reestablishing republican government in the southern states that had rebelled against the constitutionally elected government of the United States and the states that had remained loyal to the Union.
Amar's argument is that the events and acts that lead up to the proposal and ratification of the Constitution and its amendments compose part of the unwritten Constitution that, interwoven with the actual written Constitution, makes up the foundational fabric of American law. He examines the principle by proposing that the Reconstruction Congress reinterpreted the expectations of the Founders underlying the militia system. The militia system had been established by the Founders to be locally-based and under the control of the States in order to preserve the People's freedoms and liberties from centralized tyrants. However, by the 1860's, the militia system had been turned into an instrument of resistance against the federal government and Civil War erupted, turning the Founder's experiment in republican government on its head. The Union Army, an Army which was composed of conscripted soldiers up until the end of the Civil War, helped to bring the Reconstructed South into the Union, and part of their readmission was the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment.
So because of the events and actions behind the adoption of this important Amendment, the Constitution was reconstructed and the Army, an institution of suspicion in late 18th century America, was given a new place of trust and prominence because of its role in freeing the slaves and the hold slavery had on the liberties and humanity of all Americans.
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Not So Eerie Parallel
The analysis of John Yoo's problem with Elena Kagan reminded me of something I attribute to the Watergate scandal, specifically G. Gordon Liddy. The paraphrase was something like 'The President can not give an unlawful order'. I can't find the quote, I might have it attributed to the wrong person. To be fair I'm basing it on 30-year-old memories but I was quite struck by how there could exist a class of person who was so willing to follow a leader regardless of direction, whether into battle or over a cliff. It is these men who allow their hyper-loyalism to distort their duty to the country; if I had to guess I would say that in their minds the President _is_ the country and what is right for one is automatically right for the other.
In political discourse it has become easy for the newly elected to delude themselves with "I won therefore I must be right" which taken to the logical extreme can become 'might makes right', the damage being to the idea that the entire constituency is the source of power not just the subset of people who agree with you and vote. If tolerence is supposed to be a virtue it must be getting lonely of late. Governing without regard to the minority has long been recognized as another form of tyranny; occurring in a democracy only makes it a minor tyranny whose overthrow is only an election away - but a tyranny still.
True patriots do not ask, "If you are not with us, you are against us", which relies on demagoguery and fear to quell dissent. A true patriot asks, "Is this what is best for the country as a whole?" We are not a country of one mind in complete agreement, of which our founding father's were quite aware, and to progress down the road of history will require those who rule to show respect for the opinions and beliefs of the minorities being ruled, how else to have the respect of the people - for if you show the people your scorn for them, you no longer are deriving your power from them and have begun to take the well-worn steps down the despot's road.