Before I get to your latest post, I want to recall two important points, one from my last reply, and the other from yours the time before. These two points are, one, the recent discovery of a culture that systematically practices male genitalia mutilation; and, two, the problem of the big state.
Insofar as the matter personally concerns America, the problem of the big state goes back to America’s founding.
From the very beginning, the great Founders wanted a big America. Both the Hamiltonians or “Republicans” and the Jeffersonians or “Democrats” — to use our contemporary party names — wanted a country that would be great. By great they meant large, redoubtable, and excellent. The result would be a national homeland that could be lived in with security, significance, and satisfaction.
From my course you’ll remember the four reasons why America went for big.
The United States already was big. It stretched along the Atlantic seaboard 1200 miles in a straight line, and maybe 1500 miles if you include all the bays and harbors, and all the promontories and peninsulas.
The United States needed to be big. True, America already was big. But it was big only in length. America was like a strip of lasagna pasta: long but narrow. Such a country could easily be cut by invading troops. Just picture British amphibious forces deployed. They could play divide and dominate, or occupy and conquer, especially in the low-population states.
Thus the new country needed a better political shape. New America needed a power geography.
A circle is the Plato-perfect or Utopia-ideal shape for a country. Indeed, that shape is internally maximal for communication from a central capital, and externally minimal for its border given the country’s surface area. For America, the optimal-practical shape would be something more on the lines of a rectangle. America could acquire this shape by expanding west to the Mississippi.
But America needed not only a reasonable shape, it also needed a significant geopolitical size because it was surrounded by the four greatest global empires then active in the world: England, Spain, France, and Russia. These nation-empires, fortified with ambition and religion, measured the success of their land-avarice in continents, sub-continents, and other ample chunks of grabbed land. And, of course, England claimed a salty sovereignty of all the world’s seas for itself.
You’ll notice, perhaps with surprise, that I include Russia here even at this early pre-Soviet date. But Russia was already in Alaska, on the Pacific coast, and offshore in the Pacific. Meanwhile, the great Founders of both parties from the very beginning intended America to be a continent-sized country. The western border would be the Pacific. The northern border would be the Arctic. Jefferson as president sent out an exploration team — Lewis and Clark — for the purpose of mapping its way to that western border. Thus America’s ambitions were already bumping into Russia.
Russia later proved to be America’s only ally during the Civil War. No country in Europe had any friendly use for either Russia or America. Russia and America were big, robust, rustic, continent-filling countries that were meeting on the backside of the earth, and threatening to squeeze Europe in the front should they ever reverse the direction of their internal drives. Meanwhile, it’s worth recalling that Seward, a target of the Wilkes Booth assassins, almost died the night of Lincoln’s assassination. But Seward recovered. The cordial relations with Russia under Lincoln continued with such personal continuity that, when Russia wished to de-access Alaska, it contacted America in 1867 and found in Seward a cordial correspondent.
The great internal reason for a big America was discovered by Madison in The Federalist #10. That paper can easily be celebrated as the greatest of the 85. I prefer #1. But that’s only if I consent to choose my favorite, which is a silly game of intellectual smallness and sloth. As for the actual authorship of #10, Madison was probably Hamilton’s idea dog — just as he later became Jefferson’s. These men’s contemporaries, who were rational with naturalism, spoke to that inter-personal issue with less socialist politesse and gender indirection than is practiced today. As for the verity of this little vanity spat, consider it an illustration of faction, itself the famous technical subject of #10. Meanwhile, the main problem — the problem of the big republic — is theoretically solved there.
The problem of the big republic is quite simple. The big republic is impossible.
Throughout history, all so-called republics were small. And all small states that weren’t royalty-ruled were called republics. This was done regardless of whether these states were actually democracies, republics, despotisms, or oligarchies. Back then the word “republic” was used promiscuously — even by the Federalists. In part this is because the word is Latin-based, and Aristotle thought in Greek. But today, “democracy” is used with just as much irresponsible license, and with perhaps even greater conceptual prostitution. And yet there’s no etymological justification for it. See my Republic, especially the first Appendix — “Table of Governments” — for a tabular clarification of that matter, and also the completion of the subject.
What the Federalists thought of “republics” — of all such small states — can be read in Paper #9. Consider the following as a sample. With the superb cultural accomplishments of ancient Greece and Renaissance Italy fully in mind, Hamilton speaks of “feeling sensations of horror and disgust” (sic!) whenever he thinks of the ruinous petty politics of such states.
But of course their politics were petty! They were petty states! Thus most of Thucydides’ brilliant history of the Peloponnesian War consists of a chronicle of small skirmishes and little operations. Fortunately this factually advanced — and first — professional work of history is occasionally interrupted by one of the greatest psychological excurses into human nature. Indeed, through his recreated speeches, Thucydides reminds us just how little psychology the ancient Greeks had. Indeed, until 1800, no culture had much or any psychology in its writings. Shakespeare is an obvious exception. Instead, the great cultures had wisdom writings full of proverbs and maxims. These portable insights into everyday humanity displayed social sagacity, but little interiority. Meanwhile, we’ve now been immersed in the two hundred years of great psychology — of the novelists and the philosophers, and afterwards the clinical psychologists. And now we can only marvel at the ponderous reflections of past masterworks which, even at their fullest, are almost always half empty — empty of the deep interiority of inner personality that so appeals to us passion activists these days.
For example, everyone back then knew that a large republic is impossible. Indeed, this had been known from the very beginning of political thought.
What Madison did was a classic example of refuting the logically impossible by inventing beyond the permitted logic, thereby bypassing the cobwebbed logic cops.
Is invisible information transport impossible? Of course! And then Maxwell, Hertz, and Marconi invented radio.
Are only small republics possible? Of course! And then Hamilton, Franklin, and Washington invented the big republic.
And now observe the logical jujitsu job the diminutive Madison performed on all past “knowledge” concerning republics.
The large republic is not only possible.
The small republic is impossible!
The small republic doesn’t last when it’s a democracy. And when it does last, it’s an oligarchy or a despotism, which is hardly republican. In fact, a small republic is almost never a republic. And when it is, its fixed majorities are oppressive to change. This is not only reactionary by definition, but it also engenders resentment in the fixed minority. Such frustrations go in search of vengeance to destabilize the state in any way they can in the search for power. These attitudes produce unpleasantries which aren’t republican. Indeed, the attitudes themselves are sullen and without the joys of exfoliated liberty.
Consider one famous “republic.” In Florence, Dante voted for the losing party in an election, whereupon he fled with his life into permanent exile. Behind him, the state employed a charming method — still used today in some places — and pulled his house down. No wonder Dante’s most famous work — Hell — is a study in revenge.
And no wonder that the worldly and sophisticated Founders looked at Athens and Florence and said of their states, “Nice art! But no thanks.”
Meanwhile, the large “impossible” republic is the only republic that’s actually possible — and attractive, too. It incorporates a multiplicity of interests based on a variety of climates, geographies, and resources. These produce a diversity of economic interests. Furthermore, as was already happening in America, a variety of ethnicities and their several incompatible religions, which are permitted to flourish, also work to prevent the establishment of a permanent and oppressive majority.
In your post, you express concern that the political minority in Washington is being squeezed these days. You even express concern for the well-being of the filibuster given Cousin Mitch’s nuclear option to launch it to win the confirmation of Gorsuch.
I call the Honorable McConnell “Cousin Mitch” for the following reason. A colleague of mine, after retirement, stayed around the department for a few years doing one course per semester, especially his beloved life-long specialty, symbolic logic. If there was ever diversity of love in philosophy and therefore the first republic — though it was neither Plato’s idea of philosophy or a republic! — an affection for “symbo limbo” shows it. I’ve taught that subject. (Onto-existentialist astonishments deleted. See Reality 101 for an unexpurgated universe.) Owen had downsized his formidable office accumulations, and moved into my office for the duration. When he retired entirely, he left much of his library to me. It’s a collection I’m still mining.
Well, Owen and I spent many extended hours in our office talking up the universe. One local aspect of reality was Cousin Mitch. You see, he really was Cousin Mitch to Cousin Owen. And Cousin Owen always called him Cousin Mitch with his light Carolinian drawl. But Owen didn’t much like Cousin Mitch. No, unlike his own sister, Owen never went to Washington to cadge a trophy dinner and schmooze the power scene while being seen with Cousin Mitch. Anyway, I can’t think of the Honorable McConnell as anything but a familiar relative, not even if Owen thought he was, well, a discolored sheep.
And as an aside, or as its relative centrality, philosophically notice how this personal anecdote also tends to confirm a study which, as I recall, showed that between any randomly chosen American and some brand name personage, at most six people stand between those two with every pair of people in between linked through some personal connection.
It reminds me how social our often unsociable species is.
You make two points here.
The first concerns the accommodation of the minority in current national politics.
The Federalists never promised that the minority will get its way. Revisit that most pertinent paper: #10. After all, the sovereign idea of every anti-royal anti-aristocratic anti-clerical popular-based government is that of majority rule. Remember my very first post? If the minority got its way, that would mean a new minority government. It would mean a new aristocracy: a new, more powerful class of the few — or at least the fewer. The fewer did this in the USSR. They were called the nomenklatura. I don’t know what the equivalent ideogram in Chinese is called. Probably “Spring Blossom” or something Confucian-classical like that. Nonetheless, what it says is, “Shut up and we’ll let you make money. And don’t discuss the Statue of Liberty in Tiananmen Square. It wasn’t ever there. And the people who saw it aren’t around to say that to say it wasn’t there isn’t true.”
What, then, of the minority on any issue? What do they win on a vote they lost?
Why should they? They lost!
They lost the vote. Of course they should lose!
Madison’s only promise — if that isn’t too strong a qualification by name on his behalf — is that, given the big republic, a permanent majority isn’t to be expected.
The Founders were familiar with permanent majorities. They could hardly forget them from the “republics” — the colonies — which preceded America. And the Founders could continue to observe these same petty and intolerant “republics” tearing America apart under the Articles of Confederation.
Thus there was another need for the Big Republic. The Big Republic was needed to redirect the energies of America’s big men which, in their little states, resulted in the pettiness of pomposity and imperium. For example, Massachusetts will not invade Vermont again! How about Mexico and the West instead? And the Founders remembered these small states’ intolerances. Such great territorial drives could be better directed against the Europeans in the western hemisphere and beyond.
And now, for a minute, savor the Federalist restraint manifest in Madison’s republican guarantee. It’s not your usual democratic-socialist emotion fare. “Progress! Freedom! Everything! Now!!!” Rather, it bespeaks a rational, confident, and probabilistic restraint redolent of measured success. True, it won’t surge the streets with enthusiastic masses in search of ecstasy. “Emotion Fair Today!” But it probably won’t flood the streets with blood, either.
For a study in the cosmological transformation that produced the present remarkable view, see Reality 101.
Your second point laments the “almost complete dismantling of the filibuster.” As you undoubtedly know, the explosively named “nuclear option” was launched by Obama to expedite and secure the confirmation of hundreds of his federal court nominations. And so Cousin Mitch’s threatened use of the option wasn’t novel. “After Hiroshima, what’s Nagasaki?” The “nuclear option” as “Congressional Armageddon” was in fact only a piece of radioactive rhetoric. And after Cousin Mitch nuked the filibuster per the Supreme Court, did you notice the noisy silence? The media dropped the topic, and got on with its next feint.
What Trump did for Gorsuch was just a little tit for tat DC-style. I mean DC, Washington, not the DC Comics. And the subject is precisely what you worried your way through and analyzed in your last post: that if the majority party acts obnoxiously, soon enough, of course, it’ll be in the minority, and then it’ll get its due serving of quid pro quo rudeness. Of course, unrestrained pettiness and uncouthness of character is one of the ways in which feuds begin: the Guelfs and the Ghibelines, the Hatfields and the McCoys.
But now consider a little history of the filibuster. Once upon a time there was the filibuster. And it was good. It even required a two-thirds majority to end it. But then that overweening almost Polish majority was reduced to the slightly less aristocratic 60% closure vote.
The justification for the filibuster is that it prevents the “mere” majority from steam-rolling the “poor” minority into ineffective silence. Instead, a minority member can hold the floor for as long as his tonsils can take the strain. Of course, the point isn’t to read phonebooks or cookbooks, Washington or Cajun, but rather, through a persistence of the will, to induce a further discussion on the issue at hand on which the majority has already volitionally decided — or just bleatingly agreed with the whip behind them. Therefore some additional — or initial — thought might prove more thoughtful.
This is all quite reasonable and, given human nature, methodologically admirable.
But then, in 1970, Filibuster Lite was introduced. Now a page need not be beckoned to fetch the phone book from the cloakroom. You just call for a filibuster, the 60 votes don’t happen, the bill is tabled, and the business of the Senate continues with the next topic without another thought on the matter. There are a lot of filibusters now. You can hear the silence of deliberation in the Senate. If you didn’t know any better, you might even think the Senate was a meeting house: a place of silence interspersed with utterances and ejaculations.
As for filibusters in general, it’s worth recalling that the House doesn’t allow for such things in its rules. Closure of debate is by simple majority vote. A mere 50% plus one will shut down any discussion. And yet, I haven’t heard anyone call the House undemocratic. Indeed, the last remark I met with on the matter was from Wilson. He noted how the House is democratic because the people directly elect it. In contrast to this, Wilson posed the Senate which, in 1900, was still chosen by the states. Clearly a simple majority vote for closure isn’t despotic to losers. Furthermore, let me observe how amused I was to see such a scholar as Wilson — Princeton, wasn’t it? — committing the standard thoughtless error of the Republic. ‘Because the people directly elect their representatives, the assembly is democratic.’ Excuse me, but read The Federalist Paper #10. An elected assembly by definition is republican because the people don’t directly attend its sessions, only their representatives do. And that’s virtually a definition of a republic as opposed to a democracy.
And consider this about Wilson. In 1912 he won with only 42% of the popular vote. Not only was that less than Trump. That was hardly more than Hitler. “News Flash! Hitler and Wilson Minority Rulers! Calls for Posthumous Impeachment Abound!”
You also express a concern that a continual switching of the party in majority power means the recurrent expungement of what the other party has just enacted into law, and this because the two parties are being fractiously rude and ideologically intolerant to each other.
This is logical.
But I think you underestimate the idea inertia of humanity or, more politely, the stare decisis of words. Consider the present bills that would replace the ACA. As I noted in a previous post, some of the most popular “progressive” elements of Obamacare are included in these: no pre-existing exclusions; no lifetime benefits limits; and coverage of “children” on parents’ policies until they’re 26 — the children, that is, not the parents! These points have been loudly retained in the present Republican attempts at reform. So, no, things don’t automatically get reversed with a change of majority party. Look at Roe. It’s getting positively hoary with stare decisis. As for “reform,” that’s one of my favorite progressive euphemisms — as is “progressive.” Who could be opposed to reform or progress except resentful never-got-theirs-in old fossils! And that’s so just! Justice is also one of my favorite euphemisms. (See Reality 101, Lect. 2)
Mildred: I don’t know what that means. Elvira, have you seen my magazine? It has a new recipe in it for grasshopper pie.
Elvira: Well, I know what it means! And I’m going to get mine yet!
Mildred: I hope it calls for extra crème de menthe. Oh! You don’t think it’ll be one of those post-modern recipes, do you? You know, made with third world solidarity and local natural resources. Grasshoppers!?
Elvira: Mildred, here’s your magazine. Clearly it isn’t “Guilty Homes and Gardens”!
You began your post with a concernful quote from Washington’s famous Farewell Address. I’ve never seen any scholarship that didn’t attribute authorship of the speech to Hamilton. It’s funny, then, that one of Wilson’s anthologizers observed with proprietary pride that Wilson was the last president to write his own speeches! Well, umm, ah, maybe Washington set a precedent here, too, guys. You know, two terms, no royal titles, and other politesse finesses of the self-restraint that derives from the knowledge of your limitations with equanimity and success?
If Washington wrote the Farewell Speech and especially your quoted passage on parties — he may indeed have revised Hamilton’s work — I wouldn’t be too concerned. Washington was indispensable as a general and a statesman, but he was no thinker like Hamilton, Madison or Jefferson, or scientist like Franklin. But if Hamilton wrote it, then that’s cause for concerned consideration, especially after Federalist #10. And yet my reading of American history indicates that even amongst these superbly alert men — men whose illuminated fulcrum was natural rationality — a few victory enthusiasms flared up nonetheless. Such triumphant excitations and ethical exultations were endorphin distractions, completely contrary to the brutal school of human nature and its fierce ratiocinations.
The belief that parties were obsolete was a popular American commonplace before 1800. America was supposedly a new and different country, and parties — those Old World leftovers — were no longer required in America. America is the Republic of the Future!
This is an astonishing lapse of world awareness. As Madison says in Paper #10, humans form factions. In other words, humans form groups. And when these groups tousle over interests, they become factious, and thereafter they’re appropriately called factions.
Now, what could be more faction-causing than the power and prerogatives of a state?
By the election of 1800, history — which is factions in action — had thoroughly cured America of that enthusiastic naiveté. Or at least it had cauterized the weeping wound. Since then, of course, plush-toy bunny-huggers and concept zombies of all kinds recurrently resurrect the idea of one big happy bunch of agreeable people all speaking their independent views on everything in unorganized friendly assemblies. Wilson speaks to that image — the image of the little citizen’s meeting in the nice town hall — and he scoffs it off. Imagine if Wilson had recalled Rousseau’s image from The Social Contract — of the felicitous meeting of farmers under the old oak tree! Funny, isn’t it, that the closer you get to despotic monstrosities, on earth as in heaven, the cuter the imagery gets? Meanwhile, my remark assumes that Wilson, the famous professor of political history and power theory, ever read Rousseau.
Political parties aren’t only unavoidable. They’re efficient. But as we all know with efficiencies, they come with their operating costs. Think of cars. What astonishing machines of mobility autos are! And yet what ravenous eaters they are of natural resources and human consciousness! As for those who don’t fetishize autos, consider phones.
The pertinent questions with political parties aren’t “Why do we have so many?” or “How do we get rid of them?” We’ve all seen how the 20th century offered two definitive answers to those questions. “One party — the People!” or “No party — the People!” Uh-huh. I’ll pass on those national and international socialist solutions — both final — just as history has done in in most places. Instead, the pertinent questions to ask are, “How many parties are optimal?” and “Where should they be allowed to get their resources from?”
I found your concern with Nixon provocative even as it was poignant. You wondered if Nixon would resign today given the present “calls for impeachment” swirling around Trump like city litter in a dust devil.
The facile answer is, “Of course Nixon wouldn’t resign!” If Nixon were president today, the motion to impeach wouldn’t carry in a Republican-dominated House. And therefore why would Trump ever resign? How silly are the owners and operators of American media? Are their readers and viewers really such thought zonks as the media content implies they are?
But, of course, you don’t mean anything silly like this.
And so now let’s contemplate significant knowledge below the contemporary noise. Impeachment isn’t a criminal action. It’s a political action. Nixon resigned not because he was guilty — guilty of what? —but because his impeachment was a certainty, and his conviction probably equally certain. Nixon saved himself, his family, his friends, his colleagues, the Republicans, and the entire nation a lot of unnecessary ugliness. And when Nixon died, the country — including the media — solemnly respected him for three days. Even I was impressed by that. And I’ve read Nixon’s after-the-exile senior statesman books.
What about the other presidents?
Did Clinton resign? No. And, unlike Nixon, Clinton was impeached. And clearly Clinton was guilty — guilty of Executive Erectile Excess Character-Deficiency Syndrome (EEECS).
Did Andrew Johnson resign? No. And Johnson was impeached and tried. And he almost lost three times in the Senate trial. In politics sometimes, as in linear logic always, not to lose is to win. And if you’re not going to lose, why resign? And Johnson was even accused of treason!
And that’s the entirety of the issue.
Well, there’s one contemporary exception. There’s some present discussion as to whether a president can pardon himself. Hint: Trump. Of course, a president couldn’t pardon his conviction at impeachment the purpose of which is not punishment but removal and prevention. And that’s why the procedure of impeachment and trial is provided for in the Constitution. It’s not a judicial procedure, but a political procedure which is its own first, last, highest, and final forum. As far as I know, only a few federal judges have ever been removed from office through impeachment.
All of these matters at hand and remarks of mine were meant to be antecedent and preparatory to a discussion of what large governments — or any like social and economic monopolies — can bring out of human nature or bring into the forum in the first place. Don’t believe the Marxist sermon on the mount. All humans are not created by nature personably equal. Some people are humorless, some people are nasty, some people are ruthless. Hitler, Mao, and Stalin really are different from your Aunt Matilda. On the other hand, I haven’t met your relatives, so I’ll reserve judgement on that. Lady Macbeth was probably someone’s aunt. Stalin dandled his daughter on his knee while transmitting orders to Beria who looked on complaisantly and complacently.
However, I’ve been spending significant time on my house this week. I’ve been doing jobs I deferred last summer so I could finish Reality 101. Some of these deferred jobs aren’t a matter of a stitch in time, but of structural if minor deterioration. Therefore, to defer them any further wouldn’t be like a piece of cunning off-the-books accounting, but a matter of self-defrauding as in a spiritual Ponzi scheme. The great socialisms of the 20th century were like that. But instead of pyramiding up interest payments, they pyramided excitements and bodies.
When I do such homework, I’m reminded of Emerson’s sage remarks on the matter. Emerson observed that anyone who owns a house and property soon learns all the trades and skills. They must do this because every craft comes into play with a household. Emerson might have added that that’s because a household is a microcosm of civilization. I personally know this from my own experience. Emerson, however, then went on to observe that he was all thumbs. So he’d hire Henry, the village ne’er do well, who was handy at such mechanical tasks, and he’d do them all while Emerson watched. Good conversationalist, too.
I do this all the time as well, but strictly intra-personally.
And as for the topic of male genitalia mutilation, don’t worry, I’ll get to it next week.
I haven’t cut it off!