Only In America, Part 3: Enter Government

Only in America, Part Three:  Enter Government

Enter Government, Part Three:  The Founding Project introduced our readers to Dr. Jerome Huyler’s work, Only in America, breaking it into an introduction followed by a three part series.  Dr. Huyler began with the story of America and its greatness via his study of history and American life in the first chapter. His second chapter further explored America’s growth and effects of freedom, free markets and the aspects of liberty, which allowed individuals a growth, flourishing and prosperity not previously experienced by other nations.

Huyler’s work is an observation of America and also on civics education in America and is being presented by The Founding Project in a series of articles.   Dr. Huyler’s essay is a response to one author’s book, which has come to influence a version of civics education in America, but he found that book’s content did not coincide with the full civics education programs once prevalent in American schools and recommended by our Founders.

The introduction to this work (See link below.) began to contrast the message of this one book and its conflict with prior decades of teaching.  In the first two chapters (See links below.), Dr. Huyler delivered the studied history behind the greatness of America.  Join The Founding Project and Dr. Huyler with his third and final chapter, which introduces the affects of government on the experiment in freedom that is America.

The Founding Project welcomes Dr. Huyler and hopes our members appreciate this important series.  Be sure to note his biography, below, for more books by Jerome Huyler, PhD.

[Editor’s Note:  Sub-titles and additional paragraph breaks are supplied by TFP’s website editor for ease in reading and to meet SEO website requirements.]

Only In America, Part Three: Enter Government

American Capitol Building

Taken together [Chapters One and Two: The Promise of America and Keeping the Promise], these are the essential elements that comprise the country’s POPULAR culture, the way most Americans wish and expect to live. 

But, there is also a POLITICAL culture.  What gives rise to that arrangement? 

All the crooks, con artists, charlatans, hucksters, scoundrels, racketeers, thugs, hoods and sundry other miscreants who would rather live off the labor of others than labor, themselves, for their keep.  They will loot, cheat, defraud, embezzle, corrupt  public institutions or commit violence to obtain the objects of their desires.  They are the guilty, and they are from whom the innocent need to be protected. 

Are they the majority?  If so, it signals the true demolition of society.  For men will not produce if they cannot enjoy the fruits of their arduous labors.  But even if the miscreants make up but a minority of the population, the danger is no less great.  Left unchecked, a few rotten scoundrels can make the social barrel unbearable for the rest.  Men cannot look over their shoulders every waking minute, then  keep an eye on their possessions all night while planting or harvesting their crops, stocking their shelves or caring for the barn animals.  But, anarchy breeds chaos and “vigilante” justice is no sure-fire fix for injustice.  The solution is to be found in the creation of objective Laws and public institutions authorized to write and enforce them.

The Right to Live and Let Live

There is no institutional relationship more critical to the well-being of society than that between the body of free-born citizens and their governing institutions..  Since a substantial portion of mankind (even if just a minority) will ever fail to respect the right of all to live and let live, political association is needed.  And, it’s more than a matter of preventing crime and punishing offenders.  

Honest and upright men may genuinely dispute the terms and disposition of legally binding contracts, or the appropriate compensation for injuries and financial losses resulting from disputed causes or “freak” accidents, or a thousand other claims and contingencies.  These disputes must not be settled by blinding anger, violence and heated retribution.  They need to be peacefully adjudicated in civil courts and under established laws and procedures.  Then, there are the threats from abroad.

An Alternative to Governing by Power

The world has ever been governed by the aggressive use of force.  And when you consider the contemporary security threats posed by of ISIS, Iran, Russia, China, North Korea, so many Syrian refugees and “invading,” crime-minded aliens, you realize, in this respect, there is nothing exceptional about our own times.  Because there will always be forces that seek to dominate the innocent and helpless, because there will always be bullies and predators, there is an  unavoidable need for institutions that can ensure domestic and international tranquility.” 

Because there will always be forces that seek to dominate the innocent and helpless…

That is the role of civil government, the sole institution possessing a monopoly  on the legitimate use of force.  Good government is that which uses its power to PROTECT citizens in the peaceful enjoyment of what is theirs, their lives, liberties and possessions.  It is government’s task to assure the safety of the citizens. For, if a people do not feel SAFE, they cannot truly feel FREE (think 9/11).

A Necessary Evil

Yet, despite all the good good governments do, the fact is that nothing has so threatened the good order of society as the governments under which men have lived.  Thomas Paine reflected on the common concern of his age when he warned: 

Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one. 

The problem was that government had to be granted enough power to prevent and punish criminal and civil invasions of private right, yet not so much as to, itself, threaten the private rights of the people.  James Madison summed up the challenge America’s founders faced:   “In short, “you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”  Not as easy as it may sound.  

“In short, “you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

Insufficiently explored in most popular accounts of the American Revolution is the manifest anxiety the founders felt over the threat posed to Liberty by corrupt political institutions and, more generally, the awful influence of power in human affairs.  

The Founders Knew History and Knew It Well

Collage composite from study.com

The founders were keen students of history.  They read with intense interest the political commentaries of Aristotle and Cicero and the ancient histories of Thucydides Livy and Polybius, among others.  They understood that to avoid mistakes in the present or future they would do well to make a keen study of the past.  They learned the “lessons of history” well.  What did it say to them? Recent acts and actions undertaken by the government of Great Britain were but ominous warning signs of approaching danger, if not impending doom.  As Edmund Burke observed, the American colonies  “sniff the approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze.”  

Also underreported in the popular histories of the American Revolution is the enormous influence exerted by two British writers, John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon.   Their 144 weekly essays, written in the wake of Great Britain’s South Sea Bubble scandal of 1720, were collected and published as “Cato’s Letters.”  These essays circulated everywhere in the colonies in the years leading up to the declaration of Independence.  It was through the lens of “Cato” (and a long line of 18th century Opposition writers) that the budding revolutionaries interpreted the events unfolding before them (the tax levies and other intrusive acts).  

The Root of the Problem

Warning of the danger decades earlier, Trenchard and Gordon, reached the root of the problem:

“The World is governed by Men, and Men by their Passions; which being boundless and insatiable, are always terrible when they are not controuled: Who was ever satiated with Riches, or surfeited with Power, or tired with Honours?” 

And again: 

“Men are never satisfied with their present Condition, which is never perfectly Happy and perfect Happiness being their chief Aim, and always out of their Reach, they are restlessly grasping at what they can never attain.”

“[T]here is nothing so terrible or mischievous, but human Nature is capable of it….[Men] seldom or never stop at certain Degrees of Mischief, when they have Power to go further; but hurry on from Wickedness to Wickedness, as far and as fast as human Malice can prompt human Power.”

“Power,” is the devil.  Its nemesis is “Liberty”.

“Power,” is the devil, in the Catonic world view.  Its nemesis is “Liberty:

Power is naturally active, vigilant and distrustful; which Qualities in it push it upon all Means and Expedients to fortify itself . . . . It would do what it pleases and have no Check.  Now, because Liberty chastises and shortens Power, therefore Power would extinguish Liberty; and consequently Liberty [has] too much cause to be exceeding [sic] jealous, and always upon her Defence. 

This terrible human failing, the irrepressible predatory force has been around since the beginning of time.  “Cato” was well acquainted with the historical record.  The essays dwell endlessly on the loss of liberty in lands near and far.  Much like Machiavelli, “Cato” lays bare the cunning practices of corrupt princes and ministers. 

The effects of power were all about:

Let us look round this Great World, and behold what an immense Majority of the whole Race of Men crouch under the Yoke of a few Tyrants, naturally as low as the meanest of themselves, and by being Tyrants, worse than the worst . . .    Let us therefore grow wise by the Misfortunes of others . . . . Let their Virtues and their Vices, and the Punishment of them, too, be an example to us; and so prevent our Miseries from being an Example to other Nations . . . . .In fine, let us examine and look narrowly into every Part of our Constitution, and see if any Corruptions or Abuses have crept or galloped into it.  

 (1) The Principle of Popular Sovereignty and the Rule of Law

For most of man’s history political power rested in the hands of whoever happened to hold it and only for as long as he or they managed to keep it.  Government was free to do what it pleased, since the will of the ruler(s) reigned supreme.  Emperors and kings claimed to rule by Divine Right.  They were given their power by God, Almighty and it was Absolute.  No terrestrial source could restrain it.  What had to be discovered and was discovered in Ancient Athens and, later, adopted by the Roman Republic, was an unbending Rule of Law. 

In America, it is enshrined in a parchment writ that formed the fundamental law of the land, the U. S. Constitution.  Men would have to refrain from taking the law into their own hands and, instead, rely on an unyielding “Rule of Law” to adjudicate all contested claims and rectify all wrongs (as much as humanly possible).  And no one, but no one, would be above the law and not subject to it.  

The Rule of Law stands above any ruler’s personal will.  Indeed, rulers are and must regard themselves as the people’s servants not their masters.   

Power from The People

“To secure these rights, Jefferson’s July 4th Declaration Declared, “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.  God was still very much in heaven, for the founders, but He was not the Lawgiver, the King Maker.  Power would no longer be showered down from on High, but filter up from below.  From now on, power would reside, originally, in the people and be the anchor holding the powerful in check.  

The idea is enshrined in the Principle of “Popular Sovereignty.”  All devotion to faith aside (and no one is disputing its central place in American life, then or now), government’s lawful power is limited.  It is derived from the body of citizens and devoted to protecting them  in the enjoyment of what is theirs, their lives, liberties and possessions, Power put to any other purpose is not lawful,  The founders called that fake power “usurpation.”    The Rule of Law stands above any ruler’s personal will.  Indeed, rulers are and must regard themselves as the people’s servants not their masters.   

(2) Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances

That was a  fine point, in theory.  But what about actual practice?   What would insure that the people’s rights and liberties were not violated?   If avaricious Power was the problem, the solution had to lie in breaking power up and positioning it so as to be a check on itself.  Rejecting all simple political forms, “Cato” called for the maintenance of a “Mixed Regime.”  For it is only here that: 

The Interest of the Magistracy, which is the Lot and Portion of the Great, is to prevent Confusion, which levels all Things; the Interest of the Body of the People, is to keep Power from Oppression, and their Magistrates from changing into Plunderers and Murderers; the Interest of the standing Senate, which is, or ought to be composed of Men distinguishable for their Fortunes and Abilities, is to avoid ruin and Dissolution from either of these Extremes. 

Checks and Balances in Government

The solution was plain.  If Power was the problem, then it had to be broken up, separated and made to be a check upon itself.  That is precisely what the Constitution was designed for.  It is little more than a vast labyrinth of checks and balances imposed on and by three separate, sovereign departments of government – legislative, executive and judicial .   Not content to form horizontal separations and checks, the framers conceived of vertical checks, awarding sovereignty to each state to conduct its own internal affairs, while operating under a Supreme Law of the Land, the Constitution, itself.

If Power was the problem, then it had to be broken up, separated and made to be a check upon itself.  That is precisely what the Constitution was designed for.

Free men must be protected from their governors” as well as their neighbors’ wanton lusts.  Government is instituted among men precisely to provide that protection.  Being “created equal,”  equally entitled to live and let live (hence the principle of Equal Creation), men require and deserve Equal Protection, i.e., equal protection under law.  That sets government basic task, as John Locke explained, “to govern by promulgated established laws, not to be varied in particular Cases, but to have one Rule for Rich and Poor, for the Favorite at Court, and the Country Man at Plough (ST: 142). 

(3)  A Civilization Open to Apathy

If there is no institutional relationship more important to free-born  citizens than the one that binds them to their governing institutions, you wouldn’t know it from talking to the average American.   Most devote little time or serious attention to politics and public affairs.   The sphere of privacy, the desire to live and be left alone, precludes such activity.

Concern with one’s family, friends, faith and good fortune occupy the days and hours of our lives.  Beyond this, there are the hobbies, the many sports and entertainment interests, to which we eagerly attend.  Many may execute their civic duty and vote, but, for most, it is not clear exactly for whom or what they are voting.   To an extent, it is more a reflection on the politicians who stoke the fires of cynicism, than the “low-information” voters.  They will ask for your vote, telling you what their pollsters tell them you want to hear and promising you the moon.  But once in power, there is no telling what they’ll actually do.  That is enough to turn off most Americans.  

They take things for granted, up until the time those things are threatened or about to be lost, altogether. 

Besides, as was said at the start, Americans do not feel hard-pressed or put upon.  Again, though many may be paying upwards of 50% in combined federal/state/local taxes, they do not count themselves half-slave/half-free.  In short, most of the time few feel like their backs are against the wall.  In lots of areas they are free to choose and so choose to leave politics to the politicians.  In doing so, they are behaving as humans behave.  They take things for granted, up until the time those things are threatened or about to be lost, altogether.  

Forgotten?…or Apathetic About Government Too Long?

Cartoon depicting American citizen power over politicians

What some recent Presidential Election showed is that many a “forgotten” man and woman in middle America has been finding his or her free and prosperous lifestyle slipping away.  Life has been getting harder for millions, and opinion surveys showed an overwhelming sense that the nation was headed in the wrong direction.  That anxiety surges to produce sometimes unexpected election results, as citizens grasp for an executive branch seeming to be in tune with citizens. 

It is hoped that that spirit of civic mindedness displayed for the final electoral college vote will endure.  Since each person’s well being is to an enormous extent affected by prevailing social and economic conditions, since in a countless variety of ways, those conditions are the product of a nation’s political enactments. And, since here, in America, we elect those who write the laws which create the conditions in which we all prosper or perish, each citizen needs to be informed about the political programs that are being proposed and implemented in his name, and about what fundamental and fundamentally opposed principles are really contending for dominance.  

(4)  A Civilization Committed to Individualism

Reduced to its basic essence, America was forged on an anvil of Individualism.  The founders firmly rejected its age-old nemesis, Collectivism.  These terms deserve more attention than they are generally accorded.    

…the collectivist state does not exist for the sake of every individual in it; it’s the other way around.

Throughout man’s history political rulers have served not the general welfare of their people but, in a word, themselves.   Everywhere, it was made possible by the premise that the people are the “property” of the state, subject to the will of the ruler.  Conceptually, this is the Collectivist model; it comes in several awful flavors.    Whether ruled by one, a few, or the many (the “people” can be thieving exploiters and butchers,  too), the collectivist state does not exist for the sake of every individual in it; it’s the other way around.   Whether organized as a monarchy, aristocracy or mob-ruled democracy, here there are no free-born citizens, only subjects bound to serve and obey.  The Collectivist model places the organic society in the driver’s seat.  In all its many guises, it presumes that the people exist for the sake of the race, the faith, the Fatherland, the state.  

Individualism and Government

Painting: Caspar David Friedrich: Wanderer above the Sea of Fog

The principle of Individualism affirms something else, entirely.   It sees human beings as self-governing sovereigns, free to do as they please, and bear responsibility for the choices they make.  They are obliged only to leave their neighbors free to do as much.  For the founders, the individual came first.  It was for society and governing bodies to protect all in the enjoyment of what is exclusively his or hers, life, liberty and all of one’s freely-acquired possessions.  Government would be of the people and by the people.  But it would be for every individual in the recognition of his/her Right to be free. 

This idea of individualism issues a mandate.  It affirms that the lone individual is not tethered to any overbearing authority.  He is a free agent, owner of his life and labor and entitled to a full possession of the fruits acquired by it.  This awareness builds a sense of pride in the nation that permits it and in every citizen that benefits by it.

Government could tax the people (Stealth fighters and uniform insignias do not grow on trees), but only as much as it costs to PROTECT the people.  For the people possess “certain inalienable rights,” which governments are formed to protect, not violate.  This idea of individualism issues a mandate.  It affirms that the lone individual is not tethered to any overbearing authority.  He is a free agent, owner of his life and labor and entitled to a full possession of the fruits acquired by it.  This awareness builds a sense of pride in the nation that permits it and in every citizen that benefits by it.  And, as per Richard Rorty, it spurs the nation on to continual improvement in assuring Liberty and Justice for all.  It would take a full-length book to explain the full implications of that depiction.  One would only conclude with this: No, civilization shouldn’t take the precious blessings of liberty for granted.  They don’t grow on trees, either.

The End (or not!)

[Dr. Jerome Huyler’s “Only In America–The Goodness Greatness Begot” is now completely published on The Founding Project’s website. To read the Introduction to “Only In America”, click this link: https://thefoundingproject.com/only-america-introduction/   To read the first two chapters of his book, click these two links: First chapter-  https://thefoundingproject.com/only-american-goodness-greatness-american-life/ and Second chapter- https://thefoundingproject.com/only-america-part-2-keeping-promise/

Jerome Huyler, PhD. is a former assistant professor at Seton Hall University. He earned his PhD in political science from the New School University in 1992 and his bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College, where he majored in philosophy. Dr. Huyler’s doctoral dissertation was edited for publication as Locke in America: The Moral Philosophy of the Founding Era (University Press of Kansas, 1995, 2001). He also authored Everything You Have: The Case Against Welfare (1980). Jerome has delivered talks at Columbia University, New York University, St. John’s University, Baruch College, and the University of Connecticut, among others.

In addition to speaking before graduate seminars on the American founding era at Fordham University and delivering a six-session mini-course on the same subject, he has addressed professional conferences including those on the Liberty Fund, the annual meeting of The American, The New York State, and the Northeastern Political Science Association. His articles, interviews, and book reviews have been published in prestigious journals, such as The William & Mary Quarterly, The American Historical Review, Navigator, The Independent Review, and AmericanThinker.com.

Jerome is an Economic and Political Scholar. These designations have been given in recognition of both his strong foundation and understand in Economic issues, but also for his commitment to the on-going research, teaching and support of the Constitution. Dr. Hulyer has been recognized as being both constitutionally savvy and sound in Constitutional reason.

 

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