Class Warfare Blog

July 21, 2018

Things to Consider When Selecting Another Supreme Court Justice

This is not yet another post about who should be selected or how, but some background on how the SCOTUS fits into our system of government.

In a quite brilliant post [Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton by Paul Street (July 13, 2018)] at the author points out quite clearly that the Constitutional Authors were more than fearful of popular democracy, that they felt the “natural” leaders were people like themselves, wealthy landowners who had the time and education and sensibilities (Sniff!) to lead well.

Here are a few telling quotes:

At the Constitutional Convention, Madison backed an upper U.S. legislative assembly (the Senate) of elite property holders meant to check a coming “increase of population” certain to “increase the proportion of those who will labour under all the hardships of life, and secretly sigh for a more equal distribution of its blessings” [emphasis added]. “These may in time outnumber those who are placed above the feelings of indigence. According to the equal laws of suffrage, the power will slide into the hands of the former.”

In Federalist No. 35, the future first U.S. secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, argued that the common people found their proper political representatives among the small class of wealthy merchant capitalists. “The idea of an actual representation of all classes of people by persons of each class,” Hamilton wrote, “is altogether visionary.” The “weight and superior acquirements of the merchants render them more equal” than the “other classes,” Hamilton proclaimed.

Mr. Street goes on to say this:

Checkmating Popular Sovereignty
The New England clergyman Jeremy Belknap captured the fundamental idea behind the U.S. Founders’ curious notion of what they liked to call “popular government.” “Let it stand as a principle,” Belknap wrote to an associate in the late 1780s, “that government originates from the people, but let the people be taught…that they are unable to govern themselves.”

It wasn’t just about teaching “the people” that they were incapable of self-rule, however. The Constitution was designed to make sure the popularity majority couldn’t govern itself even if it thought it could. The rich white fathers crafted a form of “popular government” (their deceptive term) that was a monument to popular incapacitation.

The U.S. Constitution divided the federal government into three parts, with just one-half of one of those three parts (the House of Representatives) elected directly by “the people”—a category that excluded blacks, women, Native Americans and property-less white males (that is, most people in the early republic). It set up elaborate checks and balances to prevent the possibility of the laboring multitude influencing policy. It introduced a system of intermittent, curiously time-staggered elections (two years for the House, six years for the Senate, and four years for the presidency) precisely to discourage sweeping popular electoral rebellions It created a Supreme Court appointed for life (by the president with confirmation power restricted to the Senate) with veto power over legislation or executive actions that might too strongly bear the imprint of the “secretly sigh[ing]” multitude.

It sanctified the epic “un-freedom” and “anti-democracy” of black slavery, permitting slave states to count their disenfranchised chattel toward their congressional apportionment in the House of Representatives.

The Constitution’s curious Electoral College provision guaranteed that the popular majority would not directly select the U.S. president—even on the limited basis of one vote for each propertied white male. It is still in effect.

U.S. Americans did not directly vote for U.S. senators for the first 125 years of the federal government.  The Constitution said that senators were to be elected by state legislatures, something that was changed only by the Seventeen Amendment in 1913.

It is true that the Constitution’s Article V provided a mechanism technically permitting “We the People” to alter the nation’s charter. But the process for seriously amending the U.S. Constitution was and remains exceedingly difficult, short of revolution and/or civil war.

I know this is a lot to absorb, so I recommend you read the entire article. I will add a couple of comments.

Regarding the quotation from New England clergyman Jeremy Belknap “Let it stand as a principle,’ Belknap wrote to an associate in the late 1780s, ‘that government originates from the people, but let the people be taught…that they are unable to govern themselves (my emphasis).’” I’m shocked, shocked I tell you, that a clergyman would oppose people thinking and acting for themselves! Realize that in the New Testament, the only descriptions of how Christians practiced their religion were very democratic. There were no clergy per se, unless you think wandering guides such as “Paul,” qualified. Congregations of Christians met in homes and “shared” with one another with no middlemen involved. But if there are no middlemen, there is no power structure and the early days of Christianity (first three-four centuries) was all about creating a power structure … by those wanting the power.

So, to hear that some clergy, although I suspect close to all clergy, believed that people could not rule themselves is hardly a revelation. In their religion, the people could not govern themselves, they needed “guidance,” otherwise they might believe the wrong things (“wrong” as determined by those in power).

Regarding “The Constitution was designed to make sure the popularity majority couldn’t govern itself even if it thought it could.” This is a stunning revelation to me. I knew quite a bit of this background and the attitudes of the “Founding Fathers,” but I had not had this point made so clearly and forcibly before.

Regarding “The Constitution’s curious Electoral College provision guaranteed that the popular majority would not directly select the U.S. President.” Isn’t it curious that the Electoral College was the instrument that got a populist President elected in 2016. The “best laid plans of mice and men,” indeed!

Oh, and on which side of this argument do you think Judge Kavanaugh is on?



June 11, 2016

Ignorant, Ignorant, Ignorant

In an op-ed piece in today’s N.Y. Times (What ‘Hamilton’ Forgets About Alexander Hamilton, by Jason Frank and Isaac Kramnick, June 10, 2016) the authors decry what the writers of the super-smash hit musical “Hamilton” left out. Here is how they put it: “But the musical avoids an equally pronounced feature of Hamilton’s beliefs: his deeply ingrained elitism, his disdain for the lower classes and his fear of democratic politics.”

First, it is a fricking musical for Pete’s sake. Does one expect historical accuracy from Evita? from Peter Pan? Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat? Sheesh!

Second, Hello?

Apparently the authors were unaware that all of the framers had these opinions. Shopkeepers and farriers, even printers, were considered “middling men” and were not trusted to be part of the reins of government. The framers spoke frequently how to protect the fledgling republic from the participation of the middling sort, should they ever decide they should be involved. They all assumed that the government would be of the elite, the men (yes, men) most capable of rising to the various occasions that were sure to occur. Why, it should be men like themselves!

Is this a shock? Is this a character flaw in Hamilton? If it is, it was in all of the rest, also.

They all feared unbridled democracy, in fact democracy, a true democracy, was off the table almost immediately in their considerations. They assumed that were a democracy to be formed the “have nots” would tyrannically confiscate the wealth of the “haves.” Nope, not a democracy; a republic, yeah, that’s the ticket! If you look at the work they did, you can see that their concern for property (slaves, wives, children, land, etc.) was greater than their concern for liberty, that they felt that the elites, like themselves, were better as leaders and so should lead, and elections are best left to the elites. They created the Electoral College after all.

The authors of this op-ed were, I suppose, trying to arouse some sentiment that Hamilton wasn’t really a good guy, but all they did was to demonstrate their own ignorance.

April 20, 2016

Destructive to the Point of Madness

Why do Republicans want to promote democracy overseas to the point of even starting wars to accomplish it while they are actively undermining it at home? Do you think, boys and girls, it might have something to do with power?

During the period post-Revolutionary War and pre-Constitution adoption, there was a very (very!) lively public debate regarding the nature and shape of the American experiment in self-governance. One of the most profound elements of that debate was the debate over a feature of republics that was considered most dire: the tendency of men (yes, just men then) to divide into factions and parties and put the interests of those parties above those of the public.

In the philosopher David Hume’s opinion, the most pernicious of such factions were those arising from principle, especially abstract speculative principle. Today we would refer to this as having an “ideology.” These factions/parties Hume considered destructive to the point of madness.

So, I give you the ideological faction of the American public we label the Republican Party … “destructive to the point of madness” seems to fit quite aptly.

March 19, 2016

John Locke Was a Socialist, Like Bernie Sanders!

While I have been researching a post on the claim that we were created as a Christian Nation (We were not; in fact the Constitution was a repudiation of all of the Christian States that had been formed, the details of which are a nightmare, but that is for later.), I ran across this quote of John Locke’s (in summary as those folks were even more wordy than I):

… that no man can have such a “Portion of the Things of this World” as to deprive “his needy Brother a Right to the Surplusage of his Goods…. As Justice gives every Man a Title to so much out of another’s Plenty, as will keep him from extream want where he has no means to subsist otherwise….”

For those of you who do not recognize the name, John Locke was the political theorist most influential on the Founding Fathers as well as many, many other politicians around the world. The quote above runs counter to American acquisitiveness/greed and hence the book it was taken from, after having been published in America in 1773, didn’t see another edition for 164 years.

Many now alive would not recognize the rights that were being discussed then. Property rights were not absolute as they are now. If one owned a large amount of land, but didn’t “improve” it by planting crops or orchards, etc. others had a right to go onto that land and use it. Others could go onto your land to collect firewood or to graze livestock, just not the parts you had “improved.” The “freedom of speech” was nothing like it is now, etc. I will write more on this later.

For now, Locke’s quote establishes him as a socialist to the left of Bernie Sanders which is not surprising as Senator Sanders isn’t much of a socialist. He is a democratic socialist which means all aspects of sharing the “Surplusage” require approval by a majority of the people’s representatives.

Locke would be appalled by the modern amounts of wealth subverted by the few. I say subverted, rather than accumulated, as Locke would have a man’s wealth determined by his own labor. The idea of the growth in a man’s wealth being determined by the amount of his wealth was an idea still in its infancy. Hereditary “lords” had been able to pull this off by basically enslaving large swaths of the population (as serfs) but they were a very, very small population and could be considered an aberration. Great wealth accumulated by others was even more rare. (Hereditary lords had a practice of picking off such wealthy commoners. They often encountered legal problems or, gasp, were accused of treason and, ‘poof,’ there went their fortunes.)

Locke would be likewise appalled at the plutocrats blaming the poor for their state (Lazy! Get a job! Start a business! Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Look in a mirror.)

So, the most significant political influence on the Founding Fathers was inclined to policies that “share the wealth,” now known as “redistribution of wealth.” He was in favor of governmental welfare (not just church-based charity). This opinion was based upon both the Bible and natural Law, two sources lauded by the plutocrats. I am surprised they haven’t banned his books.

September 21, 2013

Just Stop with the Founding Fathers

Idiot politician after idiot politician keeps claiming that the “Founding Fathers thought it so important that they embodied my issue in the Constitution” and then go on to point to an Amendment to the Constitution!

If the Founding Fathers though your stupid issue was so important, why did the Constitution have to be amended to get it included. What you really want to say is the “Framers of the Constitution left out my issue, but we eventually got an amendment to get it in. I guess they either thought it wasn’t important enough to write it into the original document or they didn’t have the votes to get it approved.”

Get it right, for Pete’s sake, children are listening.

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