“Greece would not have fallen had it obeyed Polybius in everything, and when Greece did meet disaster, its only help came from him” Pausanias, 8.37.2, Inscription on the Temple of Despoina near Arakesion.
In Book VI of his Histories, the ancient Greek historian Polybius described three basic forms of government, each categorized by the number of those in power. He listed monarchy (rule by the one); aristocracy (rule by the few); and democracy (rule by the many). Polybius described, over time, how each type of government would gradually decline into their various corrupted forms of tyranny, oligarchy and mob rule, respectively.
Polybius believed that Republican Rome had designed a new form of government that could help check this inevitable decline. Rome combined all three forms of government -- monarchy (its elected executives, called consuls); aristocracy (the Senate); and democracy (the popular assemblies). In this mixed form of goverment, each branch would check the corrupting ambitions and power of the others.
Polybius, Aristotle and Cicero all praised the construction of a "mixed constitution" and the requirement of a separation of powers within government.
The French nobleman and legal expert Charles-Louis de Secondat, the Baron de Montesquieu, studied the rise and fall of the Roman Republic. He believed that a properly designed government, in order to prevent tyranny, would require three branches of government. He wrote, "If it is to provide its citizens with the greatest possible liberty, a government must have certain features. First, since 'constant experience shows us that every man invested with power is apt to abuse it … it is necessary from the very nature of things that power should be a check to power' . This is achieved through the separation of the executive, legislative, and judicial powers of government... [to prevent any one] from acting tyrannically."
The British philosopher John Locke was also keenly interested in a design for government that would prevent it from descending into tyranny. In the late 17th century, Locke argued that monarchs had no "divine right" to rule; instead, he asserted that the source of power lay in the people. Furthermore, he stated that humans were born into this world with certain natural and "inalienable" rights including to "life, liberty and property". Locke believed that government could not grant these rights because they were God-given; therefore, no government could take them away or withhold them from the people.
Thomas Jefferson used Locke's concepts as central tenets when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. He proclaimed the government's duty to protect the sacred attributes of the individual: "...to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form..."
"...when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."
As well, America's Founding Fathers repeatedly cited Baron de Montesquieu's seminal Spirit of the Laws and its emphasis on checks and balances within government. As James Madison wrote, "the oracle who is always consulted and cited on this subject is the celebrated Montesquieu."
We conservatives are originalists: If the Constitution's meaning is not interpreted as the framers intended, if it can be altered at will, then what protects any law from arbitrary interpretation, from the capricious whims of the ill-intentioned?
If the Constitution is "living and breathing", an amorphous guidebook of suggestions that may freely be interpreted based upon current events, trends, whims or biases, what then are the limits on government? And if the Constitution doesn't mean what it says, what protects individuals from the encroachment of government intrusion into every aspect of individuals' lives?
The Tenth Amendment of the Constitution strictly limits the power of the Federal Government. It states, The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people. In the Founders' view, state and local governments were free to experiment -- to serve as "laboratories" in the words of Justice Louis Brandeis -- in areas prohibited to the federal government. In the 1980's, for example, Oregon's successful welfare reform efforts became the models for subsequent actions by other states and even the federal government.
When the federal government ignores and breeches the Tenth Amendment, it represents an illegal diminution of representative government at the state and local levels. It represents a subtle attack on individual liberty.
The once-powerful states, which created the federal government by ratifying the Constitution, have become -- in the words of Mark Levin -- "administrative appendages of the federal government." The states are subject to ever-increasing federal regulation, strangled by dictates from agencies old and new, and held hostage through billions in federal tax dollars. Levin asks, "Does anyone believe that the states would have originally ratified the Constitution had they known this would be their fate?"
The path the modern federal government is on today was presciently described by Stuart Chase in 1942. He wrote that the agenda of the Fabian Socialists -- who had launched a counter-revolution against America's founding -- was to create an authoritarian and completely centralized government apparatus. The agenda of the Fabian Socialists include:
• Strong, centralized government
• Government-controlled banking, credit and securities exchange (TARP, etc.)
• Government control over employment (the "Employee Free Choice Act" to speed unionization of the workplace)
• Unemployment insurance, old age pensions (lengthy unemployment benefits, Social Security)
• Universal medical care, food and housing programs (Obamacare, food stamps, HUD)
• Access to unlimited government borrowing (massive deficits)
• A managed monetary system (an opaque Federal Reserve)
• Government control over foreign trade (China tire tariffs)
• Government control over natural energy sources, transportation and agricultural production (drilling moratoriums, the EPA's regime of "Cap-and-Trade")
• Government regulation of labor (the Wagner Act, monopolistic power of trade unions)
• and Heavy progressive taxation.
This indeed describes "the road we are traveling": accelerated by branches of government controlled by Democrats who took an oath to uphold that which they ignore. While it may no longer be called socialism directly, nonetheless socialism it is. The Fabian Socialist counter-revolution began in earnest in the U.S. in 1933 with the imposition of the "Welfare State" and it has been steadily progressing since. It confiscates ever more taxes, consolidates ever more power, while bankrupting program after program. And always -- always -- the federal government proclaims its need for more money and more power, promising that if only it can levy one more tax, enforce one more regulation, create one more program it will be able to solve all of man's woes.
The Greek historian Thucydides observed that "The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage." And in writing about the calamitous Peloponnesian War that engulfed and ultimately destroyed his society, he added that, "Few things are brought to a successful issue by impetuous desire, but most by calm and prudent forethought."
History teaches us that the decline of a society and the demise of a government comes with the institutionalization of corruption and a wanton disregard for the written law. Such is our situation today, wherein the states have become puppets of an all-powerful federal government that confiscates more and more private property while exerting increasing control over every aspect of our lives.
Today our federal government's most powerful branch is one never conceived by the Framers: the unelected fourth branch of government -- the enormous federal bureaucracy -- that acts at the president's behest. It defies a federal judge in Florida who has voided Obamacare. It ignores a federal judge in Louisiana who has held the Interior Department in Contempt of Court for failing to lift an unconscionable drilling moratorium. And it now decides which laws it will enforce and which it will not, the "Defense of Marriage Act" being only the most recent example.
If we are to protect our society from despotism and decline, whose counsel should we then cherish? Should we honor thousands of years of human experience and the wisdom of history's greatest philosophers -- Polybius, Cicero, Aristotle, Montesquieu, Locke, Jefferson, Adams and Madison among them? Men who understood the nature of a government's despotic decline and sought to construct a system to counter it?
Or should we disregard their guidance and instead follow the Fabian Socialists? Are these philosophers and founders to be replaced by the likes of Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Richard Trumka?
The greatest bulwark against tyranny in America has always been the Constitution, which instantiates our exquisitely designed system of private property, God-given individual liberties and free enterprise.
This is our generation's fork in the road and the stakes of our decision could not be higher. If we are to protect our society from the inevitable decline and despotism that has infected so many societies since the beginning of time, in whom should we trust? If we are to shield our children from the tyranny against which our founders fought and so many Americans shed blood, in whom should we put our faith?
I contend that we must fight the anti-Constitutional counter-revolution using every political tool at our disposal. We must pledge to return our country to the rule of law, as it was originally defined by our founders and codified in the Constitution. For anything less condemns our descendants to the fate that Thucydides described. The choice is clear. The question is simple. Which road will you choose?
Thank you! You are doing the terrific and comprehesive work that others can read, absorb, learn well and then disseminate to others. I, for one, appreciate it. Thank you again!! Agree..A++
As you note, it was the combination of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy that would allow a republic to prosper.
Yet with the 17th Amendment, with the direct election of Senators, did we do away the "aristocracy" and create two chambers of democratic passion, the 17th amendment also decreased the power of the states.
Before the 17th amendment, states appointed Senators. So not only were Senators insulated from the daily passions of the masses, they were also beholden to protect the rights of the state versus the Federal government.
Another amazing post-you are one of the most insightful writers on the current political scene-do you channel Levin?
Virtuous rulers and effective institutions are impossible when 'the people' are corrupt.
"Does anyone believe that the states would have originally ratified the Constitution had they known this would be their fate?"
We live in a different age -shallow leaders without God, courage, dignity or character, manipulate truth and the citizenry to control us. Freedom is an illusion that is about to pop!
Just came across this from your link in one of today's essay's, Doug, and it is truly a superb summary. The ideae of the combo of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, and the tie to the Roman Republic, was fascinating and something I did not know. Thanks.
Perhaps you are taking some things too far. It must be noted that, while it sounds good, cutting social programs cold turkey would kill literally millions who have come to depend on them. There are some real problems with both domestic and international dependence on systems that are both undesirable, and possibly unsustainable (welfare state). However, some sort of plan might be necessary to make that kind of epic transition.
Beyond that, I have to question if the social and environmental programs are a direct effect of the cause that is unbridled capitalism. Check out "environmental economics." Environment maybe should be first, followed by social concerns, and that can support capitalism. I like to think of the whole thing as a system of economic checks and balances.
@Sean - you're setting up strawmen and knocking them down.
No one here is advocating cutting off seniors "cold turkey".
The Ryan Budget, for instance, is a reasonable way to start repairing the damage.
Fabian Socialists are the name of the early political movement called New Age. New Age is still with us and on the cultural change side you will find anti-Semitism and anti-Christian activities? Why? Because they believe to have one world government you need a one world culture and Judaism and Christianity do not fit into what they believe should happen.
Wow. Well done, Mr. Ross.
Google (or bing, etc) "The Wild and Free Pigs of the Okefenokee Swamp"
@Sean: "Environment maybe should be first, followed by social concerns, and that can support capitalism."
You have it exactly backwards.
Doug, once again you have penned a masterpiece. While there are times I wish you'd do this more often, the rarity of these posts make them all the more precious.
Great post Doug. Whenever you go to the founding fathers and start quoting the great philosophers, you tap into a deeper truth. Reagan did it all the time, you've done it now. Good work!
"I like to think of the whole thing as a system of economic checks and balances."
Within the context of a Constitution-optional legal structure?
And the words "cold turkey" appear nowhere in this essay.
With all due respect, the states did not create the federal government. Ratifying conventions, whose delegates were chosen by the electorate, were held in every state, as the constitutional convention had advised. So, the federal government was a creation of the sovereign people, not the states.
Governing has to start somewhere - Raise your right hand and state after me to take an oath of allegiance to this country, not an oath of office. 'Office' is just a job. Allegiance to something is an obligation requiring more than just a job. Allegiance to the flag and country of the USA means all of the Constitution as written.
What can be expected of a government if a people are without virtue, honor, thrift and restraint? America will end as all societies without virtue do.
If there was a spark of the honor that existed in our founding fathers today we would not tolerate our government, judicial system or a political class that is without honor or shame.
Glenn Beck did a whole show on the Fabian Socialists before Obama's second election I believe. Before the Blaze. This is a very informative article and it does appear the socialists are winning. The young have bought into it lock, stock and barrel.
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