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Compare our New America to the America-that-once-was (a great nation)

12 June 2013

Summary: We made a compact with ourselves when creating the United States, ratified by elected officials to show consent of the governed for so long as the Constitution lived. Many considered this a bold act, one with few if any precedents. But our forefathers successfully fought to defend the Republic for over 200 years against enemies domestic and foreign. Is our generation to be the one that breaks this history? Let us refresh our courage by looking back at what America once was.

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We need not be led by fear; there are others inspirations, By Zhack-Isfaction

It may seem very extraordinary, that a people jealous of their liberty, and not insensible of the allurements of power, should have entrusted the federal government with such extensive authority as this article conveys: controlling not only the acts of their ordinary legislatures, but their very constitutions, also.
St. George Tucker’s note in Blackstone’s Commentaries (1803)

The Founders knew the risk they took creating such a powerful instrument of government (far stronger than the Articles of Confederation). They relied upon our love of liberty. One of the most frequent phrases of the Founders, describing their faith in the great experiment, was that Americans were “jealous of their freedom” (eg, Federalist Papers 24 and 61).

Their faith rested on the development over centuries of democracy from its roots in Greece and Rome through its flowering in Britain. The American experiment drew on the concepts of English designers — and heeded their warnings:

Our wealth and greatness, says he, depend absolutely upon keeping the legislative power to future ages untainted, vigilant for the public safety, jealous of the people’s rights, watchful over ministers, and to have them not awed by armies, nor seduced by preferments, bribes, or pensions.
— From an essay by Charles Davenant (1699), English economist and member of Parliament

His warnings have life today, words which should burn given our knowledge of Congress — people elected by us ever two years. Now our leaders chart a course into a post-Constitutional era, dragging us by our fears. They offer us a trade, described by Charles Pierce at Esquire:

Our new national symbol is a feather, not from an eagle

Our new national symbol is a feather, not from an eagle

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{T}here’s one trope zipping around out there at the moment in connection with the current storm over phone records and data mining that makes me a little bit crazy — and that is the discussion of whether or not the American people will “trade off” civil liberties for what is really merely a sense of security. (Don’t tell me about all the terror plots you’ve foiled if you’re not going to give me details. There is no reason to believe you. Either don’t mention them at all, or convince me. There’s no third alternative.)

The terms of the transaction are obviously incorrect. The American people are not being asked to “trade” their civil liberties. They are being asked to surrender them, for all practical purposes, permanently.

We have faced many great threats in our past. How did our leaders speak to us during these crises?

This is how a President spoke to us when we were a great nation, from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Inaugural Address, 4 March 1933. It could be said today by a President, but it will not.

I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself —- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties.

Our history consists largely of such speeches, which forged the aspects of American history in which we can feel pride. Thus we built on the wisdom of the Founders, ever taking the bold course rather than the safe one. Until now, when cowardice has taken hold in our souls. I doubt it will work for us.

“They who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety.”
— From the title page of An Historical review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania (1759); written by Richard Jackson, published by Benjamin Franklin

For More Information: see this advice from the past

  1. de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
  2. A wonderful and important speech about liberty, 23 July 2009
  3. A great philosopher and statesman comments on the Bush-Obama tweaks to the Constitution, 10 October 2010 — by Edmond Burke
  4. We have trouble coping with our present because we’ve lost our past, 23 October 2010
  5. Thomas Jefferson saw our present peril. We should heed his warning., 21 April 2012
  6. Rome speaks to us. Their example can inspire us to avoid their fate., 22 April 2012
  7. We’re drifting towards tyranny, again. Jefferson describes our first brush with tyranny., 28 April 2012

My choice for the symbol of the Third Republic

No matter how dark it gets, never lose faith that the Third Republic lies in our future. We might fail, but a future generation will pick up what we dropped.

No Fear

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt Delventhal permalink
    12 June 2013 8:03 pm

    I think the time is ripe for Americans to begin building organizations dedicated to sustaining protests and other forms of civil disobedience.

    I think that a natural first target is airport security. We should begin organizing protests at airport security lines, chanting, handing out literature, encouraging people to refuse the full body scanner, etc. Airport security is one of the most pervasive and oppressive manifestations of the Patriot Act and resentment of the TSA is widespread. Picketing the TSA is also sure to draw a wildly disproportionate reaction, which could be used to starkly outline the absurdity of the entire system and build popular support.

    What do you all think?

    Unfortunately I am not located stateside at the moment so it will be difficult for me to participate directly (though I would be willing to spring on a plane ticket and risk not being able to return if there were a major march or rally brewing).

    Edward Snowden has convinced me not to be afraid anymore. If we were waiting for a time to act, now seems as good a time as any.

    Like

    • 12 June 2013 11:44 pm

      Matt,

      That is an inspiring comment. And creative, brilliant.

      I tend to think of building an organization to pursue a large goal – like political reform, or the Third Republic.

      But history shows that groups form around more immediate goals. Protesting cheap tea imports from the East India Company into Boston. Or Wilberforce’s great campaign to stop British ships carrying slave (an unrealistic goal when he started in the 1780s, victory circa 1808).

      Like

    • 13 June 2013 5:44 am

      Ok, so I’m already thinking up protest chants. One could be:

      USA! USA! Go away NSA!
      USA! USA! Go away TSA!

      You’re not the boss of me! We want civil liberties!
      You’re not the boss of me! We want civil liberties!

      The second part could be done call and response style (One person says “You’re not…”, whole crowd responds with “We want…”).

      An alternative formulation of the first part could be:

      NSA! TSA! We don’t want you anyway!

      Like

  2. guest permalink
    14 June 2013 10:55 am

    Do not fall into the exceptionalist trap – believing that the USA was exceptionally great and is now becoming exceptionally bad. Just have a look at what the Brits are up to:

    http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/jo-shaw/secret-courts-8-nightmare-scenarios-now-possible-in-britain

    Like

  3. 17 June 2013 1:30 am

    Per paleo-libertarian Leonard Liggio, local representative institutions were not at all unique to England. indeed, one of the routes by which reforms that stimulated representative institutions took was from the French Cluniac abbeys and along the Camino de Santiago, north of Muslim Spain.

    Such reforms eventually came to full bloom after the establishment of the Spanish March in the form of Fueros and the Catalan Cortes. Unfortunately, after modernist ideas and absolutism set in amongst the royals, corrupt Papal Concordats were arranged by which such locally representative institutions were abolished in favor of strong, centralized, imperialist Monarchy.

    England resisted absolutism, and thus adapted its representative institutions more cautiously (and eventually more successfully) to the requirements of global imperialism.

    So, America’s Constitutional system ended up being the last remnant of such medieval representative institutions.

    http://phillysoc.org/liggiosa.htm

    Like

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