Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Expanding upon the concept of balance

In a previous piece devoted to the concept of balance, Mr. Hamilton identifies "the crux of the issue," as he terms it, between limited government and balanced government. And I think we may not find it a wasted endeavor to pause momentarily and to compare and contrast the respective mission statements of Cato Institute and The Federalist Society.

While Mr. Hamilton devotes his attention to the highlighted portions of the respective mission statements, I will endeavor to get to the root of our differences between the two approaches.

In reading Hamilton's piece it is quickly apparent what the crux of the issue is, on the surface, between libertarians and federalists. Likewise, if one reads the debate that ensued it becomes apparent what the crux of the issue is between the two at its roots. This, my friends, is what we need to get to. And thankfully for us, Mr. Hamilton anticipated that his revealing the differences apparent on the surface, would ultimately reveal those underlying causes responsible for those differences.

While we federalists tend to see government as a vehicle to preserve liberty, yet powerless of itself to effect good or evil of any kind, libertarians tend to see it, above all, as an institution possessing the tendency to be evil. This is the reason libertarians tend to want to limit government, first and foremost, thus limiting the evil it can do, while federalists tend to see balance as the better option, and precipitous to limiting it. Both perspectives wish to limit the perpetration of evils generally attributed to government.

However, Governmental power being what it is, - nothing more, nothing less - it is indeed a superior quality to balance the distribution and the separation of those powers exclusive to government. Those powers are: 1. The legislative (or the lawmaking, or decision making power); 2. The executive (or the power to execute the laws); and 3. The judicial (or the power to judge the intent, and/or the effectiveness of a law). These are the powers of government; the only powers of government. The phantom power of government to rape, pillage, steal, and kill citizens under its protection is simply an exercise of arbitrary power regardless of what level we're talking about, or what form of government happens to be the subject of our discussion. This is due to the human condition, having very little to do with government, except in its capacity as a vehicle to effect these evils.

We may also divide the levels and spheres of government into three broad categories: 1. The Federal (or National); 2. The State; and 3. The Local. While the separation principle is vital to our Contitutional Republic, so too is the balanced distribution of those powers of government among the respective levels and spheres of same.

While libertarians tend to see government as an enemy to liberty, Federalists tend to see it as as necessary to liberty as is oxygen to fire. And while fire can certainly be destructive, it can also be weilded and utilized for many good and essential purposes. While libertarians are quick to point to abuses of governmental power throughout history, making few, if any, distinctions between the different forms it takes in solidifying their points, Federalists are rather apt to consider the different theories of government, and to categorize and balance them. These theories of government can be reduced to three basic ideas and philosophies: 1. Aristocracy; 2. Monarchy; and 3. Democracy. These can be further broken down into sub-categories under their respective headings, but that's beyond the scope of this piece.

Interestingly enough, and opposed to conventional wisdom on the subject, the United States incorporates all of these forms into its uniquely "balanced" governmental structure, which can be termed a "Federal Representative Republic." Just as interestingly, too, these same governmental structures take shape in churches across the fruited plain, though the terms we use for them are a bit different. They are: Presbyterian, Episcopal, and Congregational, respectively. In broad terms, the central goverment takes on the monarchial aspect of government, the State governments take on the aristocratical feature, while the local governments take on the aspects of democracy. Once again, these are very broad categorizations, and in no way intended to be a minute detailed accounting. And it is in these very aspects of governmental form where the imbalance generally takes shape.

Over long periods of time, and in an effort to "limit" government, as opposed to, and at the expense of maintaining its balance, the people, who possess ultimate power in a Constitutional Republic, have shifted the powers of government in such a way as to make the federal take on more democratic characteristics, while the State and local authorities have tended to take on more of the remaining aspects of government as mere agents of the federal head. In effect, the United States has experienced a reversal in the "proper role" of the respective institutions, levels, and spheres of government. And this, being the root of the problem, is where we must make the necessary adjustments and corrections.

Indeed, it would be quite counterproductive of us to seek to continue to limit government at the expense of balance.

Regardless of whether we choose balance, or limits, however, either case involves the exercise of authority. In our peculiar instance the ultimate and final authority rests on the people themselves, and to paraphrase Mr. Jefferson: "I know of no better safeguard."


The Monarchist said...


Well-said, brother.

The point that I would impress upon the reader is that achieving the goals we desire requires a pretty dramatic shift in thinking. Once such a shift is attained, this will change the way we speak. And once that is successful, this will change the way we act.

And indeed, the federal has become more democratic, for as Webster astutely notes, the federal's design is monarchical, yet when reflecting on the distribution of powers, our imbalanced government has the federal head focusing on too many domestic matters.

I have stated it before, but it bears repeating: I maintain that the federal should be involved in domestic matters to the extent that it acts as a safeguard for the inalienable rights of the citizens of the U. States when in conflict with the several State governments. Should a state attempt to infringe upon those rights that are given to us by our Creator and cannot be transferred to any other class of persons, the federal is within its authority to take whatever measures necessary to protect Her citizens' inalienable rights.


Daniel Webster said...

"Should a state attempt to infringe upon those rights that are given to us by our Creator and cannot be transferred to any other class of persons, the federal is within its authority to take whatever measures necessary to protect Her citizens' inalienable rights."

Speaking of astute observations!

I might merely make application of yours, Mr. Hamilton, as my mind is naturally led to apply the principle. Which is to say that the idea in the inverse (where the federal becomes violator of inalienable rights) is as true as is your rendition...the purpose of "government" being to preserve liberty.

I would further say that the inhabitants of the United States, not just the legal citizens, are entitled to the protection of their inalienable rights, whether against violations thereof from the federal, the State(s), or both.

And the more I think on it, the more my mind is convinced that this is where the idea of balance really comes to bear. In other words...

the nature of political forces being as they are centrifugal, and centripetal (e.g., the individual to the local - local to individual; local to State - State to local; State to federal - federal to State), balanced distribution seems primary in importance!

Does that make any sense?

The Monarchist said...

I would say: perfect sense!


Samuel Adams said...

Careful there, Hamilton, you are starting to sound ... monarchist. It also sounds like you approve of the federal interventions of that tyrranical dictator Lincoln. By the way, he could not have been a dictator, all his facial hair was below the mouth. Most dictators have it above.

That reminds me, I need to shave...

michael hargis said...

We libertarians believe in having the maximum amount of liberty possible along with the least amount of government necessary. That applies at all levels.

There are legitimate reasons for the existence of a government, of course. Indeed, this is why man comes together and forms societies in the first place. In the theoretical "state of nature" man would have trouble defending his rights against those who have no respect for them. Governments are instituted among men primarily to defend those rights. Collective self defense, you might say.

The reason we do not differentiate between forms of government in pointing out its evils is because government, no matter the form, always tends to consolidate and expand its power, and does so at the expense of the individual whose rights it was supposed to protect. It started happening in this country before the ink on the Constitution was dry.

When you say that government has no capacity to cause good or evil, I think you are wrong. I understand your point, but I think you are drawing a distinction with very little, if any, difference. The people who make up government ARE government. It's a human institution, not a thing completely separate from the people who comprise it.

Thomas Jefferson - "Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically numerated."

James Madison, the father of our Constitution, said, in a January 1794 speech in the House of Representatives, "The government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government."

"Were the power of Congress to be established in the latitude contended for, it would subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of the
limited Government established by the people of America." --James Madison

Do these quotes not speak to the fact that the Founding Fathers were mostly concerned with preserving liberty by placing hard and fast limits on the federal government? Limits that have largely been ignored, in the fashion of all governments always.

Daniel Webster said...

"We libertarians believe in having the maximum amount of liberty possible along with the least amount of government necessary."

Mr. Hargis, thanks for the comments! I welcome the opportunity to defend the ideas in this post. Now, if you'll give me about three weeks, I can probably come up with something. LOL

Seriously though, I'll have to get back to you on your point(s) individually or this could get unmanageable real quick.

There is a term that I privately use for Libertarians in general but (and this is really funny, or sad) I can't seem to think of it at the moment. Anyway, I'll get back to you on that too, when I do think of it. And rest assured, it's not unflattering in the least.

As for now, I'd like to begin by addressing your opening sentence...

It seems to me that this is a quality not necessarily unique to Libertarians. In fact, this could be said of virtually any American who believes in "limited government," Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Federalist, etc., could it not?

In essence, what I'm getting at is that such a refrain, or a defense of one's principles in general terms like that, does not touch on the distinctives of Libertarianism which set it apart from other philosophies of democratic government.

Indeed, I believe in the maximum amount of liberty with the least amount of government necessary. But I do not consider myself a Libertarian, obviously, though I do have a few libertarian stripes admittedly. ;)

The Monarchist said...

Mr. Hargis,

I too believe in the maximum amount of Liberty with the least amount of "government" necessary (I quoted that because we're obviously in agreement that even in the theoretical absence of external government, there is an enormous degree of government - that of the self). This clearly doesn't make me a Libertarian, either.

Here's another statement I agree with, that: "...government, no matter the form, always tends to consolidate and expand its power, and does so at the expense of the individual whose rights it was supposed to protect."

If you fear a large central government that may become arbitrary with the rights we hold dear; if you fear a large central government that intrudes into our lives in the domestic sphere; or if you fear abuses from your local/State government, isn't the solution to checking the advances of external government - in any sphere - the concept of proper balance?

Our Founders envisioned and developed a system whereby the jealousies of each sphere would prevent the other from assuming too much power.

As a means to achieving limited *external* government, isn't the strategy of balance superior to any other?


Daniel Webster said...


You know that when you start making a distinction between "external government," and "internal self-government," you're pulling at my heart-strings, man! Don't do that! ;)


The term I use privately (now publicly) for Libertarians is this: "The Faithful Opposition."

I didn't come up with that on my own. I borrowed it from someone who used it in a different application altogether. But the first time I read it, along with the explanation for it, it seemed to me to be a pretty fair descriptive of the differences between Libertarians and someone like myself.

I'm happy to share the original context with you if you so desire, ahem, privately.

michael hargis said...

In what manner are we Libertarians the opposition?

Daniel Webster said...

You mean "in what manner are we Libertarians the faithful opposition?" Heavy on the "faithful!"


this is what the term means to me: that Libertarians are generally with us, and faithful to the same fundamental causes we are. Where they/you oppose us is in the methodology, or the approach we believe to be the best to securing liberty, or the idea that Man is superior to the State, which is to be fashioned for his use.

One example would be our differences with regard to limiting government. Another would be in the methodology of quoting the founders, not out of a particular context, but out of context of their overall view of government which was...balanced.

Besides that, you Libertarians - Faithful opposition that you are - tend to force us to refine our arguments in favor of liberty to be more precise. And from a balanced view of the subject, that's not a bad thing.

We have many opponents, but few "faithful" opponents. So like I said, the term itself is not unflattering when you understand the meaning.

michael hargis said...

I didn't take it in an unflattering manner. Not at all.

Are you familiar with the Free State Project? If you have, then skip this brief description...

Twenty thousand people move to New Hampshire and involve themselves in local politics with the long term goal of controlling all state offices. New Hampshire was chosen for a variety of reasons having to do with low taxes, minimal governmental regulations, etc. For anyone willing to commit to doing so, Free Staters provide all kinds of support, from help finding a job and home to which school districts are the best-performing to you name it.

I like the idea, even though I think they tend to be a little too hippy-dippy. Imagine the political machinery of an entire state speaking with one voice!

Start with a state that's already very liberty-friendly, and use it to gain a nationwide audience. Imagine a governor holding a press conference and saying "Nope, we ain't gonna enforce that law here. Uncle Sam has no constitutional authority to pass such a law." Think that would spark a national debate? Imagine that governor saying "Ms. Couric, the Constitution is written in plain English, and only a Harvard law professor would have trouble understanding it."

I'd love it.

Daniel Webster said...


Katie *bewildered look on her face* to her second guest, Al Sharpton: "So, Mr. Sharpton, how do you respond to the Governor's pretex...ummm, assertions?"

Sharpton: "I think it's a dangerous precedent to set, allowing States to exercise their Constitutional authority to protect their citizens against abuses from the national government. If you allow one State to do it in this case, next thing ya know you'll have ten, twenty, thirty States bucking the authority of the federal government on fundamental rights like the right to universal health-care, a woman's right to choose, and the right to charge your fellow citizens with your retirement funding."

Katie: "Good points all, Reverend Sharpton! Governor, in the words of my daughter, "who made you boss over us???""

Yes, I've heard of the Free State Project, and I think it's a pretty neat idea. But glad you mentioned it.

Sebosmile said...

ROTFLMAO picturing Miss Perky Couric using her grown-up, tough question, hard hitting interviewing skills!

Daniel Webster said...

"...picturing Miss Perky Couric using her grown-up, tough question, hard hitting interviewing skills!"

Well, they come and go, y'know - her "hard-hitting interview skills," that is. ;)