If there is one aspect of the crisis that Convention of States supporters and opponents can agree on, is that our governing institutions have been corrupted from their constitutional purposes to “ . . . form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty . . . “
Where the two sides differ is what to do about it.
Regular readers know of my admiration for the late Stuart-era martyr for free government, Algernon Sidney. The fundamental thread of his voluminous Discourses Concerning Government is that the purpose of government is to secure the liberty, freedom, and happiness of the people. Like COS supporters, Sidney believed in eternal vigilance. Constitutions of government must be amended when circumstances, such as corruption of the government, demand change.
Ideally, a constitution can be written once and for all time. However, the nature of men in power is toward self-serving avarice and ambition; by degrees they will corrupt governing forms. The civil society is also subject to change over time, which may necessitate constitutional amendments. From Section XVII of his Discourses, Sidney noted that man’s wisdom is imperfect. Although he cannot foresee all contingencies, he can use his God-given reason and experience to deal with situations as they arise. Furthermore, he expressed disdain for those who sit on their hands: “He that should resolve to persist obstinately in the way he first entered upon . . . does as far as in him lies and renders the word of errors perpetual.” Accordingly, new or amended constitutions are necessary to prevent or cure mischiefs arising from them, or to advance a good that at the first was not thought of.
Changes to both society and government are therefore unavoidable. While it is foolish to think the same form of government is suited to all peoples at all times, this isn’t to say there aren’t fundamental rules to good and free government, just as there are in medicine, military discipline, and other specialties. These first principles, these foundational laws upon which societal happiness rests, should be embraced and protected.
For instance, Sidney cites the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses as fundamental law for legislators to follow. While these laws were not subject to change, the Israelites were free to have or not, kings, judges, high priests or military captains as best suited themselves. Thus, there is enormous flexibility under fundamental laws. Sidney – They who aim at the public good, and wisely institute means proportional and adequate to the attainment of it, deserve praise.
From another example: Over several hundred years, the Roman republic aimed at keeping free government through separation of powers. To this end, they:
- Expelled the Tarquins and created consuls.
- Admitted plebeians to marry patricians.
- Erected Tribunes to defend the rights of the plebeians.
- Appointed Decemviri to regulate the law, and then deposed them out when they abused the law.
- Created Dictators as circumstances required.
As Sidney summarized, the Romans “acted in the face of the sun for the public good, and produced results suitable to the rectitude of their intentions.” Changing times and circumstances required amending their institutions of government. While governing superstructures were reformed, the foundation remained.
When Rome fell into Empire, changes continued. However, they were not for the public good, but rather for the ambition of the Emperor, and enrichment of the evil men who kept him in power. Instead of separation of powers, all power resided in a despot, the Roman Emperor.
No nation is exempt from change. Change can be harnessed and directed toward public good or public evil. Since 1913, the predominant amendments to the American governing system in response to change have been imposed by presidents and scotus acting outside of their prescribed limits. Power has all but collapsed into an imperial president aided by fellow travelers at the scotus.
The well-known foundation of both Roman and American republican liberty is separation of powers. With it, freedom has a chance; without it, free government is impossible. Doing nothing other than voting in the hope that someday, the men and women in Washington, DC will “follow the constitution we have,” is just silly.
We are the many; our oppressors are the few. Be proactive. Be a Re-Founder. Join Convention of States.