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Is the Republic Lost?

Money keep silent

When the delegates were departing the Constitutional Convention, a woman stopped Benjamin Franklin outside Independence Hall and asked the Pennsylvania delegate, “Well, Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Political journalist Jay Cost believes we didn’t. His new book, A Republic No More: Big Government and the Rise of American Political Corruption, is a highly informative and at times deeply dispiriting account of how we failed Franklin’s challenge.

As that famous reply in Philadelphia suggested, republics are inherently conditional. They depend on the citizenry’s willingness to elect political leaders who are dedicated to the common good. The republican principle is violated when political leaders satisfy the particular interests of only part of the polity at the expense of the whole. It does not matter, moreover, that a particular cause may command the support of a majority. Factional interests, however widely supported, are no substitute for the public interest.

No wonder Franklin wasn’t so sure how things would turn out.

The history of American political corruption begins, interestingly enough, inside the Federalist Papers. In a brilliant juxtaposition, Cost draws out a neglected tension between Federalist #10 and Federalist #11. In the former, James Madison describes the problem of faction, which had tormented democratic governments from antiquity. Notwithstanding this dismal track record, Madison was confident that the republican principle would survive under the proposed Constitution. Wherever the federal government had power, there was a countervailing check to prevent that power from being corrupted.

The factions that dominated individual states would be checked by competing factions from other states. Bicameralism, separation of powers, and the presidential veto supplied additional constraints. The system, in short, was structured for republican purposes.

Now turn the page to Federalist #11, Alexander Hamilton’s blueprint for national prosperity. The states, Hamilton here insists, were not going to succeed commercially without the union. They needed to unite to create a national marketplace and to bargain for reasonable trading terms with Europe’s maritime powers. “An unrestrained intercourse between the states themselves,” Hamilton predicted, “will advance the trade of each, by an interchange of their respective productions, not only for the supply of reciprocal wants, but for exportation to foreign markets.” For Hamilton political, military, and commercial unity was essential to unlock America’s true economic potential.

According to Cost, the dominance of # 11 over # 10 in the realm of practical politics is the key to understanding American political corruption. Since ratification, our political leaders have sought to provide the people what they have demanded. They’ve followed Hamilton’s lead. At the same time, our leaders have not considered the effect of each expansion in federal power on the constitutional balance that Madison identified as essential to the survival of republicanism. National politics has become, as a result, a feeding frenzy for special interest groups.

The First Bank of the United States marked the first victory of political corruption over Madisonian pluralism, says Cost. The Bank received its charter from the federal government, but was privately funded. The arrangement prompted Madison to question how the federal government could ever adopt a policy that would jeopardize the financial interests of the Bank’s private shareholders, since “the plan of the institution gives a moral certainty of gain to the Subscribers with scarce a physical possibility of loss.” Madison worried that the Bank’s investors would “become the pretorian band of the Government, at once its tool & its tyrant.”

As it turns out, the First Bank was ably managed, in Federalist and Republican administrations alike. In the latter case, Albert Gallatin, the Swiss-born Secretary of the Treasury under Jefferson and Madison, deserves the credit. Nonetheless, a dangerous precedent was set. The government was now free to construct policies based on the support of factions, the “pretorian bands” that Madison feared.

Political corruption, in fact, was rampant throughout the 19th century. Initially, it took the form of party hacks—machine pols who distributed public offices to try to increase their party’s odds in the upcoming election. Later, Gilded Age politicians exchanged legislative favors for lucrative kickbacks from business interests.

Cost notes that when Senator Nelson Aldrich (R-R.I.) was contemplating retiring from public office for a career in business, a lobbyist from the sugar industry devised an alternative arrangement: Aldrich became the president of a company that, thanks to the senator’s influence, won a valuable franchise from the state legislature. Aldrich pocketed millions. And the sugar industry was happy since Aldrich, a rock-ribbed backer of the industrial interests, remained in the world’s greatest deliberative body all along. It was a win-win for the parties involved. For the public interest, not so much.

Special interests took on a different character in the 20th century. Pressures on public officials now came from a variety of sources besides the business community, many of which had laudable goals. Lobbying was professionalized, moving from smoke-filled backrooms to open view. Indeed, some scholars ask what the fuss is all about; organized special interest groups, they contend, are up-to-date versions of Madison’s factions, checking each other in a way that ultimately preserves the common good.

Cost spends the last portion of the book challenging this view. In his assessment, comparing modern special interests with Madison’s factions misses the essential Madisonian point. Republican balance does not ultimately come down to competing factions. What is essential, instead, are constitutional restraints that correspond to the government’s powers. While the federal government expanded in the 20th century, the same mechanisms that checked the Congress for two centuries—and only those—remained in place. The imbalance has been a boon for special interests and a headache for the rest of us.

The author is at his best detailing the painful realities of modern interest-group politics. The problem is not that the government is picking winners and losers. It’s actually worse than that. The winners are picking the government, and gaming the rules to keep themselves on top. New Deal farm subsidies, to cite one of Cost’s examples, systematically favored white Southern agricultural growers, while pushing African Americans off their tenant plots.

Another example is Medicare. The federal government has given Medicare providers an open checkbook. “All told,” Cost concludes, “experts estimate that as much as 20 percent of the total cost of Medicare is attributable to highly expensive care that is of questionable value” to the “beneficiary” but affords the providers a generous revenue stream.

Then there is Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. After the Enron scandal broke in 2001, it came to light that Freddie Mac, which had used Enron’s accountant Arthur Anderson, had cast aside accounting rules. A year later, regulators discovered that Fannie Mae was up to similar shenanigans. And yet both enterprises walked away scot-free until it was too late. “We manage our political risk with the same intensity that we manage our credit and interest rate risks,” commented Fannie CEO Franklin Raines. The sugar-trust lobbyist who brokered Senator Aldrich’s sweetheart deal could not have put the point better.

A Republic No More offers straightforward cures for special interest corruption of governance. Either we must roll back the federal government’s powers substantially or we must have a serious conversation about how to reform the legislative and regulatory systems to bring the public interest back to the forefront. Cost also champions a cross-party effort to take down the most flagrant examples of systematic corruption.

One does notice, however, that the second proposed solution subtly undermines Cost’s heavy emphasis on the importance of political institutions. If the right institutional arrangements are what really matter, it is peculiar to call upon political leaders to band together against corruption. To do so suggests that the well-being of the republic may have something to do with civic virtue, after all.

Reader Discussion

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on April 02, 2015 at 09:05:46 am

Excellent! Thank you. Have you read Peter Leithart, Between Babel and Beast?

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David Linton
on April 02, 2015 at 10:43:33 am

Have not yet finished this book - no problem in terms of a *spoiler alert*. It appears to be what I suspected: Much better as a descriptor than a prescriptor. Nice history of corruption but policy prescriptions seem empty and off the mark.
Perhaps, a few specifics on "how" the institutions should be changed; what alternative structure, etc etc.

Maybe I will find it in the last few chapters, who knows?

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gabe
on April 02, 2015 at 11:47:58 am

Gabe --

Sorry, you won't find those. The book is meant as a diagnosis. I have a piece in this spring's National Affairs that sketches out a modest reform agenda. I also wrote a piece for the Standard in February called "Stop the Rot."

The ideas are modest in scope because, and to be perfectly frank, I am not sure what can be done. Maybe nothing.

Best,
Jay Cost

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Jay Cost
on April 02, 2015 at 12:06:37 pm

Nothing that respecting the 9th and 10th Amendments couldn't have cured, most assuredly quite ignored.
Is there something in the Constitution that gives a mob located on Pennsylvania Ave the right to violate contractual law and negate private contracts and services agreed to by consenting parties ?

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john trainor
on April 02, 2015 at 12:11:33 pm

1. It is far from clear that the “public interest” was ever anyone’s primary concern – for the simple reason that no individual can have the perspective of “the public.” Rather, “the public interest” merely refers to that collection of interests that those in power deign to recognize. In granting voting rights only to men, did those in power in the Colonies conclude that women aren’t part of “the public”? Or did they simply have the privilege to overlook women?

2. Government is prone to abuses, but this is nothing especially new – or especially federal. Investigations into Ferguson, Missouri, reveal a cesspool of municipal corruption driven heavily by poverty rather than racial animus. Higher authority -- state law -- will likely be a tool for remedying these problems. But it is again doubtful than the state would be regulating in “the public interest.” Rather, as a predominantly white, rural state, Missouri is generally happy to clamp down on all things urban (read “black”).

The measure of a government program is not whether it is prone to abuse – because it always is – but how it compares with viable alternatives. Reagan relaxed a variety of financial regulations, triggering the Savings & Loan meltdown – but also, arguably, an economic renaissance. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are disasters waiting to happen – but have, arguably, created the most vibrant residential real estate market in the world. Medicare and Medicaid create incentives for health care inflation – and US life expectancy has never been higher. Indeed, the morbidity rate for 65-year-olds (who qualify for subsidized health care) is lower than for 64-year-olds (who don’t). Maybe we’d be better off without such programs and their attendant costs/risks, but I'd like to see the analysis.

3. It may well be the case that there is no substitute for ethics/civic virtue. This insight is a bitter pill for libertarians. Ideally we’d acknowledgement that all people are prone to act for their own self-interest, but structure social rewards and punishments such that the expected benefit from antisocial behavior is less than the expected benefit from pro-social behavior, and the social cost of policing people’s behavior is no greater than the social cost of letting the behavior go unpoliced. But … that’s hard.

During the last Summer Olympics some volleyball teams(?) realized they had a strategic advantage in throwing certain games, thus reducing their chances of facing the powerhouse opponents in the early rounds. Many people argued this behavior was unethical. My libertarian side says, “Screw it: the teams didn’t create the rules; they just responded to the incentives created by society.” But I also know the behavior that the rules were intended to encourage, and know that the strategic behavior was inconsistent with this intent.

Because I doubt that society will ever be able to structure incentives perfectly, we may always need to rely on people subordinating their self-interest to promote social objectives. And this means that government has a legitimate interest in promoting certain views, values and behaviors a/k/a establishing religion. I haven’t found a way to escape this conclusion.

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nobody.really
on April 02, 2015 at 12:55:16 pm

Jay:

Thx for the reply. Will look forward to the National Affairs essay.

Like you, I am not at all certain what the proper *prescriptions* would be either but have concluded that a Wilsonian approach in which we provide "institutional" structure for bloated government is clearly not the answer.

Am enjoying the book, BTW.

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gabe
on April 02, 2015 at 13:07:41 pm

Nobody:

Our monitors must be flickering again - agreed!

Especially regarding civic virtue. It was not without reason that Madison, Jefferson, et al emphasized the importance of civic virtue AND a certain religious sensibility. Absent either or both, no structure ordained by the best of men, with the best of intentions will provide / sustain a consistent impulse toward the *public interest* (whatever that may be). When the government does promote "certain views, values and behaviors a/k/a establishing religion" all manner of chaos breaks out amongst those whose preference is for unrestrained freedom of action.
Somewhere between the imposition of a sharia like code and absolute license needs to be defined and accepted.

You are quite right; one of my recurring thoughts while reading this book centered around virtue (lack thereof?) and reinforces the notion I have held for some time that perhaps Mr. Madison's principal flaw was his inability (wishful thinking / confirmation bias?) to recognize the scope of human venality and the cleverness of such actors in pursuit of their own ends.

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gabe
on April 02, 2015 at 13:25:39 pm

This is a matter of ongoing study.

But, so far, there is reason to consider the view that all Republics (known to history) actually have been, and continue to be, structures of relationships of a general, broad population with an oligarchicaly determined authority. Thus, most "Republics" have been comprised of oligarchies (sometimes quite extensive) that have established and maintained particular forms of relationships for overall governance with other members of a social order, usually in stratified groupings.

Different processes, including forms of democratic process, have been employed to maintain and enhance the relationships and their effectiveness. Conjecturally, in some cases, the use of a democratic process has been a source of impairment to the relationships; in others the structures of the oligarchies may have fragmented or become over-extended, losing cohesion.

If we are to examine the state of our own Republic, we might well look into those forms of relationships within it over time; examine the effects of democratic processes; and, try to discern what has happened to relationships, particularly as to where they stand today.

Suggested reading: "The History of Government From the Earliest Times" by S.E. Finer (3 Vols. Oxford- 1997).

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R Richard Schweitzer
on April 02, 2015 at 17:03:10 pm

The proper role and function of the Federal Government,in relationship to it's citizens,has so drastically changed over the last 100 plus years that it bares little resemblance to the original Republic and it's functions as viewed by the original intent of the Founding Fathers. The Republic is dead. And with that the founders must be spinning in their graves. With that said,we should stop trying to justify the minute,arcane role of our Constitutional interpreters and either restore the original charter,which would mean dismantling the Welfare/Warfare State,or start over again with a new charter. Its either or. None of which will,I regret,occur in what is left of my limited lifetime.

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libertarian jerry
on April 03, 2015 at 00:57:16 am

The Republic began to die in 1912 with the establishment of The Creature From Jekyll Island, that is, the Federal Reserve System, which, if memory serves correctly was created by a bill from Nelson Aldrich. Hardly surprising, I suppose, considering the information provided by Mr. Cost from what Mr. Toth has reported.

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dr, james willingham
on April 03, 2015 at 10:07:17 am

LJ et al.,

The "Republic" is NOT dead.

The relationships which have constituted its format have changed, but not ceased.

Consider: What has the "role" of the "citizen" become, how has that "role" changed in the relationships to the sources of authority? Is the "citizen" now a "client" or member of a client group, e.g.? What has changed in the function of the process of representation and the reasons for the employment of that process?

Is it not possible that we have entered into the beginning of an era of "New Oligarchies" that are evidenced by the Federal Administrative State and that authority no longer "ascends from the people," but is established through that State, administered by a different form of oligarchy, whose derivations differ from those of the past? Still, are we not using the same framework of relationships, but observing that the "players" and their motivations have changed?

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R Richard Schweitzer
on April 03, 2015 at 10:36:21 am

Richard..........America declared bankruptcy in 1934 and has operated under administrative corporate marshal law since. Your Birth certificate is proof of citizenship and your Social Security Number follows you around your entire life.

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libertarian jerry
on April 03, 2015 at 10:47:00 am

Well, I am a *marshal* at the local golf course on Wednesdays - does this include me. I do have a martial background in the rather distant past.

As for a birth certificate, do you object to being part of a *tribe*? - I find it both satisfying and, at times frustrating; yet, I can not imagine NOT being a member of a tribe.

SSN# - well, it does help me purchase some really good Walla Walla Valley Cabernet. I suspect I will consume some tonight after a half-round of golf.

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gabe
on April 03, 2015 at 10:51:23 am

Richard:

Only thing I am not so certain about in your above comments is whether or not we are still employing the same framework of relationships as opposed to pantomiming those previous relationships.
Superficially, yes; epistemologically, no! And this perhaps makes all the difference (or deference, as one may prefer).

BTW: Thinking I must get the Finer work you suggested.

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gabe
on April 03, 2015 at 15:03:31 pm

LJ,

I was only10 in 1934, but reasonably cognizant of what was going on; my experience differs from your recital. My citizenship, and what it has involved, is not confirmed or delineated by an administratively issued document, but by what I have had opportunity to do and have done, particularly beginning (with many others) 7 years after the "bankruptcy." While I am no advocate of Social Security, the existence of its numbering system has been a facility rather than a "drag" in the era of increasing mobility and transience.

As a survivor, I can not snarl, as others may. I can question; try to understand - including the frustrations of others (and my own).

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R Richard Schweitzer
on April 03, 2015 at 16:46:28 pm

The words of a good serf.

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libertarian jerry
on April 03, 2015 at 20:17:49 pm

In that direction of discourse I have reason or desire to go.

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R Richard Schweitzer
on April 03, 2015 at 20:18:50 pm

Correction: I have NO reason or desire to go.

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R Richard Schweitzer
on April 03, 2015 at 20:24:25 pm

Jerry:

Behave yourself!
An understanding of one's obligations towards one's civil society does not a serf make. Rather, it enables liberty and accomplishment. I suspect Richard is somewhat more accomplished than you (certainly more than me) and I suspect he has made more of these blessings of liberty than the average LLB reader.

take care

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gabe
on April 03, 2015 at 23:21:41 pm

Gabe.............I get your point. However we should stop pussyfooting around the fact that much of our liberty has gone into the dustbin of history. I'm an old man and have watched the gradual disintegration of our rights and before that my father's rights. To number people,to take the fruits of their labor,to regulate people where personal actions that were once rights have disintegrated into regulatory permission slips are steps down the path to serfdom. We do not live in a nation of free men guided by just laws but a nation of powerful men,the "deep state," behind the scenes controlling the law and our nation. Today the average productive American works 8 out of 12 months to pay for government. Is this the legacy that we are going to leave our children and grandchildren? These are not the blessings of liberty but the damnation and chains of tyrants. I don't make excuses for or aid and abet tyrants. Let us be honest with ourselves. The Republic is dead. The Republic will not be revived,at least not in my lifetime. To ignore that fact and to come up with a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo to try and justify what has happened to our nation is the height of fooling one's self.

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libertarian jerry
on April 04, 2015 at 10:01:44 am

Half of 1% of our people control 90% of the nation's wealth. A single family has more wealth than the lowest 40% of our people combined. Such wealth inequality is inherently unstable and, to the extent wealth influences politics, destabilizes our political system.

In order to maintain stability in the wealth depositories and income flows in a society as rich in destabilizing influences as ours, a web-like system of repression and manipulation must be firmly in place, from the Supreme Court with its Citizens United decision at the upper end, to the beat cop at the lower end.

In a system where political decisions are dominated by the people who control wealth, and they are, can law really be considered much more than a statement of what the richest among us want the rest of us to do? And to the extent it is, why should anyone respect the law?

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clawhammerjake
on April 04, 2015 at 11:14:34 am

Two fundamental changes in government occurred in the early part of the 20th century causing more power to be centralized in Washington DC under the control of our two party system: 1. Making Senators subject to popular vote; and 2. fixing the size of the House at 435. The consolidation of power in the hands of 536 humans allows efficient lobbying for all special interests from both sides at the expense of the citizenry.

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Sean Venezia
on April 04, 2015 at 11:47:07 am

LJ,

Bringing the discourse back to civility, since you are older and have likely observed the "shift" in motivations of succeeding generations (even by decades), what appears to you to have been the underlying trends?

Speaking of our own people, have there not been trends toward escaping the "burdens" of personal responsibilities, avoidance of obligations; the seeking of "transfers" of what had required individual efforts, distractions from pleasures, etc. to some form of collectivity - with condign authority; what is often referred to as "the growth of governments?"

Perhaps more simply stated: Has individual liberty been TAKEN or has it been GIVEN UP or SWAPPED for something else; like a nation of Essau's? If it has been given up, then why; and for what in exchange?

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R Richard Schweitzer
on April 04, 2015 at 12:00:08 pm

Mr. Toth:

A well written exegesis on a lucid and thoughtful book by Mr. Cost. Besides the issues raised relative to the tension between Federalist 10 and 11 is the somewhat more latent concern relative to any proposed resolution, including those noted, which is best captured by the Roman poet Juvenal, viz., quis custodiet ipsos custodes, translated, who will guard the guards themselves.

It's a timeless conundrum and highlights the paradox of our modern government and its elected officials whose perpetuation through, in the case of the former, administrative fiat, and the latter, faithfully servicing special interests which effectively guarantees reelection: how, pray tell, can we break the stranglehold of these twin pillars of abuse when they have unassailable hegemonic control of the only levers available to effect the necessary changes?

It's the Achilles heel in the otherwise flawless design our Founding Fathers crafted, but at the inception of our Republic it was only evident at the nano-political level, and, indeed, they could not have been expected to see how it might transform into the Leviathan it is today; and, inter alia, the the resultant $18 trillion in debt, government by Federal Register, and the wholesale abolition of the 10th Amendment.

My conclusion, which will be argued in a forthcoming book, is that America will, in time, assume its place in the pantheon of decaying Republics, and, although it will be a tectonic process, it shares with the Roman Empire the apparently inevitable fate of economic success, that is, a self-wrought demise.

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Philip Mella
on April 04, 2015 at 12:45:11 pm

[…] Toth’s review Is the Republic Lost? on the website Library of Law and Liberty highlights the problem of political corruption. He reviews […]

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Is the Republic Lost? | Christians United!
on April 04, 2015 at 13:25:11 pm

gabe:

What you mean by civic virtue and what means are different. means external laws, which he presumes will be followed - a dubious notion when there no longer exists any virtue. What you mean is a subset of virtue which relate to the civilitas.

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John Hutchinson
on April 04, 2015 at 13:33:16 pm

John Adams (1798) said that the Constitution as written was for a moral and religious people. It would be disastrous for today because the rapacious interests of private and corporate wealth would decimate the commons. The Welfare State was put in place to fend off and ameliorate the harms of that rapine. Libertarians will continue to be an outlier faction until they begin to recognize that the common good is threatened by both statism and private concentration of wealth and power. Private concentration of wealth and power can be every bit an enemy of liberty and economic growth as statism as it is in this very present.

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John Hutchinson
on April 04, 2015 at 15:02:56 pm

Mostly agree with your thoughts with two minor exceptions. Reagan didn't precipitate the S&L crisis - that was Rep. Gonzalez (D, TX) who wrote the law that privatized the profit while collectivizing the risk - with entirely predictable results. Also, credit where due - Pres. Carter had initiated a lot of the deregulation for which Reagan is frequently praised/blamed.

The second point is that ethics/civic virtue isn't a bitter pill to libertarians - unless your concept is that you can coerce the public into embracing a positive set thereof. Otherwise I don't understand why you think this is disagreeable.

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juris imprudent
on April 04, 2015 at 18:07:20 pm

A bit further to consider in the study of OUR Republic and the concept of republics in general:

That is, the function of the process of representation.
(It is sometimes said we have a "Representative Democracy.")

What we have, and have had, is a democratic process (that evolved very slowly into the mid 19th century) for elective representation. Not all republics have been so ordered - which may be indicative that the order (from processes) of our republic may be subject to change and remain a republic.

If one has followed the trends of Mr. Cost's thinking and reflections, and read through, or listened to, them for a core, it is possible to discern that he is moved by the vulnerabilities of and perversions of the process of representation; perhaps to the point of really meaning we have "lost" the effectiveness of that process in our republic, rather than having "lost The Republic."

Aside from cases of individual enrichments or aggrandizements, do not the changes in the process of representation reflect the intentions of the electorate (now "more democratic and universal") to have and emphasize representations of interests (even at the expense of principles); to use the mechanisms of governments as means to ends? If so, is that not the source of the debilitation (if not corruption) of the representative process?

So, what has been lost; a former process of representation; not so much "lost' as exchanged for objectives determined by differing orders of priorities arising from motivations differing from those who acceded to a Republic in the first instance.

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R Richard Schweitzer
on April 04, 2015 at 18:28:23 pm

If we need civic virture -- and I believe we do -- then I would argue -- a la "the medium is the message' -- that a primary way of advancing such virtue is through the creation of political processes that presume such virtue -- something that I propose at www.4thofjuly.info.

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Bob
on April 04, 2015 at 19:37:11 pm

Good observations Richard. What we have,in America and most of the Western World,is the onslaught,over the last 100 years or so,of a process called "Cultural Marxism." The world's Left,right after the First World War,realized that the Russian Bolshevik Revolution was a fluke and would not be successful in Western Europe or America. The reasons being because of the tremendous success of the relatively free market capitalist system,along with the industrial revolution,had propelled the standards of living,in the West,especially for the average man,to amazing heights. This created,especially in America,the largest and most prosperous Middle Class ever seen in history. This majority of the population by and large were appalled by communism and would not forcibly lower their standard of living to accommodate the socialist goal of "sharing the wealth." What emerged in Europe was the "Frankfurt school" of social research led by a leftist named Antonio Gramsci. This "school's" main thesis was to bring about socialism by changing the culture of the West. This was to be achieved by philosophically taking over Academia,Public Education,the Arts,the Media Communications(newspapers,magazines,radio,TV,Motion Pictures,etc.) and to infiltrate collectivist ideology into the culture. By doing this the masses would,over time,accept socialism. The Frankfurt School,which later fled to America, operated under the principal of "critical theory." That is to criticize most western values such as the family,religion,free markets etc. and replace the current culture with the culture of collectivism and the idea that the state will take over the roll of the individual,the family and private organizations and thus create a ripe soil for the planting of socialism. It seems as if these Marxists have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. I could go on,but it seems that a voting majority of American citizens have given up there birthright of liberty for the illusion of security. I have watched this process taking place for decades and it has saddened me. Best to look up "Cultural Marxism" on the Internet to get the full story.

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libertarian jerry
on April 04, 2015 at 19:40:27 pm

I read today that Mr. Obama's approval level in the latest Gallup tracking poll is 50 percent. I am sorry, but anybody who tries to sell me that this republic is fixable given the average citizen's abysmal knowledge of civics, their lack of familiarity with current events--both domestic and foreign, and their inability to manage their own lives such that more than 50 percent of Americans live from paycheck to paycheck...that person is delusional.

Demonic possession better explains the current state of the world and America than does political analysis. When I heard Mr. Cost interviewed by Hugh Hewitt recently, I thought his diagnosis was reasonably apt, but that his prescriptions were hopelessly thin gruel. It scares me that the best minds and cultural observers / analysts are rolling snake eyes. For my money, Mark Steyn has it right. Toe tag this country unless virulent leftist ideology is destroyed. And I do not mean defeated--I mean destroyed.

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PD Quig
on April 04, 2015 at 19:44:30 pm

When government can mandate compliance in social affairs the republic is truly lost.

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eamon kelly
on April 04, 2015 at 19:56:08 pm

Amen. Obama's association with the Midwest Academy is rarely heard about, but was critical in his formative years.

http://www.midwestacademy.com/

In fact, Stanley Kurtz' excellently documented book, "Radical-In-Chief" should have been required reading for everybody on the political right. Most conservative pols have completely missed what Obama's agenda was. Like idiots after six years they still don't get it at all, despite his telling it to their faces repeatedly: he is out to fundamentally change America. HE WAS NOT SPEAKING METAPHORICALLY. That statement was misinterpreted as grandiloquence. It was not. Now that there are no further electoral consequences for him, he has completely dropped his pretense and is virtually daring somebody to try to stop him.

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PD Quig
on April 04, 2015 at 20:22:16 pm

Jerry:

The Frankfurt School - yes; but let us not forget the influence of a homegrown ideologue and his school - John Dewey who was quite successful in changing the "mindset" of the people via all of his *educational initiatives.

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gabe
on April 04, 2015 at 20:42:11 pm

Sometime back, in these pages, I criticized a contributor to the Volokh Conspiracy and an LLB essayist / poster for a proposal that, in my estimation, would have involved dispensing with the *forms* of the Republic as well as its substance. This involved a matter of proper judicial construction / interpretation.

Richard's exposition above convinces me my assertion was incorrect as a *general* proposition, although correct in the particular. Viewed through Richard's lense in which the form is changed via a process whereby we exchange *representation* for certain *objectives*, one must wonder whether all the discussion about Legislation, Judicial and or Executive Powers are nothing more than a than a "dance" around a once shimmering but now ever shifting form without substance - yet still capable of ordering the dialogue and the actions of the players upon the stage who have lost sight of the motives (motifs) presented in the opening act.

It is an odd production - perhaps, best titled "Bedlam" - where although the "Styrofoam Doric Columns" still impose themselves on the set they no longer inspire the cast. Rather, they serve as a means of obscuring the actors and hiding their current motivations.

Meanwhile, the actors lament their ever-diminishing role in the drama while simultaneously feasting at the table provided by stage manager.

Now back to something with real form AND substance - The Final Four; Oops, the finality may describe our old republic!

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gabe
on April 04, 2015 at 20:51:55 pm

The States can hold a Constitutional Convention, the optimal original way for the pendulum to begin reversing course. The Founders had it right, but the States have to step up to the plate to take their power back.
Their first new amendment might be something like:
"In June of each odd numbered year the States shall hold a Constitutional Convention for proposing Amendments as set forth in Article 5."
This would pass 3/4 of the Legislatures. Then Conventions would regularly be addressing States' Rights, budgets etc; stimulating new public discourse, from now on.
Every once in a while a proposed Amendment might even pass! Like term limits for members of Congress, ahem ...

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Jay
on April 04, 2015 at 21:02:31 pm

My own view is that it appears were are morphing into a quasi-fascist state. As I understand it, fascism has two parts to it: 1) a super strong executive branch of government and 2) the lines between the corporate interests and the government are blurred and aligned.

Let's look at each element. To administer the regulatory welfare state, Congress has outsourced much of its authority to the executive branch. That alone has strengthened the executive branch. In addition, executives keep pushing the bounds of their legitimate constitutional authority - especially the past three administrations of Clinton, GWB and Obama. So we've created a system in which the executive branch has never been stronger and keeps getting stronger with each subsequent president, and the legislative branch continues to weaken itself by outsourcing its authority to the executive branch in the creation of new bureaucracies. Not only is Congress weakening itself by outsourcing authority, but it bizarrely even chose to dilute its institutional power by "reforming" the filibuster. So we have a strong executive branch growing stronger and a weak Congress growing weaker. The first element necessary for fascism is to have a strong executive branch with few/weak checks on his power. That seems to be happening.

The second element is for the line between private corporate interests and the government to blur. We see that with the Federal Reserve and the banking system. Also we are seeing the Justice Department extort multi BILLION dollar fines from the banking sector - with nobody admitting guilt and no individuals being charged. Fannie and Freddy are wards of the state and write something like 90% of all mortgages. The government preemptively took over student loans before that bubble collapses. We see the generals and Pentagon civilians extremely close with defense contractors. We now have the government in bed with private health insurers, who the government has enriched by mandating that we all must buy government approved insurance from them. All told the government is directly in bed with probably around half the economic corporate interests and imposes so many regulations on the rest that they exert significant control over them.

The only reason we're not fully fascist, I think, is because the executives are still willing to honor some check on their power. The judicial branch almost always defers to the judgment of the elected branches, so it is no longer a reliable check. At this point, all an executive has to do is "take" the rest of the power. Congress has both neutered itself and the two parties have spent billions of dollars to portray the other party as an evil worse than Satan to inspire extreme party loyalty, which makes impeachment impossible under almost all cases.

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Scott
on April 05, 2015 at 01:32:49 am

Our Republic may well be lost because our Founding Fathers never anticipated that we would ever elect a Marxist America Hating Dictator Wannabe with total contempt for the Constitution. Nor that he would be so corrupt that he would plunge the nation into unbelievable levels of debt to get the trillions upon trillions need to buy the votes required for reelection. Nor that he would be blindly supported by a political party that had become so corrupt and ideological that they would refuse to check his corruption, lies, and abuse of power. Obama has corrupted all of our democratic institutions and damaged the nation so badly that future historians may well record his election as the point where the decline and fall of the USA began and became irreversible.

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John Brown
on April 05, 2015 at 04:37:16 am

The Republic was lost the day the 17th amendment was ratified and went into effect. Too many were unaware of the reason for Senators to be appointed by the States rather than directly elected. The States controlling the appointment of Senators was the framers way of putting checks and balances on the federal government. Just as the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches are able to "check and balance" each other the Senate should be the States "check and balance" against federal over reach and encroachment into States authority. The Senate was designed to represent the interest of the State while the house was designed to represent the interest of the People. Prior to the 17th amendment being ratified if the federal government attempted to step into realms of authority that belonged to the States the States representatives in the Senate could quickly check the over reach, sadly that is no longer the case.

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M. Williams
on April 05, 2015 at 04:57:41 am

I can agree with this much: The Founding Fathers never anticipated we would elect a Marxist. Karl Marx wouldn't even be born until 1818 -- and Groucho wouldn't be born until 1890.

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nobody.really
on April 05, 2015 at 05:10:04 am

I agree,.....With Groucho Marx if you say the secret word you could win $100.00. But with Karl Marx if you say the secret word you could be rewarded with a one way trip to the Gulag.

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libertarian jerry
on April 05, 2015 at 05:19:09 am

"[W]e should stop pussyfooting around the fact that much of our liberty has gone into the dustbin of history. I’m an old man and have watched the gradual disintegration of our rights and before that my father’s rights."

Gosh, could it possibly be that libertarian jerry is --

- White?
- Male?
- Straight?
- Able-bodied?
- American-born?
- Not a member or a persecuted religious minority?
- Not afflicted with any medical condition that only became curable since his father's time?

Take a wild guess....

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nobody.really
on April 05, 2015 at 11:10:33 am

Hey,!

I take offense to comments about Groucho!

"Whatever it is, I am against it."

No surer footing for a Republic government has ever been offered by any political theorist. Let's give Groucho his due!!!
And let's give Captain Spalding his due AND a Night at the Opera for his troubles!

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gabe
on April 05, 2015 at 11:16:50 am

I understand the sentiment and the theory.

Regrettably, the problem started sometime before the passage of the 17th Amendment. At the time of ratification of the 17th, if I recall, over 20 states already had enacted a form of *direct* election of Senators and more were considering the same.
While the theory held that the US Senators would act as States Diplomats, the Senate had begun prior to the Civil War to act as "rent seeking" collusionists with other Senators in an early form of "log-rolling." This hit new heights during the Gilded Age.
In short, we were done for prior to the passage of the 17th Amendment. It may simply have been a case of dispensing with the *form* long after the substance had been eroded.

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gabe
on April 05, 2015 at 11:58:33 am

Jay, a Constitutional convention will get the States exactly nothing. The last Constitutional convention was set up to amend the existing Constitution but we got a new Constitution with a much easier method of ratification. Thank God that the founding fathers were still around to guide the process. A Constitutional convention will surely end in disaster. A new Constitution will surely be put in place by Marxist leaders in Congress and elsewhere who will commandeer the convention. One new Constitution will end the concept of States so there goes the ratification concept. Also, what do you think Marxist/Muslims or whatever evil coalition that rule will do to the Second Amendment, or the First Amendment for that matter? A Constitutional convention just means a quicker death for the Republic.

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whirlwinder
on April 05, 2015 at 12:02:31 pm

John, our Muslim-in-Chief could not have destroyed the Republic as much as he has if it were not for the 100 years of groundwork laid out by the Marxist and Communist leaders in our land before him. He has come in and with his handlers, has practically dismantled whatever is left of our once great America.

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whirlwinder
on April 05, 2015 at 12:31:01 pm

Nobody: This is in response to comment above re: " Guess which" & Jerry:

"Public virtue is a kind of ghost town into which anyone can move and declare himself sheriff." (Saul Bellow)

Have you now donned a tin horn and appointed yourself Sheriff? If so, you have tarnished the badge.

Bellow was apparently wrong - or at least he did not envision the end state.

Now it comes to pass that the Sheriffs of todays world not only seek to enforce public virtue but have decided to impose their own particular conception of such AND have further determined that only those with APPROVED GRIEVANCES and those from approved victim groups may be permitted access to the public marketplace of ideas. Entry into this marketplace is now prohibited to any one that may be assigned into any of the *privileged* categories: white, heterosexual, religious, etc etc. Should one care to enter this marketplace with such a privileged background they will be subjected to ad hominem attacks based solely on, well, what else, their privileged backgrounds and as such their ideas and perceptions will be cast with a taint of moral selfishness and corruption. Privilege, after all, requires our scorn.

Here are two axioms by which you may better perceive that which goes on around you and perhaps enable you to better engage with other consciences.

1) Blacks (and other minorities) DO NOT have a monopoly on suffering.

2) Nor do whites have a monopoly on racism (add whatever -ism, you so choose).

In the particular matter, you know nothing of Jerry, nor do I. It should not matter what he is or where he is from. Based upon my own experience, I can tell you there is more variation within any *group* than there is amongst varying groups. One should try to remember that.
Failure to recognize the validity of the two axioms results in a desire to tell those with *non-approved* grievances to STFU while simultaneously denying to that person the ability to reason without undue influence of extraneous factors and motivations. (Plus, you have a better mind than that).

Consider this, then, a "Simple Defense of Old Men (white or otherwise)".

Try some Brasso and see if you can polish up your Sheriff's Star. It ain't looking too good today!

take care
gabe

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gabe
on April 05, 2015 at 19:08:28 pm

Thanks Gabe.

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libertarian jerry
on April 06, 2015 at 10:12:16 am

As my comment confirms, I am of the same mind relative to the fact that we may have passed the tipping point; and, your "toe tag" metaphor is at once trenchant and apt.

The bottom line is that there is a predictably malign relationship between our public education (read leftist inculcation system) and the ignorant masses who can't place the Civil War in the correct century, much less have a rudimentary understanding of our Constitution and the men who ingeniously crafted it.

Therefore, tragically, we're left to choose which deck on the Titanic we prefer, and the deplorable fact is that our Republic is being slowly suffocated by people who have no understanding of what they're destroying.

It's sickening.

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Philip Mella
on April 06, 2015 at 12:15:48 pm

[…] Is the Republic Lost? […]

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Justice Breyer Needs an Originalist Law Clerk - Freedom's Floodgates
on April 06, 2015 at 14:47:16 pm

I sense gabe missed the point of my remarks. But in fairness, perhaps my remarks are susceptible to more than one interpretation. In any event, he provides a fine occasion to explore libertarianism.

[Y]ou know nothing of Jerry, nor do I.

True, I have had no more interaction with libertarian jerry than exchanging comments on this website. Yet, from that interaction, can we not draw some conclusions?

Consider the language of jerry’s that I quoted: “[W]e should stop pussyfooting around the fact that much of our liberty has gone into the dustbin of history. I’m an old man and have watched the gradual disintegration of our rights and before that my father’s rights.”

- Would a black American say that? A Hispanic American? An Asian American?
- Would a woman say that? (Ok, this one is a gimmie….)
- Would a gay person say that?
- Would a person with physical disabilities say that?
- Would an immigrant say that?
- Would a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses say that? Would a Jew?
- Would people with AIDS or cancer say that?

In short, I think libertarian jerry has told us quite a bit about himself.

It should not matter what he is or where he is from.

And this is libertarianism is a nutshell: We can discuss the appropriate state of public policy without regard to anyone’s actual circumstances. Jerry, without expressly stating anything about his circumstances, bemoans “the gradual disintegration of our rights.” When jerry speaks of “our rights,” who does he include in “our”? Have black people really seen a net loss of rights? Women? Gays? Etc.

In short, jerry’s remarks may well make sense – but only for people in a tiny minority of the population. For the rest of the population, the idea that we had more rights during some prior era is simply not accurate. And you can only tell who is in which category by considering people’s circumstances, not by treating people as abstractions. Ayn Rand’s worldview may well have made sense for Ayn Rand’s protagonists – who were healthy, able-bodied, educated, white heterosexual Americans with no families, churches, or other social connections. The problems start when people want to take a philosophy that works for this population and act as if it will work for the rest of the population.

Entry into this marketplace is now prohibited to any one that may be assigned into any of the *privileged* categories: white, heterosexual, religious, etc etc. Should one care to enter this marketplace with such a privileged background they will be subjected to ad hominem attacks based solely on, well, what else, their privileged backgrounds and as such their ideas and perceptions will be cast with a taint of moral selfishness and corruption. Privilege, after all, requires our scorn.

Gabe misses the point: Privilege is not the problem. IGNORANCE is the problem. But only people growing up without confronting the problems that come from being female, a member of an ethnic minority, etc., would be so ignorant of these problems to talk blithely about “the gradual disintegration of our rights.” That is, privilege can lead to ignorance.

But it needn’t! We can educate ourselves about the perspectives of other people. And when, hypothetically, we enter into a discussion about autonomy rights and civil liberties, we can acknowledge that both things are valuable, and that there are unavoidable trade-offs involved. We are not trapped in a world in which we bemoan the erosion of our rights as if there has not also been a corresponding growth in our rights – assuming we’re willing to acknowledge that “our” encompasses a broader range of people.

Again, the point is not that libertarian jerry's point of view is invalid because he's white, etc. The point is that his point of view may not apply to people who are NOT white, etc. The problem is not that jerry has a perspective; the problem is that jerry fails to recognize that his perspective is just one perspective among many, and that most people will not share "our" perspective.

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nobody.really
on April 06, 2015 at 18:44:21 pm

So I see that this is YOUR NARRATIVE (see later post on LLB).

I need not be a black man to understand suffering; you seem to posit that I must be.
In so doing you dismiss the *differing* struggles that say someone like Jerry may have had to endure.

You further assume that Jerry, or I, are NOT arguing about far more basic rights - ones that are universally applicable - to blacks, gays, etc. Could it be that the topic is actually nothing more than basic negative rights that is at issue here.

You assume, via your narrative construct, too much in that you assume that you know what concerns others who are critical of, or do not share your narrative perspective. (See your own response to the essay at:

http://www.libertylawsite.org/2015/04/06/dont-print-the-narrative/

More than anything, your comments were dismissive and were so intended; your response, while facially explanatory are still dismissive as they again assume that one is not able to see beyond one's own particular situation. Consider applying the same theory to your favored groups - I wonder how that comes out. Oops, I already know _ their suffering is of a more nobler nature than is the sufferings of a non-approved group.

Remember the two axioms, Nobody.

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gabe
on April 06, 2015 at 21:15:06 pm

Nobody really says...................Your diatribe fits like a glove into the hands of Cultural Marxists. In other words you don't judge people as individuals but as belonging to a group. You stir the pot by pitting one group against another. This is typical Cultural Marxist "Critical Theory" tactics. Trotsky would be proud of you. The history of America is filled with episodes of discrimination against every immigrant and native Americans that have lived in America.. But this isn't 1750 or 1860 or 1900 or 1950. It is today. What happened to minority groups in the past must be studied and understood. But how individuals were once enslaved,discriminated against or herded onto reservations or detention camps in the past has no baring on the general loss of liberty that has occurred to ALL Americans in the present day. Your mixing apples and oranges. All the groups you listed above have at one time or other suffered the slings and arrows of bigotry and 2nd or 3rd class citizenship. But the main point is that all these groups,today,have had their privacy rights,property rights and Constitutional Rights greatly diminished over the past several years. In the end,past circumstances may have a baring on people who live in the past. But one shouldn't live in the past. Instead of having a rational debate about our present loss of the Republic all you do is run around in circles,troll like,spouting personal attacks on something that has nothing to do with the subject of losing the Republic. Please,let us stick to the topic.

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libertarian jerry
on April 07, 2015 at 15:14:46 pm

Albert Gallatin was cited positively and, as Henry Adams recorded in his biography, he wrote this in a letter late in his life: "I find no one who suffers in mind as I do at the corruption and degeneracy of our government. But I do not despair, and cannot believe that we have lived under a perpetual delusion, and that the people will not themselves ultimately cure the evils under which we labor. There is something more wanted than improved forms of government. There is something wrong in the social state. Moral still more than intellectual education and habits are wanted. Had I another life before me, my faculties would be turned towards that object much rather than to political pursuits. But this is all for posterity. Farewell, my dear friend." Lets not demean political pursuits, this is where we apply our character and express civic virtue, but everything else is in the right vein. Gallatin knows our efforts are worth it, that it is not a delusion that because we respect the pursuit of happiness, buttressed with beliefs in the gladness of life and expectations of individual liberty. What is essential to grasp is that it is character that is at the heart of the pursuit of happiness. "Moral still more" cries out as Thoreau or any good patriot who is cognizant of the fragile nature of freedom. It is a call to use our liberty to first attend to our self-knowledge, through which a stronger civil society can emerge that will lay institutional or doomsday rhetoric to rest.

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Matt Scofield

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