Tag: James Madison

Deep Dive on the Declaration of Independence and Its Relevance Today

 

In honor of Independence Day, for this week’s Big Ideas with Ben Weingarten podcast I take a deep dive into the Declaration of Independence, discussing:

  • Its unique place in human history and the cause of freedom
  • The link between natural law and natural rights, faith and freedom
  • The Founders’ emphasis on virtue and morality to sustain a free system of limited government
  • Parallels between the charges laid out against King George III in the Declaration and modern America from the administrative state to sanctuary cities
  • The Founders’ views on slavery, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass and failing to live up to the values and principles of the Declaration
  • The imperative to defend liberty against tyranny
  • And much more

You can find the episode on iTunes, everywhere else podcasts are found or download the episode directly here.

Quote of the Day: This is not Heaven

 

“The Progressives think the Founders’ system imperfect. The Founders thought so, too. Men, they thought, are not angels. They can live well and freely, but this is not heaven.” — Dr. Larry Arnn, The Founders Key

Our Founders knew that creating a Constitution that would last through the ages was a risky business. Designing a democratic republic was a unique endeavor, and writing a document that would preserve the country for the future, no matter how well intended, was being written for men and women: flawed and power-hungry beings. It wasn’t just that the Founders were so deeply informed about human nature; they only had to look at themselves, their goals, weaknesses, limitations, and desires to know that an extraordinary document would need to be produced. As James Madison said, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

Yesterday’s Non-Originalism

 

James_Madison_Portrait2Conservatives tend to be originalists in constitutional interpretation. But not all to the right of center are originalists, and not all non-originalists are hard-core, leftist living constitutionalists. There’s a view of non-originalism that’s remarkably compatible with conservativism. I don’t endorse it myself, but it’s well worth looking at.

Another way of putting it: There’s an alternative to originalism that’s not today’s alternative. It’s not the Left’s. It’s old, or at least it has old roots. It has a lot to do with Madison. Let’s start with some of his principles and build up to that alternative:

First, Madison tells us that the Constitution is given its authority by the people:

Wanted: A Jealous Congress

 

One of the more depressing aspects of recent constitutional history is the decline in institutional opposition between the branches of our Federal government.

Institutional opposition stems from the separation of powers described in the Constitution, in which the three branches of government exist as separate and co-equal institutions, each with their own prerogatives and responsibilities.  If Congress were, for instance, to negotiate a treaty directly with a foreign power, the President should oppose the action on the grounds that Congress has usurped his rightful authority.  Likewise, if the President attempted to take out a loan on behalf of the country, Congress should should rightly raise Hell.  Whether the president and congress* agree on the substance of these issues should be irrelevant; the point is that each is wrongly poaching on the other’s territory.