Saturday, March 28, 2015

3/28 Equal Rights

In the last class we looked at the idea of civil liberties through some of the most famous champions of liberty in American history. In this class we are now looking at the idea of rights. But the idea of rights itself is more complex than it may first appear. In today's reading by Marshall we can see that we consider to be "rights" has actually a civil, a political, and social aspect. Rights are connected with the idea of citizenship. To be a citizen means that you are entitled to certain things, and it suggests the equality of all members to these entitlements. Part of the confusion over rights comes because, as Marshall, says at one point all aspects of rights were combined, but that in modern times the idea of social rights conflicts with a capitalist economic system. In modern times, there has been a separation and it is important to understand the differences between the three. Marshall is writing about England, but the argument about the three dimensions of rights can be applied anywhere, that, and the fact that so many of American ideas and institutions are influenced by English institutions makes it easy to compare the idea of rights in the U.S.

Civil rights refer to certain protections each individual is granted, and where they are free from any kind of government interference. In political philosophy the idea of civil rights can be summed up by what John Locke referred to as "life, liberty, and property," an influence on Thomas Jefferson who changed it to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence. Marshall shows that civil rights by itself is fairly limited in what it means:
The explanation lies in the fact that the core of citizenship at this stage was composed of civil rights. And civil rights were indispensable to a competitive market economy. They gave to each man, as part of his independent status, the power to engage as an independent unit in the economic struggle and made it possible to deny him social protection on the ground that he was equipped with the means to protect himself.

Of course we are familiar with the "civil rights movement" for equality. But many of aspects of the civil rights movement also contained a demand for greater political participation as well as social protections. After civil rights were established the next demand came in the form of greater political participation, the right to vote and hold office. Unlike pure civil rights which poses no threat to the capitalist system, extending the right to vote to the whole population could lead to a greater demand for equality by passing laws to that effect:
The political rights of citizenship, unlike the civil rights, were full of potential danger to the capitalist system, although those who were cautiously extending them down to the social scale probably did not realized how great the danger was. They could hardly be expected to foresee what vast changes could be brought about by the peaceful use of political power, without a violent and bloody revolution.

The extension of political rights then leads to the demand for social rights:
But the normal method of establishing social rights is by the exercise of political power, for social rights imply an absolute right to a certain standard of civilization which is conditional only on the discharge of of the general duties of citizenship. Their content does not depend on the economic value of the individual claimant.

The idea of social rights then speaks to the idea that everyone is entitled as he says "to a certain standard of civilization" meaning that people are entitled to the things necessary for a healthy and productive life. Political struggles for these rights only increased during the 20th century. In the U.S. the greatest period for the extension of social rights occurred between the 1930s and 1970s beginning from the New Deal to the civil rights movement. When Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, he was in Memphis for a sanitation worker's strike, and he even renamed his movement, the "poor people's campaign" showing that he saw his struggle as something evolving, first to eliminate legal segregation which did consist of the government interfering in the lives of black people by telling them where they could eat, work, etc., to a movement that struggled to secure the basic necessities of life for all people.


Since the 1980s, and especially after the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, there has been a dramatic scaling back and reduction of the idea of social rights which has only increased as time has gone on.

Marshall argues the demand for social rights really begins with the idea of public education. If civil rights literally means only that the government cannot interfere with you, then on that basis alone there is no clear right to provide education for all the people. Same with political rights and the right to vote. It is of course a commonly accepted value that everyone is entitled to go to school, at least primary school, but this is only because we accept the idea of education as a kind of social right that everyone needs. In today's politics, things like healthcare would be considered a social right. This however makes it clear, that not everyone agrees on the idea of social rights. When it comes to healthcare most other countries have accepted it as a social right, this is still something debated in the U.S. With education there is a continuing effort to privatize education and de-fund and eventually shut down many public schools.

Next class we begin discussing Congress and the different branches of government.

Assignment: Due 4/18  Choose a passage from the Marshall write it out. Then, explain the meaning of the quote. And then explain why you chose this quote.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

2/28 Another Stab at the Constitution

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/07/08/another-stab-at-the-us-constitution

The piece we are looking at today is a modern commentary and analysis of the Constitution. Last class we spent more time looking at the historical context of the Constitution itself, as well as the Federalist Papers, which was also a commentary on the Constitution, and considered still be the most authoritative interpretation of the Constitution.




In today's piece which is taken from The New York Times, several prominent scholars give their analysis over controversial or problematic aspects of the Constitution. In many regards most of what the contributors suggest would seem to be fairly radical changes to the Constitution, of course in the past, such changes have occurred.

The first commentary by Jamal Greene, questions whether to create term limits for federal judges, as he says: 
In a democracy, no one person should wield so much power for so long. Article III of the Constitution provides that federal judges “shall hold their offices during good behaviour.” In practice this language means they serve for life absent voluntary retirement or impeachment. Were we to draft the Constitution today, we would be wise to reconsider this provision.

His reasoning for this seems to rest on two main points: one, he argues in some cases judges simply become too old to effectively render judgements in cases, something which requires a person to be at the peak of their mental faculties. Two, he argues that life-term appointments makes the selection process of judges too political. Federal judges are nominated by the President, but approved by the U.S. Senate. Over the last 20-25 years this process has become incredibly complicated due to the inability of opposed political parties to come to agreement (you might remember the Gallup piece from a few weeks ago which pointed to polling data which supports this).


He argues that the example of other countries that have term limits or mandatory retirement ages might be a good example, and seems drawn to the idea of an 18-year term. 18 years is by any standard a long-term in office, but many would still be opposed to limiting the terms of judges.


The second piece by Rachel Barkow, looks at the eight amendment of the Constitution and how it might relate to the current problem of imprisonment in the U.S. Despite the repeated claims to being the land of the free, the U.S. leads the rest of the world in the number of people in prison, which as she points out is made up of significantly larger portions of minority groups in the country. Certainly the profit motive is still alive and well at least, because running prisons has become a profitable industry as of late, led by corporations like the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) which also lobbys the government for longer prison terms and less leniency, not because it feels threatened by criminals, but because shorter prison terms would mean less business. The U.S. is also the third largest in terms of the number of executions carried out by the justice system behind only Saudi Arabia and China.


Barkow looks to the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, or what we refer to as the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments) which bans the use of "cruel and unusual punishment." Putting aside the idea of executions which she does not go into, but obviously would be opposed to, she argues that the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment should prohibit excessively long prison sentences as well:

As I have suggested elsewhere, clarifying and expanding the Eighth Amendment could help. It should specifically state that excessive terms of incarceration are prohibited, just as it bans excessive fines. It should expressly prohibit mandatory sentences so that every case gets the benefit of individualized attention by a judge. And it should insist that legislatures create a record showing that they considered empirical evidence about the law's likely impact. 
It is important to see that before any action can be undertaken, there must be some groundwork for this action in the Constitution. In this case she argues that the Eighth Amendment lays the groundwork that would make the movement towards shorter prison terms a legitimate, and legal course of action.

The third piece by Akhil Reed Amar, looks at the limitations on naturalized citizens for holding office, specifically the President. The Constitution states that only citizens born in the U.S. are eligible to be President of the U.S., as he says:
But those American citizens who happen to have been born abroad to non-American parents — and who later choose to become “naturalized” American citizens — are not the full legal equals of those of us born in the U.S. True, naturalized Americans have always been allowed to serve as cabinet secretaries, Supreme Court justices, senators and governors. And at the founding, anyone already a citizen could be president, regardless of birthplace. (Alexander Hamilton, for example, though born in the West Indies, was fully eligible to serve as president under the Constitution he himself helped draft.) But modern-day naturalized citizens are barred from the presidency simply because they were born in the wrong place to the wrong parents.
We can look back to the readings from Bourne and Chesterton and relate their views on transnationalism or as Chesterton called it the "the nationalization of the internationalized" to this restriction. Do you think Bourne and Chesterton would be in favor of lifting this restriction? Do you think it is fair to continue this restriction, or should any citizen regardless of birth be eligible to one-day become President of the U.S. On a related note, the bizarre obsession with the current President's birthplace relates to this, if the President were born in Kenya as many on the political right-wing suggest, then he would be ineligible to be President. Of course in this case, the racial overtones of this so-called argument are obvious.

The fourth piece by Elizabeth Price Foley argues for the importance of federalism. Federalism is a doctrine which explicitly divides the power of government between the center (or federal) government and regional states which retain some independence and autonomy from the center. Some other countries have what is called a unitary government where the top-level of government appoints all the lower levels as well, thus power and control is in the hands of the top government officials. In our country, the governor of New York for example has certain freedoms to act that the President and Congress cannot limit. In practice, however, especially in recent times the extent and influence of the federal government has increased, mainly as a result of the influence the federal government has in directing funds for the states in multiple areas like education or even to maintain roads.

Foley argues that this expansion of government power threatens the idea of federalism which the Constitution is based on:
Federalism isn't about states' rights. It's about individual liberty. The Supreme Court emphasized this in Bond v. United States (2011): "By denying any one government complete jurisdiction over all the concerns of public life, federalism protects the liberty of the individual from arbitrary power. When government acts in excess of its lawful powers, that liberty is at stake." And lest you think this emanates from the court's right wing, Bond was unanimous.

As the last line indicates however, this view has increasingly become seen as more of a conservative or right-wing opinion. She goes on to point out how the Supreme Court had recently ruled against certain aspects of the health care law that would force state governments to act. Again, think back to the Gallup poll, which showed that when the opposing party is in power, people on the other side favor greater restrictions on government power. If a Republican government was in office today, would conservatives still argue for federalism as strongly as they are now?

The fifth piece by Alexander Keyssar argues to abolish the electoral college. We know the President is not elected through a direct popular vote, but is chosen by electors equal to each states representation in Congress, meaning that elections are decided on a state by state basis. This is one of the more well known and controversial aspects of the Constitution today. As he says:
Moreover, we have learned a lot in the last 225 years about shortcomings in the framers’ design: the person who wins the most votes doesn’t necessarily become president; the adoption of “winner take all” rules (permitted but not mandated by the Constitution) produces election campaigns that ignore most of the country and contribute to low turnout; the legislature of any state can decide to choose electors by itself and decline to hold an election at all; and the complex procedure for dealing with an election in which no candidate wins a clear majority of the electoral vote is fraught with peril. As a nation, we have come to embrace “one person, one vote” as a fundamental democratic principle, yet the allocation of electoral votes to the states violates that principle. It is hardly an accident that no other country in the world has imitated our Electoral College. 

The sixth piece by Michael Rappaport looks at the process by which the Constitution is changed. Paradoxically he argues that the process of changing the Constitution has come to a point where it is virtually impossible to change. There are two methods for changing the Constitution. The first requires that 2/3 of both houses of Congress agree to an amendment which is then sent to the states to ratify, or approve of the proposed amendment. There is a second method but is has never been used as he says:
The second method is for two-thirds of the state legislatures to call for a constitutional convention that would then propose an amendment (which, again, would have to be ratified by the states). This second method has never been used, because the state legislatures fear a runaway convention. They are concerned that if they call a convention to draft a balanced budget amendment, the convention will end up proposing an amendment on same-sex marriage or school prayer. 
This argument matches up well with Foley's federalist argument since it reserves a more active role for the states, again quoting his argument:
The Constitution should be changed to eliminate the possibility of a runaway convention. The best way to do this is to dispense with a constitutional convention and instead have the state legislatures agree to propose a specific amendment. But any method that allows for a working alternative to Congress’s amendment monopoly would be an enormous improvement.
The seventh piece by Melynda Price deals with another highly publicized and controversial aspect of the Constitution, the "right to bear arms" in the second amendment. Price who is in favor of abolishing this right argues:
I am not naïve enough to believe that doing away with the Second Amendment would do away with gun violence, but I know firsthand the impact of guns and gun shots on children. This nation was constructed and reconstructed in the aftermath of violent and bloody conflicts. Still, the Framers believed that not only the Constitution, but also the peaceful way the document was created, would penetrate the Americans' minds and change they engaged. The Constitution would be the only weapon needed unless there was an external enemy. 
The eight piece by Jenny Martinez deals with the interpretation of the Constitution in a more international setting, that being how important are treaties signed with other countries in the legal process of this country. Martinez points to what is called the "supremacy clause" in the Constitution,  “Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.”

However she addresses the often conflicting tendency of courts to ignore treaties that have been signed with other countries, as she points out:
But the Supreme Court has interpreted the supremacy clause in ways that contradict its text and original purpose; the court has suggested that the clause doesn’t mean what it says as far as treaties are concerned. One of the strangest of these decisions came a few years ago in a case involving Texas’s failure to notify Mexican citizens facing the death penalty that they were entitled by a treaty to speak to their consulate. In that case, Medellín v. Texas, the Supreme Court held that the treaty (and a decision of the International Court of Justice interpreting it) weren’t actually enforceable against Texas.
The ninth piece is by Randy Barnett and concerns the Commerce clause of the the Constitution. This gives Congress the power to regulate business in the country. Barnett argues that this power also has grown too much and exceeds what it is meant for. He argues the clause should be reworded as:
"The power of Congress to make all laws that are necessary and proper to regulate commerce among the several states, or with foreign nations, shall not be construed to include the power to regulate or prohibit any activity that is confined within a single state regardless of its effects outside the state, whether it employs instrumentalities therefrom, or whether its regulation or prohibition is part of a comprehensive regulatory scheme; but Congress shall have power to regulate harmful emissions between one state and another, and to define and provide for punishment of offenses constituting acts of war or violent insurrection against the United States."
Compared with its original text in the Constitution which is much shorter (Article 1 Section 8 Clause 3): "to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes." Is this more complex version necessary? The purpose of the commerce clause is to regulate what is called "interstate business" meaning business that goes on across state boundaries. Commerce or business that takes place wholly in one state then should be regulated by the state it is in, but again in modern times the distinctions between interstate and state commerce are blurred. This also affects the interests of many large corporations which operate throughout the country and beyond even national boundaries.

The final piece by Pauline Maier looks at the most well known part of the Constitution, the first amendment to the Bill of Rights. However she argues that the wording of the text is flawed and argues it should be expanded on:


“Congress shall make no law” is a peculiarly stingy way to begin an amendment that protects the rights of conscience, speech, press, assembly and petition. James Madison proposed more capacious language for those rights. He would have said, for example, that “the civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext infringed.” He would also have stated that “the people shall not be deprived of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.”
She argues that this would clearly separate the protections giving to people and to corporations which also appeal to first amendment rights to justify lobbying the government.

These authors represent different political perspectives and isolate different problematic areas of the Constitutions which continue to be debated in the present. Some call for new interpretations of how we understand our rights, others for re-wording or altering certain parts of the text, others still call for getting rid of what they see as outdated features of the Constitution.

People often say that the Constitution is a "living document" meaning that it changes and adapts itself to fit the needs of the era. These writers and others suggest several ways in which the Constitution can be adapted.

 
The midterm will also be taken online, 3/7 on Blackboard. The exam will be posted under Content and will be available until midnight. The exam will consist of five short answer questions dealing with one or more of the themes we have gone over in class: Power, Citizenship, and the Constitution. If you have kept up with the readings and online lectures you should have no problem with the exam.

Assignment Due 3/7 : Choose one of the authors from the New York Times article and choose a quote from one of these authors. Write out the quote and the meaning of it, and explain why you chose this quote.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

2/21 The Constitution and the Federalist (Part 1)

"Scene at the Signing of the Constitution," Howard Chandler Christy, 1940, U.S. Capitol, Washington D.C.


The Articles of Confederation established the first system of government, first ratified in 1777 and again in 1781. The period between 1783-1789 the government was organized according to the Articles of Confederation. Notably, this system of government had no president, there was a Congress of the Confederation but there was only one branch or house, instead of two, and there was no supreme court. The 13 states which were really more like separate countries at this point and had very broad powers, maintained their own state militias, and in many cases even printed their own money and came up with their own rules on trade. The general consensus on this period of time was that the government was weak and ineffective and as a result of this conflict and disorder was increasing within the states and even between the states.


In 1786, the Annapolis Convention met in Maryland. The major result of this convention was an agreement to set another Convention in Philadelphia with purposes of "amending" the Articles of Confederation. The result was between 1787-88 the Constitutional Convention met and produced an entirely new document and with that an entirely new system of government. This is the Constitution that most people are familiar with.


The Constitution is a rather short document consisting of seven articles that broadly lay out the powers and responsibilities of the government and its operation. You may have noticed The Declaration of Independence was not very long either. When we look at the speeches of Abraham Lincoln who delivered two of the greatest if not the greatest speeches in American history, they are also very short. When your aim is to persuade people often times keeping things short works much better than writing long volumes of text. 
Public meetings and gathering-places were thus an integral part of the political process and a means by which "ideology" or a set of political beliefs and attitudes, becomes meaningful for individuals. 

There were many debates within the Convention (the official records of which are still sealed). Many of the conflicts revolved around sharing power between the large states and the smaller states; questions of national debt and state debt incurred during the war; and of course slavery.


The first three articles set up the basic separation of power between the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches of the federal government. Many of the Enlightenment thinkers like Locke or the French thinker Montesquieu (1689-1755) adopted similar frameworks for the division of power and it has become accepted as standard in virtually every government in the world. 


Originally, the legislative branch (the law-making part of government) was supposed to be superior. This was meant to place a check on the power of the "king" and also to protect the "private property" of individuals. The executive branch which is charged with physically carrying out the laws is thus dependent on the legislature for funding (it must get its permission more or less) and the power to raise taxes rests with the legislature as well. 

The Legislative branch is entrusted with making all laws for the country and is composed of two branches: the House of Representatives and the Senate. Representatives are drawn based upon the population of the state. Larger states with larger populations have more representatives. Also if the population of the state increases past a certain point it will gain more representatives (or lose them if the population decreases). Representatives are drawn from different districts drawn up by the states who also control the laws for voting in their respective states. All bills for raising revenue are supposed to originate with the House since it is the more democratic branch of government. Because of its size the position of a Speaker for the House is created as well. The Senate is composed of two senators from each state regardless of size. This was intended as a compromise to give smaller states more equality in government. Senators were originally chosen by the state legislature, and not by the people directly, that lasted until the Progressive era in 1913.
 

In order for proposed legislation to become law it must pass through both houses of Congress and be approved by the president. The president can veto laws, but the Congress can override the veto if it gets a 2/3 majority in both houses. 


This is probably the most well-known example of the second major principle guiding the Constitution, the system of checks and balances. Similar to the separation of powers, this principle stipulates that the different branches of government have to be in agreement on major decisions and that each branch has the power to limit the power of the other branch. The idea of separation of powers would be pretty much meaningless if it did not include this as well. These two principles were designed above all else to prevent tyranny, even at the expense of effective government, or what Hamilton would call "energetic government." 


This is controversial, because although preventing some (not all) abuses of government authority, it makes it difficult to use the government for more constructive purposes, leading to what is called "gridlock." This is a common topic in the present because of the noted Republican opposition to the Obama administration. In this case, Republicans control the House of Representatives while the Senate is nominally a Democratic majority, so even controlling one part of the Congress is enough to effectively stall any programs or policies favored by the current administration. However, this is complicated because in the Senate at the present the rules have effectively changed to now require a 2/3 majority to pass legislation through instead of a "simple" majority (n > 50%). This is as a result of what is called the "filibuster" and its notable because it is NOT in the Constitution.


The first article is the longest, again an indication that the legislative branch is supposed to be the most important and lays out several other responsibilities of the government over things like immigration and trade. 


 For example, the Commerce Clause in Section 8: "To regulate Commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." This short passage actually provides the legal justification for Congress to pass laws regulating things like healthcare or even drugs which are made "illegal" by an act of Congress. 


There is also the Necessary and Proper Clause: "To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof." This clause is controversial because it gives power to Congress to pass laws "necessary" to accomplish its goals. This of course sparks controversy over how the Constitution is interpreted. 


Some favor what they call a strict interpretation of the Constitution meaning the government has no right to pass any laws or act in any way not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution. This interpretation is mostly used by conservatives to limit the government's ability to regulate business or provide "privileges" to minority groups. Others favor a more broad interpretation of the Constitution and use this clause as a legal justification.


The second article deals with the executive branch of government headed by the President of the United States. This article explains the controversial electoral college, an institution that was set up to prevent presidential elections from being decided directly by the people. Instead votes are allocated based upon a number of "electoral votes" possessed by the individual states not by the people of the states. So when we count the results of the election we count the states the president won, not the people who voted for the president. This system tends to benefit the less popular candidate: some elections that were very close in terms of popular vote seemed like huge victories in terms of electoral votes, some have even lost the popular vote and still won in the electoral college like George Bush in 2000 (even counting Florida, Bush still lost the popular vote, however the results of that election are too distorted to use this as a good example of "winning" the electoral college while losing the popular vote). 


The major flaw in the electoral college is the idea of "wasted votes." Consider a state like New York. Since New York traditionally votes for the Democratic candidate in Presidential elections (it did go for Reagan though twice in the 1980s) only one vote more than the Republican candidate or third party candidate receives is necessary to win the election. To use simple numbers if a Republican gets 1,000 votes in NY, the Democratic candidate only needs 1,001 votes to receive the electoral votes for the whole state. If it turns out 5,000 people voted for that candidate, then most of those votes will be wasted, in the sense that they will not add anything to the chances of the candidate winning the election. Now consider the real life population demographics and the fact that the population of New York overwhelmingly outweighs the populations of so many other states with a few exceptions and it is easy to see why many would criticize this system since the citizens of New York would be under-represented compared to smaller states that would have a disproportionately larger influence in determining elections relative to their population size.


In terms of "electoral systems," or a way of selecting candidates for election, this is known as single-member district (SMD), and all elections in the U.S. are decided this way including for Congress and local government as well. An alternative method is known as proportional representation, where the proportion of votes captured by a political party equates into the proportion of representatives they have in the legislature or Congress. In this system votes are not wasted, to go back to our example, all of the votes cast in New York will then go towards the overall proportion of votes received by a party which would increase the proportion of their party representatives in Congress. However in this system there is less of a personal relationship between members of the legislature and their voters or constituents. The SMD system, since it focuses on a specific person in a specific district tends to establish more of a personal relationship between the candidate and potential voters.

The impeachment process is also explained in Article II as it is in Article I. A president can be impeached or removed from office but it has to follow a precise procedure. The House must formally lay charges against the president, the Senate then becomes like a court where the president is tried. The House brings the charges and acts as prosecutor, but the Senate votes on it and acts as jury. 

There have only been two impeachments in U.S. history against Andrew Johnson after the Civil War for supposedly sabotaging Reconstruction in the South, and Bill Clinton in 1998. However the Senate voted against impeachment and they were not removed from office. 

The primary responsibility of the president is dealing with foreign affairs, and in this area the president has more room to act without the approval of Congress. Notably, the power to "declare war" on another country rests with Congress, yet this is another aspect we do not follow anymore, there has not been a "declared" war since World War II. 

An unwritten role of the President is to be the leader of the civil religion, much in the same way as religions often have a "supreme leader."

The third article deals with the Supreme Court and the Judicial branch which is charged with interpreting the laws of the country in reference to the Constitution. Although not provided in the Constitution this evolved into the power of "judicial review" which gives the court power not only to interpret laws in reference to the Constitution in specific cases, but to strike down or cancel laws which conflict with it. 


The article also separates "original jurisdiction" from "appellate jurisdiction." Original jurisdiction refers to cases that would go directly to the Supreme Court. They are fairly few mostly affecting cases involving foreign officials, federal officials, or if the U.S. itself is a party in a case including treason. Most of the time, and most of the famous cases that have come before the court, the court was acting in terms of its appellate jurisdiction or appeal. People appeal to the Supreme Court after they have gone through lower courts, although the Supreme Court can choose not to hear a case. Most crimes are under the jurisdiction of the state court, including the most serious crime murder. If you kill someone you will most likely be tried by the state not the federal government, unless you kill a federal official. However the Supreme Court does have the power to override the decisions of lower courts.

The remaining articles deal with the relationship between the federal government and the states, the process of adding amendments to the Constitution, and the process of ratifying or approving the Constitution. Following that is a list of the Bill of Rights and the other amendments to the Constitution. We will talk about the Bill of Rights more next class. Article IV deals with some of the rights of the states and their relation to the government. The U.S. government is set up as a federal system, this means there is a division of power between the U.S. government, the state governments, as well as local municipal government. These different levels of government also follow the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial division of power. The American political system is very complex because of this. Many states like France, the United Kingdom, and Japan have unitary states meaning there is one government authority and all local officials are usually appointed by higher officials. Germany has a federal system, although it is only made up of 16 states instead of the 50 states now in the U.S. (originally 13 of course). India is also a federal system made up of 28 states and 7 "union territories" directly administered by the federal government. Russia is a federal state made up of 83 different units. A federal system is most common in countries where there is either a lot of ethnic division like in Russia or India or smaller autonomous states are now part of the unified federal state like in the case of the U.S. or Germany.


There is a controversial passage in Article IV that protects slavery: "No person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law of Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due." There is also a clause in Article 1 Section 2 that refers to counting slaves as 3/5 of a person for determining representatives and taxes. 


There was controversy over this when in 2011 the new Republican majority House of Representatives began their session by reading out the Constitution, however they omitted these controversial passages. How would you interpret something like that? What is the meaning of reading out the Constitution word-for-word except to symbolically show that they are adhering to the "true principles" of the Constitution and implying that the country has lost its way perhaps. Yet does it not defeat the purpose when it seems that they are not willing to confront the "bad" aspects of the American past, in effect by basically censoring aspects of American history that do not fit into the idealized vision of American history that conservatives tend to put forward? It undermines the whole idea that they are trying to return to the "true" America, when their idea of truth is so selective and sanitized, or at least they are unfamiliar with the saying, "the truth hurts." This has serious consequences considering that many believe that it was the failure to discuss slavery candidly and honestly in a system supposedly based on discussion and debate that eventually led to the breakdown of the system and the Civil War (the word "slave" or "slavery" is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution). There are those who believe the Civil War would have happened earlier if they did have this honest discussion, and there were those who were willing to have this discussion even back then but who were outside the political system, however, if anything these kinds of "oversights" today are suggestive of a failure to learn the lessons of history more than anything else. 

After the Convention had completed its work, copies of the Constitution were circulated throughout the states. People in the states elected delegates to serve on state conventions to ratify the Constitution. The first state to ratify was Delaware in late 1787, New Hampshire was the decisive ninth state to ratify in June 1788. Nine states out of thirteen provided the 2/3 majority needed to ratify the Constitution. Two states, North Carolina and Rhode Island did not ratify the Constitution till after George Washington was elected president. The system of government established officially went into effect March 4th, 1789. Washington was inaugurated as president April 30th, 1789, the only president to be unanimously elected (both terms).





2/21 The Constitution and the Federalist (Part 2)


 Supporters of the Constitution began to refer to themselves as "federalists" for the support of the federal system of government. Opponents who favored more power to the states and wanted to keep the federal government weak were referred to as "anti-federalists." 

In order to persuade the public to support the Constitution several of the leading "federalists" James Madison (1751-1836) who would become the 4th President of the U.S., Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804), and John Jay (1745-1829) published articles under the pseudonym, or pen-name, Publius. As I have said with ideology, these articles attempted to interpret events of the day: in this case that the Constitutional Convention has produced a document that is "good" for the people to approve of and should be ratified. 

The articles were published first in New York newspapers but then reprinted throughout the country. They were intended to persuade a large segment of the public to adopt certain values or even to act in a certain way. They have been collected in book form and are referred to as The Federalist Papers or more simply The Federalist and are still considered the definitive interpretation of the Constitution.

Federalist No. 10 for example is important because it lays out the theoretical framework that underlies the current system of government. Madison makes it clear that the purposes of the federal government, or the Union, the union of all the states is beneficial because it will best control the effects of "factions." Today we would call them "special interests" but the meaning is the same. Sometimes, people seem to think that the U.S. government was founded by moral idealists but on the contrary the founders seemed to have a very pessimistic view of human conduct. Madison cautions that you cannot even deal with the "causes" of faction because to do that would very likely violate our liberties but can only control the "effects" of faction, as he says:

James Madison
The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man, and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation and practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good (pp. 92-93).
In fact, it may only be contemporary liberals who are guilty of being too idealistic and sound almost naive when they act surprised that there is so much partisanship or factional conflict in politics today, like for example on taxes. Madison seems much more aware of this: 
The appointment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice. Every shilling with which they overburden the inferior number, is a shilling saved to their own pocket (p. 93).

However the greatest danger from factions, Madison thought were "majority factions" (i.e. the poor). Madison is confident that a minority faction can be handled by the mechanisms of popular government, although he assumes people would actually do something and not just sit back passively if a minority was trying to take control or "usurp" authority. Majority factions however have spelt doom for democratic governments since ancient times Madison argues. He believes that the Constitution contains the "cure" for the democratic "disease." He singles out two aspects: representative government and the large size of the state. He identifies these as the major difference between "republican" and "democratic" government. Democracy was kind of a dirty word for many of the founders and they preferred "republic" (Latin for "the people's business") instead. The point he is trying to make is that he believes that voting for representatives from among the "wise property owners" would add stability to the government. 


In a reversal of ancient political philosophy: he argues the large size of the republic is more stable than a smaller democracy which must remain close to the local people. His arguments for size are: 



a) The more people there are in the country the more chance competent and capable people will be found for office where you are more limited in choices in a smaller community. 

b) And that in a larger population it will be harder to fool all the people. 

c) He also argues that a larger population makes it harder for factions to dominate, as he says: "Extend the sphere and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other" (p. 95). 

But again it must be stressed that the primary fear of the "wise property owners" was the faction of the poor, and suggests a dimension of class conflict that is normally not acknowledged: "A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State" (p. 96).

In No.s 39 and 48 he outlines some of the principles of the federal system and when it impacts the states (federal) and when it will impact the people directly (national) and outlines the importance of "separation of powers" and the dangers of legislative tyranny if too much power is concentrated in one branch of government.


In No. 51 he again outlines the dangers of factions and again suggests that the diversity of society will reduce the influence of factions. This is called "pluralism" today and is still dominant in American politics:

Whilst all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of the individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority. In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of interests and sects; and this may be presumed to depend on the extent of the country and number of people comprehended under the same government (p. 105).

The last selection from Madison's letters deals with the infamous 3/5 compromise in the Constitution. Since the number of people in your state influences the number of representatives your state gets, Southern politicians hypocritically thought to count slaves as people in order to increase their representation without of course granting any political rights to slaves. Northerners, hardly more moral, objected that slaves are property not people. The "rational" compromise was to count slaves as 3/5 of a person.



85 articles were written altogether. Madison wrote 29, Hamilton wrote 51 (Jay wrote five and is hardly mentioned).

Four of Hamilton’s articles are included: no.’s 15, 21, 23, 78
Alexander Hamilton
No.s 15, 21, 23 are focused on pointing out the weaknesses of the present government under the articles of Confederation, and advocating the stronger national government, or in Hamilton’s terms, "energetic government," that is designed in the Constitution.

No. 78 is an early defense of the principle of "judicial review" which gives power to the Supreme Court to strike down laws or other actions that contradicts the Constitution

What were the flaws of the government under the Articles of Confederation that Hamilton was specifically concerned with? Why was a strong national government the solution to the problems that Hamilton saw? Consider the following quote by Hamilton from no. 15, “Power controlled or abridged is almost always the rival and enemy of that power by which it is controlled or abridged” (p. 112), another way of stating the idea of checks and balances, power checks power.

In Federalist 23, Hamilton says this about the Union, the term used to describe the national government as representing all the states together: “The principal purposes to be answered by union are these--the common defense of the members; the preservation of the public peace, as well against internal convulsions as external attacks; the regulation of commerce with other nations and between the States; the superintendence of our intercourse, political and commercial, with foreign countries” (p. 116).

Hamilton defines four purposes for the union, what are they and how is the union supposed to make good on its purposes? What are the weaknesses that make the present system of government unable to fulfill these goals?

“Internal convulsions” is most likely a reference to Shay’s Rebellion, an uprising of farmers in Massachusetts in 1786 protesting the high levels of debt they incurred, many of them war veterans, and whose houses were being foreclosed on.

Hamilton was much more comfortable using military force than most of the other founders, even George Washington. Consider this quote also from Federalist 23: 
The authorities essential to the common defense are these: to raise armies; to build and equip fleets; to prescribe rules for the government of both; to direct their operations; to provide for their support. These powers ought to exist without limitation, because it is impossible to foresee or define the extent and variety of national exigencies, or the correspondent extent and variety of the means to which may be necessary to satisfy them [Hamilton’s italics] (p. 116).

In Federalist 78, Hamilton gives his argument for judicial review. He says:
There is no position which depends on clearer principles, than that every act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. To deny this, would be to affirm, that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers, may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid (p. 120).
Also: 
A Constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the judges, as a fundamental law. It therefore belongs to them to ascertain its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body. If there should happen to be an irreconcilable variance between the two, that which has the superior obligation and validity ought, of course, to be preferred; or, in other words, the Constitution ought to be preferred to the statute, the intention of the people to the intention of their agents (p. 121).

How does this relate back to the idea of separation of powers and checks and balances, which define the American system?

Although Hamilton invokes “the people” to justify the power of the courts over the legislature, the courts were often times used to strike down laws that were seen as hurtful to business interests. Since the legislature was more democratic there were fears that popular interests would pass laws to redistribute wealth or tax profits more.

In current debates the role of courts in protecting moneyed interests against the rest of the population still seems to be strong. One of the most recent examples is the controversial Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which critics argue strengthens the influence of money in politics like this editorial from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/22/opinion/22fri1.html?_r=1&ref=opinion

Next class we will talk about the opposition to the Federalists, and the beginnings of a political party system.

Assignment (Due 2/28): Choose one passage from Federalist 10 and 51 and write out the passage and interpret it, follow the same format as previous assignments. 


Saturday, February 14, 2015

2/14 Political Identity & Political Culture




Randolph Bourne
1886-1918
The next essay we are looking at is "Trans-National America" (1916) published in the The Atlantic Monthly (now just The Atlantic) an influential literary and political newsmagazine founded by American poets Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1859. "Trans" is a prefix that means beyond, so in a sense, he is arguing for a position "beyond nationalism." The essay is divided up into three sections: 
I. He explains the failure of the "melting pot" as a metaphor for assimilation; II. He argues that true genius of America is its ability to incorporate diverse cultures into its national culture; III. Finally he argues for some methods to further this ideal of "transnational" America and emphasizes cultural diversity in the universities and dual-citizenship status as means to further this goal. If the nation is a cultural entity, then he is arguing for going beyond a certain culture, but what is that culture? 

Bourne, is writing shortly before the U.S. enters World War I (1914-1918) allied with the British and the French against the Germans and the Austrians. This essay is as much an anti-war essay as it is a defense of what we today call "multiculturalism," or "cosmopolitanism." The year after this essay is published, the U.S. Congress will declare war on Germany under the pretext of "making the world safe for democracy," and will pass the Immigration Act of 1917 and another in 1918, along with the Espionage and Sedition Acts in 1917 and 1918. These acts gave the state tremendous power to detain and deport immigrants (or hyphenated Americans) suspected of sabotage, espionage, or other subversive activity. Domestic dissent, even speech, was also suppressed and many radical leaders like Eugene Debs of the Socialist Party were thrown in jail. German language was banned in schools, and German food was renamed (frankfurter to hot dog, sauerkraut became "liberty cabbage"). In solidarity with their English allies, many parades and public displays were held emphasizing the nation's Anglo-
Saxon heritage.


By the 1920s many modern technologies have been created. Designs and operations are primitive but people are able to buy or use the following: automobiles, airplanes, electric lighting (the first electric automobile was invented in 1892), electric stoves, other electric household appliances, washing machines, refrigerators, air conditioning, elevators, credit cards, color photography, telephones, radio, movies, caterpillar tractors, skyscrapers, and many other inventions. These scientific achievements also helped reinforce the sense of cultural superiority. 

Obviously American culture in some part it is derived from the Anglo-Saxon (British) colonists who settled here in the 17th century, displacing the original Indian settlers. The most notable contribution are the political institutions modeled after Anglo-Saxon tribal customs. Bourne argues that over time this culture has become very rigid, and very set in its ways, and seemingly difficult, if not impossible, to change. Furthermore, he argues that the imposition of Anglo-Saxon culture upon other ethnic groups has been a dismal failure and has had the opposite effect of strengthening loyalty to ethnic culture:

To face the fact that our aliens are already strong enough to take a share in the direction of their own destiny, and that the strong cultural movements represented by the foreign press, schools, and colonies are a challenge to our facile attempts, is not, however, to admit the failure of Americanization. It is not to fear the failure of democracy. It is rather to urge us to an investigation of what Americanism may rightly mean. It is to ask ourselves whether our ideal has been broad or narrow--whether perhaps the time has not come to assert a higher ideal than the "melting-pot" Surely we cannot be certain of our spiritual democracy when, claiming to melt the nations within us to a comprehension of our free and democratic institutions, we fly into panic at the first sign of their own will and tendency. We act as if we wanted Americanization to take place only on our own terms, and not by the consent of the governed. All our elaborate machinery of settlement and school and union, of social and political naturalization, however, will move with friction just in so far as it neglects to take into account this strong and virile insistence that America shall be what the immigrant will have a hand in making it, and not what a ruling class, descendant of those British stocks which were the first permanent immigrants, decide that America shall be made. This is the condition which confronts us, and which demands a clear and general readjustment of our attitude and our ideal.

However, he also seems to suggest that there is no real American national culture, that in fact it has always been sort of a mash-up between all kinds of different cultures–the Anglo-Saxon being just more predominant, but never exclusively. What he wants to do is separate Anglo-Saxon culture from its identification with "America." American culture then is really a mixture of different cultures and customs, that collectively form a unique, transnational political culture.


In the North where this mixing has already taken place to a large extent, the whole region has grown and developed, it is in the South which has remained more "Anglo-Saxon" that has lagged behind in development:



The South, in fact, while this vast Northern development has gone onstill remains an English colony, stagnant and complacent, having progressed scarcely beyond the early Victorian era. It is culturally sterile because it has had no advantage of cross-fertilization like the Northern states....The foreign cultures have not been melted down or run together, made into some homogeneous Americanism, but have remained distinct but cooperating to the greater glory and benefit, not only of themselves but of all the native "Americanism" around them.

In this regard, he sees the process of "Americanization" as flawed, as he says: 

But if freedom means a democratic cooperation in determining the ideals and purposes and industrial and social institutions of a country, then the immigrant has not been free, and the Anglo-Saxon element is guilty of just what every dominant race is guilty of in every European country: the imposition of its culture upon the minority peoples.

Ironically, Anglo-Saxon it is itself a mix. The Saxons are a German tribe. The Angles were another Germanic tribe that settled the land earlier and were the original inhabitants of the land that is England (Angland) when the Saxons arrived beginning around the 5th century CE. The English language is actually considered a Germanic language, that has over time synthesized different elements of Latin, French, Scandinavian and other languages–all of these linguistic influences can be traced to foreign conquerors.


What Bourne's essay suggests, in part, is that national identities are constructions and in the modern era people are more aware of these identities, as opposed to a biological or mystical explanation for nationalism. Consider the Germans: Deutschland means "Germany" but it also means "Fatherland" as in the word patria, as if they were somehow the children of the land they were born on (nativus or natus). It also explains in part why symbolic depictions of the nation are commonly portrayed as a woman or maternal figure:

"Germania," Philipp Veit, 1848


"Columbia," from WWI poster an early personification of U.S. predating "Uncle Sam." The Columbia Pictures logo depicts the same figure.

 Of course paternity or maternity suggests a sense of obligation to the parent as well. Instead, nationality is a more or less made up idea. This is not to deny the influence or power that this idea has over people. In fact, cultural constructs such as nationalism seem to have even more influence over people, than supposedly "natural behavior." Nationalism persists: because many share this value already, because it is supported by the state, and because it gives people a sense of meaning in life.


However, by becoming more self-conscious of the influence of culture over people's lives, gives people greater control over the shape of this culture. So in one regard, Bourne seeks to strip away the mask that conceals the prejudice behind the process of Americanization; at the same time, he does not want to abolish citizenship or the process of Americanization but to redefine it in a way that allows more equal expression from different groups in society, as he says "Let us not speak, of inferior races, but of inferior civilizations. We are all to educate and be educated. These peoples in America are in a common enterprise. It is not what we are now that concerns us, but what this plastic next generation might become in the light of a new cosmopolitan ideal." (Cosmopolitan meaning "cosmos" as in universe and "polis" meaning city-state or political community, universal political community. Or, cosmopolitan is a derivative of metropolitan or metropolis, also a Greek word, meaning "mother city"–like Fatherland using familial language to describe a relationship to land and community.


He argues that the growth of nationalism is dangerous and has contributed greatly to the violence of the war. The U.S. is unique in that it contains all the diversity of Europe without the bitter antagonisms that characterize actual life in Europe:



The voices which have cried for a tight and jealous nationalism of the European pattern are failing. From that ideal, however valiantly and disinterestedly it has been set for us, time and tendency have moved us further and further away. What we have achieved has been rather a cosmopolitan federation of national colonies, of foreign cultures, from whom the sting of devastating competition has been removed. America is already the world-federation in miniature, the continent where for the first time in history has been achieved that miracle of hope, the peaceful living side by side, with character substantially preserved, of the most heterogeneous peoples under the sun. Nowhere else has such contiguity been anything but the breeder of misery. Here, notwithstanding our tragic failures of adjustment, the outlines are already too clear not to give us a new vision and a new-orientation of the American mind in the world.



Bourne is not a total relativist and does judge cultures as being better than others. You will notice that he still confines his analysis to mostly different European cultures who were the major immigrant groups a this time. Until the 1960s, the U.S. would restrict immigration from most non-European states. Bourne also does not really say anything about race relations between blacks and whites in this essay at least. He does suggest that at an institutional level, colleges and universities play a role in developing this cosmopolitan ideal:

 In them he finds the cosmopolitan note. In these youths, foreign-born or the children of foreign-born parents, he is likely to find many of his old inbred morbid problems washed away. These friends are oblivious to the repressions of that tight little society in which he so provincially grew up. He has a pleasurable sense of liberation from the stale and familiar attitudes of those whose ingrowing culture has scarcely created anything vital for his America of to-day. He breathes a larger air. In his new enthusiasms for continental literature, for unplumbed Russian depths, for French clarity of thought, for Teuton philosophies of power, he feels himself citizen of a larger world. He may be absurdly superficial, his outward-reaching wonder may ignore all the stiller and homelier virtues of his Anglo-Saxon home, but he has at least found the clue to that international mind which will be essential to all men and women of good-will if they are ever to save this Western world of ours from suicide.
He also advocates allowing immigrants to hold dual citizenship:
Dual citizenship we may have to recognize as the rudimentary form of that international citizenship to which, if our words mean anything, we aspire. We have assumed unquestioningly that mere participation in the political life of the United States must cut the new citizen off from all sympathy with his old allegiance. Anything but a bodily transfer of devotion from one sovereignty to another has been viewed as a sort of moral treason against the Republic. We have insisted that the immigrant whom we welcomed escaping from the very exclusive nationalism of his European home shall forthwith adopt a nationalism just as exclusive, just as narrow, and even less legitimate because it is founded on no warm traditions of his own. Yet a nation like France is said to permit a formal and legal dual citizenship even at the present time. Though a citizen of hers may pretend to cast off his allegiance in favor of some other sovereignty, he is still subject to her laws when he returns. Once a citizen, always a citizen, no matter how many new-citizenships he may embrace. And such a dual citizenship seems to us sound and right. For it recognizes that, although the Frenchman may accept the formal institutional framework of his new country and indeed become intensely loyal to it, yet his Frenchness he will never lose. What makes up the fabric of his soul will always be of this Frenchness,-so that unless he becomes utterly degenerate he will always to some degree dwell still in his native environment .

Bourne himself was an intellectual, but one who was limited by various physical disabilities from participating in public life. He was however a prolific writer and contributor to several influential political news magazines like The Atlantic, The New Republic, and The Seven Arts. Sadly, he died at the age of 32, from the influenza pandemic unleashed in the aftermath of World War I. Before his death, Bourne was considered one of the leading Progressive intellectuals. Progressive liberalism is still influential to this day and in part I choose these essays to begin with to show the similarities.


The obvious question to ask then as we conclude is to what extent has this vision been achieved in the U.S. in the present today? Is Bourne's idea practical, and if so what are the obstacles that prevent its realization?


The other essay we are reading  is actually the first chapter, "What is America?" in the book 
What I Saw in America, by British writer G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) in 1922.  Bourne is writing when World War I is still going and as a public intellectual figure, Bourne's writing is serious and meant to persuade and is moralistic to that extent. Chesterton is writing in the aftermath of the war and shows a more ironic and almost amused nature in his writings, it does not have the moral urgency of Bourne's writing, but in its own way it could be equally persuasive for pointing out absurd aspects of modern life. 
Chesterton, Vanity Fair

 The essay we are reading is his reflection about filling out his passport information at the American Consulate. This leads him to question how much do people really learn when they travel. There are many distortions that prevent people from experiencing another culture. For one, people have a conservative instinct to want to stay by what is familiar, "to travel is to leave the inside and draw dangerously near the outside" (Chesterton 2008, p. 1), in other words the inside representing the family or the community and the outside being the outside world. This can turn into hostility towards those who seem different.


Another reaction is to find amusement in different cultures. He finds no fault in being "amused" by another culture (although that is debatable) but argues, "where they are wrong is that they take their own amusement seriously" (p. 1). In other words most people never challenge their own superficial first impressions and are content with getting by on that. This second reaction he regards as clearly better than aggression or hostility, and argues that under certain conditions amusement can be constructive: "But I believe there is a better way which largely consists of laughter; a form of friendship between nations which is actually founded on differences" (p. 1). We can assume that this is his overall point. The rest of the essay is his reflection of his experience in the U.S. which to him offers a guideline for how this could be created.
 However what is the source of his own amusement upon reading the passport application? Why are these questions so unusual to him?:
One of the questions on the paper was, 'Are you an anarchist?' To which a detached philosopher would naturally feel inclined to answer, 'What the devil has that to do with you? Are you an atheist?' along with some playful efforts to cross-examine the official about what constitutes an ἁρχη [Greek: archê]. Then there was the question, 'Are you in favour of subverting the government of the United States by force?' Against this I should write, 'I prefer to answer that question at the end of my tour and not the beginning.' The inquisitor, in his more than morbid curiosity, had then written down, 'Are you a polygamist?' The answer to this is, 'No such luck' or 'Not such a fool,' according to our experience of the other sex. But perhaps a better answer would be that given to W. T. Stead when he circulated the rhetorical question, 'Shall I slay my brother Boer?'—the answer that ran, 'Never interfere in family matters.' But among many things that amused me almost to the point of treating the form thus disrespectfully, the most amusing was the thought of the ruthless outlaw who should feel compelled to treat it respectfully. I like to think of the foreign desperado, seeking to slip into America with official papers under official protection, and sitting down to write with a beautiful gravity, 'I am an anarchist. I hate you all and wish to destroy you.' Or, 'I intend to subvert by force the government of the United States as soon as possible, sticking the long sheath-knife in my left trouser-pocket into Mr. Harding at the earliest opportunity.' Or again, 'Yes, I am a polygamist all right, and my forty-seven wives are accompanying me on the voyage disguised as secretaries.' There seems to be a certain simplicity of mind about these answers; and it is reassuring to know that anarchists and polygamists are so pure and good that the police have only to ask them questions and they are certain to tell no lies (pp. 4-5).

At first he is taken back by how invasive the questions seem and makes some comparisons to other authoritarian states and the Spanish Inquisition. This then sets up his main argument about the U.S.: it is founded on a creed, the meaning of the creed is best captured in The Declaration of Independence:
The American Constitution does resemble the Spanish Inquisition in this: that it is founded on a creed. America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just. It certainly does condemn anarchism, and it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from whom these equal rights are derived. Nobody expects a modern political system to proceed logically in the application of such dogmas, and in the matter of God and Government it is naturally God whose claim is taken more lightly. The point is that there is a creed, if not about divine, at least about human things (p. 8).

Chesterton is considered to have anticipated the idea of "civil religion" that I mentioned last class. This relates to what he said earlier about a form of "friendship based on differences," but why does he believe the creed in the Declaration is good for this purpose?

In its most simplest form he believes the creed is based on the ideas of equality and justice. It is only to the extent that government supports these principles that its authority can be considered legitimate. As stated clearly in the Declaration if the government does not and will not change its abuses then the population has the right to rebel and to form a new government.

Being based on the idea of equality the creed is also universal, much like the Christian religion. It is no surprise then that the U.S. is heavily influenced by Christian values. Or more than that: democratic political values are basically Christian values. Chesterton would argue that the "Christian" aspect to American democracy comes out most clearly by using the metaphor of the "melting-pot," or as he says:
Now in a much vaguer and more evolutionary fashion, there is something of the same idea at the back of the great American experiment; the experiment of a democracy of diverse races which has been compared to a melting-pot. But even that metaphor implies the pot itself is of a certain shape and a certain substance. The melting-pot must not melt. The original shape was traced on the the lines of Jeffersonian democracy; and it will remain in that shape until it becomes shapeless. America invites all men to become citizens; but it implies the dogma that there is such a thing as citizenship. Only, so far as its primary ideal is concerned, its exclusiveness is religious because it is not racial (p. 9).
The mixture of races he refers to still needs a strong government to provide some shape to the fluid mix of culture, or as he says the pot must not melt. He argues that the political system established by Jefferson (the 3rd president) most closely resembles this and is most appropriate for containing the melting-pot. Bourne regards the "melting pot" metaphor as a failure, Chesterton argues otherwise, but both seem to suggest that the exclusivity of Anglo-Saxon culture is antiquated and cannot sustain itself. At the time in which they are writing anti-miscegenation laws make it illegal to marry outside your race, miscegenation, meaning "mixed race."

Chesterton contrasts what he calls the "American experiment" with the European states. Why does he argue that in Europe they do not have a creed because they have a type? He refers to the "national type" of England which he seems to suggest is a set of beliefs, values, and attitudes that are heavily embedded in English culture and reproduced through institutions which leaves their imprint on every English subject (not citizen, they have a king). He seems to suggest that there is an absence of a similar American 'type'. This point is highly debatable. 

He is not unaware of the realities of American life "but the point is not that nothing exists in America except this idea; it is that nothing like this idea exists anywhere except in America" (p. 15). He argues that this experiment is  not internationalism (inter- a prefix meaning "between" as in between nations, similar but not identical to "transnational," trans- being a prefix meaning "beyond"). Instead, he refers to it as "nationalization of the internationalized" (-ize or -ized past tense, is a suffix that creates transitive verbs that usually mean "to create or make something" as in "creating a nation" out of people who have been "created between nations"). This process is sustained to the extent in which equality and justice guide the actions of the government.

What then undermines equality? Besides, racial and gender inequality, Chesterton writing in the 1920s is aware of the enormous income inequality in American society at this time. The period of the Gilded Age (circa 1868-1896) and the rise of the "robber barons" is over and they have consolidated their power. By the 1920s, large international corporations like General Motors and the United Fruit Co. already exist. Automobiles, especially the Model T produced by Ford have now become affordable to many middle and working class Americans. The first suburbs are created as transportation allows people to live further away from where they work. "Culture industries" like radio and film are already developing quickly which also tended to replace the participation of citizens in the public sphere with diversions and spectacles that reinforces the status quo. Despite this income inequality is at an all time high in the 1920s. Economists like Paul Krugman have spoken of the 1930s and 40s as the "great compression" meaning the relatively compressed period of time in which a middle class is created in the country. In other words, before that there was no middle class in the country at least not since before the Civil War.
"Top 10% Share of Income," Saez, 2010

In this economic  context, the "natural law" of equality tends to be obscured leading people to believe that inequality between people is the normal and natural state of being, but as Chesterton says:
In truth it is inequality that is the illusion. The extreme disproportion between men, that we seem to see in life, is a thing of changing lights and lengthening shadows. A twilight full of fancies and distortions....It is the experience of men that always returns to the equality of men; it is the average that ultimately justifies the average man. It is when  men have seen and suffered much and come at the end of their elaborate experiments, that they see men under an equal light of death and daily laughter; and none the less mysterious for being many (p. 19).

In part to compensate for the large size of early 20th corporations large government bureaucracies were created in order to manage and regulate the increasingly complex demands placed on the political system and society. One of these vital demands is regulation of the immigration system which was crucial for American economic expansion since its beginning and provides a large work force for corporations and businesses. However bureaucracies work by creating a standard set of rules that are applied to all cases, however this makes it difficult to adapt to circumstances as well as creating something broad to encompass everyone–this is the origin of the absurd questions Chesterton is asked. It is a product of bureaucratic decision making.

Bureaucracies according to the sociologist Max Weber, despite their flaws, are the highest development of order and rationality. However, at least since the Romantic era of the 19th century there has been a reaction against the suffocating and "dehumanizing" (making people less than human) tendencies of science and reason. Distrust  increased more after World War I (1914-1918) witnessed supposedly "rational" European states massacre each other by the millions in a few years, all appling "science and technology" to more efficiently kill each other with poison gas, machine guns, and tanks. These events loom larger in Chesterton's imagination, who is only writing a few years after the end of the war, and this is probably why he emphasizes the "direct experience" of things rather than more abstract scientific models of understanding (which would never allow laughing at differences or even notice them) and is able to poke fun at the "rational" bureaucracies.

The 1920s is known as the "Roaring 20s" or the "Jazz Age" in part because of the development of consumer mass culture adding more "excitement" to life. The 20s was also the time of Prohibition when the manufacture and sale of alcohol was illegal which created "organized crime" in the U.S. Prohibition was also directed at immigrant groups many of whom consumed alcohol regularly. It is not a coincidence that most of the major beer manufacturers were German. The influence of the time period shows, Chesterton speaks only of "men" and says other things that would not be considered politically correct today. 

Chesterton also seems to assume that "nationalism" in the form of the "national type" or personality is natural. He may poke fun at the stereotypes of the English but he does not seem to think that they are unnatural, nor does he give any indication these values will change and seems to assume they are fixed and permanent, and not constructed from institutionalized social practices. In the 1920s the British Empire still existed after becoming the dominant world power in the 19th century and would last until World War II. At one point their empire reached every continent in the world and even had a slogan: "The sun never sets on the British Empire," and at one point it controlled the territories that are now India and Pakistan; Burma; Singapore; Iraq; large parts of East Africa including Kenya and the Sudan; Australia; Canada; and islands in the Caribbean like the Bahamas as well as parts of Honduras, and British Guiana in South America. In a sense, what helped Great Britain become a world power was its geographical separation from the rest of Europe; Great Britain is an island nation separated by water.


Bitram.org
Until World War II (1939-1945), this protected it from attacks from other European powers; it also encouraged the development of a strong navy which was what made Great Britain a powerful empire in its day. Trade and commerce also developed alongside its naval power and Great Britain is usually regarded as the first nation to undergo the "Industrial Revolution" beginning in the mid 1700s. Textile production was the major industry which required raw materials from different parts of the world like Egypt and India and this in turn facilitated colonization of these areas. Even more important was the production of opium by the East India Company whose ships supplied the world (Greenberg 1951). During World War II, its colonial empire in Asia was mostly destroyed by the Japanese. This and the war in Europe and North Africa against Germany destabilized the entire empire. After the war, liberation movements many of which began before the war were able to throw off the foreign control of the British once and for all, in some cases this continued into the 1980s. The last major colony to gain independence was Hong Kong in 1997 when it was returned to China. After World War II, the United States became the dominant world power. At the same in which decolonization as a global process is occurring throughout the world, a massive new influx of immigration to the U.S., and to a lesser extent Europe, occurs as barriers against travel and immigration are lifted.


Chesterton points backwards to many thinkers who have come before him and points forward to many future thinkers who still echo many of the things he said in this essay. Chesterton is an early influence in developing the idea of "civil religion" to explain the relationship of citizens to the state. Chesterton could also be classified among influential American political scientists and historians, writers like Louis Hartz associated with the term "American Exceptionalism" that came about in the 1950s. The basis of this idea was that the development of the United States followed a unique path of development from Europe. Some of the basic "exceptional" characteristics that are isolated are:
1) Lack of feudal history i.e. a division of land and power between hereditary lords who rule over peasants.
2) The Western frontier that until about 1890 permitted almost continuous expansion west.
3) The geographical separation from the rest of Europe and "natural defenses" like the ocean.
4) The influence of the Puritans and emphasis on religious tolerance.
5) Relative income equality compared to Europe.
Tocqueville (1805-1859)
Although originally the term exceptional was supposed to be a neutral term only indicating the uniqueness of American development, although that is questionable. In the present day this term has been taken up conservatives and liberals who equate exceptional with meaning something like "special" or better than the rest.

1) Tocqueville emphasized equality as the chief virtue of democracy (although he saw downsides that Chesterton does not acknowledge as much, he also believed that equality creates anxiety and that's what makes American life so fast paced).

The origins of this idea however runs deep in American political culture and go as far back to the colonial times and the Puritans who saw their community as "a city on a hill," a model for the rest of the world. All of the American "Founding Fathers" were also similarly aware of this and saw themselves in this role as well. Another famous foreign visitor to the U.S. is Alexis de Tocqueville who in 1835 published volume 1 of Democracy in America (volume 2 1840). Tocqueville basically set the pattern for how everyone who follows American politics studies it. The influence of Tocqueville on Chesterton is apparent in many areas:
2) The emphasis on the Puritans who established small democracies upon their arrival that became the foundation for all democratic institutions in this country.
3) The emphasis on values or what he refers to as "mores" (as in morality) beliefs that are accepted without question for sustaining American democracy.


Here is a passage from Democracy in America that reflects these ideas:
Thus the Americans are in an exceptional situation, and it is unlikely that any other other democratic people will be similarly placed. Their strictly Puritan origin; their exclusively commercial habits; even the country they inhabit, which seems to divert their minds from the study of science, literature, and the arts; the accessibility of Europe, which allows them to neglect these things without relapsing into barbarism–a thousand special causes, of which I have indicated only the most important, have singularly concurred to fix the mind of the American on purely practical objects. His desires, needs, education, and circumstances all seem united to draw the American's mind earthward. Only religion from time to time makes him turn a transient and distracted glance toward heaven. We should therefore give up looking at all democratic peoples through American spectacles and try at last to see them as they actually are (Tocqueville 2000, pp. 455-56). 



Assignment Due 2/21: Choose a quote from Bourne or Chesterton and write it out in your blog. Under that write your interpretation of what you think the author is trying to say and explain that. Then, after that write out your own explanation of the meaning of this passage and why you chose this specific quote and how it relates to this class.