Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Ignoring Principle, On Principle

Lance asked in Heating Up! "One of the interesting things was that even when a President has campaigned on a platform of smaller government. They still have enlarged the system by giving either their enemies or friends a stake in the system."

That is a good question, and the answer, I think, goes beyond the particulars of politics. Now of course, Gov’t by nature of the people who enter it, political actions amongst political people doing and returning favors, it inevitably grows… and it almost certainly always will, but there was for a time something that kept it within reasonable bounds… what? How and when did Gov't not just grow, but grow beyond those reasonable bounds, and when you find that "They still have enlarged the system by giving either their enemies or friends a stake in the system.", it usually means that a principle has been neglected.

The ink was hardly dry on the constitution, when congress began trying to glory in its own generosity, but there still were restraints. James Madison said, in 1794, when Congress appropriated $15,000 for relief to French refugees fleeing from insurrection in San Domingo (now Haiti) to Baltimore and Philadelphia, James Madison said disapprovingly, "I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents."

Why did he say that? When they fell back on the 'General Welfare' clause of the Constitution, thinking 'well, this is for the general welfare... we'll sure feel swell doing it, why not?'. Madison was able to draw upon his understanding of the principles involved (of course fathering the Constitution helped…), and say "With respect to the two words 'general welfare,' I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators." He also said at a later time in a related matter, "If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the general welfare, the government is no longer a limited one possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one subject to particular exceptions."

Thomas Jefferson explained, "Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated." That was a critical principle to be observed.

Why did congress try to violate that? A key factor that spurred them on, was the growing Progressivist philosophy, which was becoming influential across both political parties, the feeling, the desire to do, to manage, and more to allow those who obviously know better (have you read Rousseau’s piece on ‘Legislators’?), to do what they knew would make things better, and if you could give it a patina of 'scientific' knowledge, all the better.

But for the longest time, the Principle of ‘principle’ was well enough respected, that if you pointed out that a proposal violated it, that was that, as did Madison and Jefferson and many others, but over time, and under the growing influence of Hume, Rousseau, Godwin, Kant, etc, with the doubt that we really could know something or even anything, our belief in our ability to grasp reality began to fade, and the primacy of principle along with it. That became key to the notions of Progressivim and its emphasis on pragmatism, taking isolated actions 'that work', rather than being 'straight jacketed' by Principle.

Franklin Pierce said, after vetoing an appropriation to assist the mentally ill, "I cannot find any authority in the Constitution for public charity," adding, "To approve such spending would be contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Constitution and subversive to the whole theory upon which the Union of these States is founded." Buchanan gave similar reasons for to Pierce's, when he vetoed Republican Senator Morrill's proposal for Federally controlled 'Land Grant' colleges, as with Madison and others he saw the Fed Gov't had no business being involved in such a thing, but he was the last to successfully fend off the progressives.

With the Civil War, Morril tried again, this time spinning it as a War measure 'Educate them reb's and they won't be dumb enough to rebel again'. Lincoln bought it, and the chink in that Constitutional armor that had so long frustrated the Progressives, had been made. Education had always been the primary target of the Progressives (which I've detailed before), and what they used to fuel the spread of their ideas and programs, and the field which I think shows the greatest evidence of their rot.

A few more presidents had the gumption to oppose measures on Constitutional principle; Grover Cleveland vetoed hundreds of spending bills, similarly saying, "I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution.", but now they were doing so on their own personal power, the backing of reverence for the U.S. Constitution on Principle, was fading fast – the leading Progressives were already attacking it as an outmoded document that shouldn’t hinder their doing somethingIt was another Progressive Republican President, Teddy Roosevelt who put us past the tipping point towards an obese Fed Gov’t, floating trial balloons for everything Wilson and FDR would succeed in doing, he made it 'respectable' to talk of such unconstitutional measures as Fed Gov't direct taxation, involvement in businesses, etc.

Those who think we can pass quick fixes to correct things, are, I think dreaming. Though I think it would be great to repeal the Income Tax, Social Security, and so on... unless people again understand the principles of the Constitution, of limited enumerated powers, and again grasp the importance of Principles themselves, and that we are capable of grasping and understanding Reality - any such changes would soon be nullified by some other similar proposal. One of the principles still understood in the 18th & 19th centuries, almost wordlessly, was that Gov't, when stepping in to 'help' in private life, does so by relieving people of the necessity and responsibility, to be worthy people. No longer do you have to be concerned about that person that needs help, Gov't will handle it. People want Gov't to handle a problem, so that they can avoid it. Decent people didn't cotton to such thoughts. Such thoughts once cottoned to, are not easily legislated over, they have to be uprooted the same way they were first planted - through education.

Ideas matter, and they guide how we act in the world, and before we ever have a chance of grasping the revolutionary nature of Classical Liberalism, that most deeply entrenched holding of 'the enemy' will have to be retaken, Education, and Philosophy - no lasting battles will be won without them.


Unknown said...

"With the Civil War, Morril tried again, this time spinning it as a War measure 'Educate them reb's and they won't be dumb enough to rebel again'. Lincoln bought it, and the chink in that Constitutional armor that had so long frustrated the Progressives, had been made."

This is an interesting way to look at the use of land grants during the Civil War. But wouldn't you say that it had more to do with getting people out into the country so that "big industry" the railroads could connect to the west as well as taking the power of colleges out of the hands of the southern states and weakening the southern plantation class?

Van Harvey said...

"This is an interesting way to look at the use of land grants during the Civil War. But wouldn't you say that it had more to do with getting people out into the country so that "big industry" the railroads could connect to the west as well as taking the power of colleges out of the hands of the southern states and weakening the southern plantation class?"

Well...Businessmen and Industry are concerned with business and industry, if they think something will be to their benefit, they'll push for it, and if Gov't opens itself up to influence by businessmen (as any good Judo practitioner knows, when the opponent grabs you, you can control and throw them through the hold they have on you) via regulations, they'll take advantage of it... but such things are really penny ante stuff, and not very important in the larger picture. I think it's important to look at what was done on the level of the philosophical ideals being pursued, rather than the particulars those involved were chasing at the moment... and chasing too far into the motivations and details of what they thought they were doing and why, can land you into conspiracy theories really quickly.

It is safe to say that Morrill and others pushing the act, were pushing what they thought was needed to help the country grow and expand (also not the job of the Fed Gov't), and the civil war allowed them the opportunity to say if they'd been listened to earlier, 'we wouldn't be in this mess now'. In Morrill’s words: “The role of the national government is to mould the character of the American people." and, "Ignorant voters endanger liberty. With free schools in the South there could have been no rebellion in the future...when our youth learn to read similar books, similar lessons, we shall become one people, possessing one organic nationality." But as I asked in previous post, "The Governments job was to “mould the character of the American people”? Where did such ideas come from? Did no one stop to ask what kind of ignorance might come of education directed by a bureaucrats removed from a caring parents interest[and wallet]?" And the answer is 'No'.

Morrill knew that the land grant colleges would be focused upon teaching trades, primarily new agricultural techniques, but he and they, still assumed that education would remained centered around a "as Montaigne put it “A traditional liberal arts curriculum of history, language, and literature--the arts that liberate," of educating one to be worthy of Liberty". Even most progressives didn't suspect how far from what they considered to be an education, that vocational influenced education would fall away from teaching people how to be free.

If you dig into the records, and much is available through Google (I assume it's still there)- the NEA boasts it, and most colleges as well, this one's still here: "...profound innovation in higher education for several important reasons. First, it enabled the creation of accessible equalitarian “people’s”universities. The Morrill Act reflected the belief that American social and economic development could be best served if higher education were made broadly available to the citizenry. Second, the Morrill Act established a public, federally assisted system...In other words, while other universities of the time focused almost exclusively on philosophy and theology, the land-grants would focus on broader practical education....So the very essence of the land-grant movement was, and is, to break with tradition and convention...." - break with, and break IT.

No sooner had the land grant funded colleges been established, than congress felt it needed to be involved in ensuring that the material being taught was the sort of material that was suitable to "Progress!". And then of course, the Progressives began agitating for the need to have uniform control over the 'quality' of teachers teaching in such public schools, which meant creating "Teachers Colleges", where predictably the new teachers would be taught what the progressives thought was necessary and appropriate - and what wasn't. It soon rolled up to a push for establishing mandatory public education nationwide, and standardized grade schools, and so on.

Those who could see where it was heading, and just what it must do to educational standards, opposed the act. It was strongly fought against by private colleges, North & South, and others who foresaw and feared the federal control of education that would surely follow, but they were not skilled enough to win the debate.

"Educational Reformers such as John Dewey, with their “Modern, Scientific, Democratic” methods and ideals, reassured anxious Teachers that training students for their industrial "destiny" was the heart and soul of "democratic" education. Dewey wrote in 1897 that schools must be adapted "to the circumstances, needs, and opportunities of industrial civilization." Fitting students for economic interests rather than Republican interests was far more realistic and important to their daily needs. Where Jefferson had urged education to teach future citizens "how to judge for themselves what will secure or endanger their freedom.”, Dewey said that the new object of "democratic" education was to teach every child "to perceive the essential interdependence of an industrial society." and to develop "a socialized disposition."

When Progressives then, as with the Leftists of today, say "Democratic", what they mean is "Socialistic"."

This didn't require any back room plotting by conspiratorial bookworm tyrants seeking world domination, only philosophy. Some, as Dewey certainly did, realized that to change the nation they needed to change the schools, but the nature of their philosophy itself ensured that it would develop as it did, if their ideas gained the necessary footholds. Progressivism would never have gained the popularity and influence it did, without first gaining control of the educational system (creating the education system) in America, and the measures they championed, creating The Fed, Income Tax, the 17th Amendment, and more, would not have come to pass in the 'Progressive Era' without it.

The proof's in the pudding. And so are the flies.

Unknown said...

"Ignorant voters endanger liberty."

That is a scary path to go down one that Mills would have liked for sure.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Great post, Van!
I always learn somethin', or a lot, when I read your blog!

Speaking of principles, or a lack thereof, Obama, of course, has let slip aome of the things he wants to do lately.

Paraphrasing, 'cause I'm too lazy to look up a link, Obama said, "people can't keep setting their thermostats at 72 degrees, and driving as much as they want, and eating as much as they want, BECAUSE other countries that don't have the wealth we do, will be upset" (re: jealous, re: envious, COVETING, but he's too chickensh*t to say that).

Oh, I get it! Obama is sayin' we should feel GUILTY for our individual and collective success, because they are starving in Somalia, and dying in Burma, and theres extreme poverty in Haiti, blah, etc., blah blah ad nauseum.

Well excuuuusssse me, Snobama! It ain't my fault those other people are suffering and I refuse to feel guilty about it, and there is no damn way I'll ever even consider givin' you, or any other victim huckster any power whatsoever!

Because you, sir (little s), don't have any Principles, and you refuse to see self evident Truth's, and your idea of virtues is demonic.

You sir, are an ignorant ass! And so are you're comrades.
You would lead your useful idiots in an effort to transform our Liberty filled Republic to a fascist nanny state full of tyranny, and you would disregard our Constitution and revise history to force the ignorant masses who cling to their guns n' Religion to think, talk and act the way you want them to or suffer severe consequences.

You and your ilk would throw anyone under the bus to obtain power, and your goal is absolute power.
Hypocrites! Liars! You and your commie pals are a brood of vipers!

You and your bitter wife can't help will continue to leak out what you truly are, and what your real agenda is, and we will be there to tell everyone we know what you are.

The GOP is not much better, but it is our only choice at the moment.
McCain is screwed up, and yeah, I respect the man and his service, but he will not be a good President. He has damaged free speech, swallowed whole the Goracles "climate change" BS, and still doesn't "get it" regarding illegal immigration.

But the alternatives are inconceivable. And yet, even if Obama (God forbid) or Hillary wins the election, we will survive, just as we survived Carter and Clinton.

I sincerely hope n' pray that classic liberals/conservatives/jacksonians get their sh*t together and endorse (or run themselves) candidates that respect and honor the true principles of our Constitution, Bill of Rights, and our history.

I'm optimistic when I see men such as Bobby Jingal (hope I spelled that right), and some up and coming Veterans runnin' for Congress.

I'm optimistic and hopeful, because America still has more Patriots then bitter little commies full of envy.

It's a constant battle, but those Principles, that sweet Liberty, and those self evident Truth's, is more than worth it! :^)

Unknown said...

Van!!! Check out my new post please. I would like to get your thoughts

Van Harvey said...

I've been wanting to comment on your last weeks post as well, been working & working, today (Sat) too on a project deadline scramble for the last couple weeks - hopefully this ends today and will get to.