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America is showing its age Institutional arthritis has ossified its politics

Stuck in its ways. Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis/Getty Images


March 15, 2023   6 mins

It is sometimes helpful to remember, when trying to get perspective on the exhausting, high-octane politics of the United States, that it is a very old country. Americans can’t claim the thousands of years of cultural continuity of China or Japan, but their constitutional order has existed largely unchanged for two and a half centuries — making it one of the oldest continuous polities in the modern age.

But what makes America an old country is not just institutional continuity, but a politics shaped by a fixation with its own evermore distant moment of creation. For all the rhetoric of being a “new nation”, a tiny number of bewigged, silk-stockinged, well-fed gentlemen — many of them slaveholders and all of them dead — still have a powerful political voice. In America, we are so used to every political issue becoming a constitutional question, and to the sterile self-referential debates about the “original construction” of 18th-century documents, that we can easily forget how weird it all is. In Britain, debates about gun control or abortion never, so far as I know, centre on the views of the Second Marquess of Rockingham or William Pitt the Younger. To appropriate a famous metaphor, US political history sometimes seems like a boat beating against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

For the sons and grandsons of the founding generation, the defining fact of public life was the precious burden they had inherited. An example was Abraham Lincoln, who was born on the frontier of European settlement in 1809 and grew up with the stories of old men who had fought in the Revolutionary War, or who claimed to have done. In one of his first public lectures, given in 1838 at a “young men’s lyceum” in Springfield, Illinois, the future president laid out the intimidatingly high stakes for his generation. “We find ourselves,” he told the young men, “under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us.” They could take no credit for this; it was no more than good fortune. “We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment” of these blessings, he pointed out, “they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors.” Americans — of course, he meant white, male Americans — had inherited the earth and therefore it was theirs to lose.

Very few people in American history have done anything other than venerate the constitutional settlement of 1787. And the few dissenters — such as the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who branded the constitution a “covenant with death and an agreement with hell” because of its protection of slaveholders — have been regarded as shocking iconoclasts.

This underlying conservatism, the pose of moving forward while looking back, is characteristic of nations founded in revolution. You see similar traits in the political culture of Cuba or the old Soviet Union. After all, if you believe your revolution inaugurated a new order in which despotism had been banished by the bright light of freedom, then any further revolution would be revanchism of the most insidious kind. As the novelist James Fenimore Cooper explained in the early 19th century: “Here [in America], the democrat is the conservative, and thank God he has something worth preserving.”

Yet, at key moments in its history, the fixation on its founding moment has paradoxically enabled creative transformation. This was even true of the nation’s only true existential crisis to date, the slaveholders’ rebellion of the 1860s, which subsequently became known as the Civil War.

William Lloyd Garrison rejected the constitutional settlement, but Lincoln, who also hated slavery, saw the matter differently. Even as a young man in 1838, when he urged his generation to let “support of the Constitution and Laws” become the “political religion of the nation”, Lincoln had understood the danger to the revolutionary settlement as coming more from enslavers than from radical abolitionists. The example uppermost in his mind was the recent murder in Alton, Illinois, of an abolitionist newspaper editor, Elijah P. Lovejoy, by a mob backed by the city’s mayor. A quarter of a century later, President Lincoln led an administration that raised mass armies, waged industrial-scale war, and emancipated four million enslaved people, all in the name of preserving the founders’ legacy.

The outcome of the Civil War, with the breaking of the power of the slaveholding class, the formal commitment to equal rights, and the strengthening of the potential power of the federal government, is sometimes referred to as America’s “Second Founding”. This is a helpful formulation in many ways, and yet at the time what seemed more important was not the replacement but the preservation of the founders’ legacy. The 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, passed in the wake of the Civil War, fundamentally re-cast the relationship between the national government and its citizens. The 14th amendment defined citizenship for the first time — in a way that included black people — and other subsequent transformations in American government such as the growth of the welfare state and the enforcement of civil rights in the 20th century depended upon it.

Had America been more like France, the post-Civil War constitutional settlement might have been called the “Second American Republic”. But America is not France, as Americans never ceased to point out — fear of swivel-eyed, guillotine-wielding Jacobinism was the 19th-century equivalent of 20th-century America’s obsession with communists. No one of any significance in the post-Civil War United States called for an entirely new constitution. Having just waged an unimaginably bloody war to preserve the constitution, the last thing they were going to do was discard it. And so, the constitutional innovations of the post-Civil War years were achieved not in spite of the fundamentally conservative nature of American political culture, but because of it. Only by presenting transformation as a validation of the founding could real change happen.

The same was true in the US’s other revolutionary decade, the Thirties, when, in the face of terrifying levels of mass unemployment, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration massively expanded the federal government’s role in national life in order, once again, to keep the revolutionary settlement intact. The imagined approval of the bewigged gentlemen of the founding era was as important to Roosevelt as it had been to Lincoln, but, lo and behold, they turned out to be surprisingly sympathetic to change, so long as it was in the interests of preservation.

Today, however, such flexibility seems hard to imagine. The Declaration of Independence was signed 12 score and seven years ago. That’s at least eight generations of political leaders. But curiously, the more the founding moment recedes in time, the greater its ossifying grip on American politics seems to be. If America is an old country, it is showing its age: it’s crotchety, stuck in its ways, telling endless stories about the past. Institutional arthritis prevents the natural flexing that’s needed to deal with a rapidly changing society.

It is now more than half a century since a significant constitutional amendment was passed (the 26th amendment allowing the reduction of the voting age to 18 was ratified in 1971, although there was also an uncontroversial amendment ratified in 1992 which delayed raises in congressional salaries until after the next election). With politics so polarised, and the parties so evenly balanced, any fundamental institutional reform now seems impossible.

In the Nineties, no one could imagine it being acceptable in the modern age for a president to be elected with only a minority of the popular vote because of the workings of the Electoral College. But then it happened in 2000, and again in 2016, and, after each, calls for an amendment to abolish the Electoral College went nowhere. The Senate ensures that voters in rural, sparsely populated states such as Wyoming are vastly more powerful in Washington than the voters of, say, California. And whatever the defence of this constitutional curiosity might be, the point is that it is practically impossible to change. With a majority on the Supreme Court now committed to the eccentric doctrine of judicial originalism, the ghostly chaps in silk stockings seem more than ever the pale-faced opponents of institutional innovation.

Obviously, the US is, despite its growing inequality, a remarkably successful, wealthy society. It is still capable of policy innovation, and even (contrary to what you might think if you don’t have a sense of historical and comparative perspective) one of the more successful multi-racial societies in human history. But at the same time, it is, to put it mildly, difficult to address issues of structural inequality when meaningful reform of the institutional structure is effectively off the table. How many presidents can be elected with fewer votes than their opponents before the system cracks? For how long can the Supreme Court retain authority if the perception continues that it makes hugely consequential decisions while being unrepresentative and unaccountable?

But the founding fathers have been flexible fellows in the past, and with their imagined blessing huge changes have been wrought. Perhaps even the oldest and crankiest country can rediscover its youthful capacity for reform, especially if it does so while insisting that it is doing so in order that the important things remain the same.


Adam Smith is Professor of US Politics & Political History at Oxford University. His specialism is the American Civil War.


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Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
1 year ago

Another power-hungry Progressive wanting us all to fall in line. I would just say go to Hell, but I feel I should explain myself. You are exactly the kind of person the American system of government was designed to frustrate. It is always the same old argument. Shut up, give us all the power, and let your more enlightened betters run things without any interference. Ignore our self-destructive failures in the places we run. We will totally get it right next time. Anyone seen San Francisco lately?
The Electoral College again? Let’s just ignore the whole “Blue Wall” thing in the Obama years where you thought the Electoral College would give you American political supremacy for all time. It was called the Connecticut Compromise. The whole point was to make it so you had to have a balance of populational and geographical support to prevent some regions of the country from dominating all the others. That is why we have a Senate and a House of Representatives. The fact that almost all of your political power is heavily concentrated on the coasts and in the large cities and is only a recent thing sounds like a you problem. If you have an issue with it, you need to make your policies more appealing to more of the country. That is how this thing called Democracy you people cannot shut up about works.
As for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, who are you to tell us to do anything? I could give many examples of why Progressives are nothing more than authoritarians in sheep’s clothing, but let’s just go back to Covid-19 and the disaster that followed. Censorship on proven facts, lying about masks, abuses of power, encouraging rioting, and now trying to gaslight us into believing those were just “innocent mistakes”. FYI, saying these things were done with the best intentions does not help your case either. Throw away our Constitutional protections and trust our betters after that? Hell no!
See here’s the thing. This country was founded by devout intellectual philosophers and historians who understood the limits of human nature and were also freethinkers, drunks, gun nuts, and angry rabble rousers with serious authority issues. In fact, they were one of the few groups of people in history who realized they were not infallible and, in the process, created a remarkable government designed to protect the freedom of its citizens and its foundations from the worst excesses of human nature. I would not have it any other way.

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt Hindman
Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Excellent post. I hope America holds up through these trying times. I am alarmed by the increasing number of people in the Anglosphere who view representational democracy as a pesky impediment to ‘enlightened’ one-party rule.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
1 year ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

The worst part is he shares a namesake with another Adam Smith whose writings I have nothing but respect for even if they are very dry.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

There are some problems with representational democracy – the most obvious in the USA is the influence of money in the process. Then there is the fairness of ‘re-districting’, various ways of disenfranchising people etc.

The Australian system is based somewhat on the American, so we have a Senate which is a ‘states’ house’, (though it’s actually a parties’ house – the senators nearly always vote on party lines). In Western Australia, at the next state election, we’ll be trying a new way of electing the upper house: it will be a whole-of-state electorate chosen by proportional representation, instead of the current system where the state is divided into ‘regions’ (some having many more people than others). So, yes, I’m glad that we can be flexible enough to try new things. (Also glad we have compulsory voting!)

I wonder about governments appointing their ideological friends to the highest court – it might be nice to have a little constitutional amendment which said that High Court judges were to be appointed by agreement between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition??

Terry M
Terry M
1 year ago

Originally the US Senators were elected by the various state governments, not the population. We are a federation, and that was a key element. We lost that with the passing of the 17th amendment, and are much for that.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Terry M

Probably typo or missing word near end, but agree with what I think you mean whole-heartedly.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Terry M

Probably typo or missing word near end, but agree with what I think you mean whole-heartedly.

B Timothy
B Timothy
1 year ago

I am very glad we do not have compulsory voting.

We reserve our sacred right not to vote!

Terry M
Terry M
1 year ago

Originally the US Senators were elected by the various state governments, not the population. We are a federation, and that was a key element. We lost that with the passing of the 17th amendment, and are much for that.

B Timothy
B Timothy
1 year ago

I am very glad we do not have compulsory voting.

We reserve our sacred right not to vote!

Wayne Mapp
Wayne Mapp
1 year ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

There is an important point Smith makes. It is quite a democratic risk if governments/presidents keep getting elected with fewer votes than the alternative. This happened twice in New Zealand in 1978 and and 1981. The result is that the voting system was changed bt referendum to ensure that the government had to have a majority of the voters.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
1 year ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

The worst part is he shares a namesake with another Adam Smith whose writings I have nothing but respect for even if they are very dry.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

There are some problems with representational democracy – the most obvious in the USA is the influence of money in the process. Then there is the fairness of ‘re-districting’, various ways of disenfranchising people etc.

The Australian system is based somewhat on the American, so we have a Senate which is a ‘states’ house’, (though it’s actually a parties’ house – the senators nearly always vote on party lines). In Western Australia, at the next state election, we’ll be trying a new way of electing the upper house: it will be a whole-of-state electorate chosen by proportional representation, instead of the current system where the state is divided into ‘regions’ (some having many more people than others). So, yes, I’m glad that we can be flexible enough to try new things. (Also glad we have compulsory voting!)

I wonder about governments appointing their ideological friends to the highest court – it might be nice to have a little constitutional amendment which said that High Court judges were to be appointed by agreement between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition??

Wayne Mapp
Wayne Mapp
1 year ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

There is an important point Smith makes. It is quite a democratic risk if governments/presidents keep getting elected with fewer votes than the alternative. This happened twice in New Zealand in 1978 and and 1981. The result is that the voting system was changed bt referendum to ensure that the government had to have a majority of the voters.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Very good post and I agree with almost everything. I have one slight problem – the internet.
When the government was set up, it was democracy but government by intermediaries who acted on behalf of the people. This was always open to corruption but the end result was success.
Today, people are closer to what is happening because of the internet. They want to be personally involved in everything. The system of intermediaries is still open to corruption but each incident requires an investigation to make things more open. The internet is frustrating, it can be trivial, but it is the beginning of a movement to real democracy – without intermediaries. One day the old system will not be good enough. Maybe today!

Last edited 1 year ago by Chris Wheatley
Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

“They want to be personally involved in everything.” Therein lies the problem: superficial grasp of everything, but deeper understanding lacking. Elected representatives are provided with fantastic information resources & staff (look at the research papers put out by the House of Commons Library), they participate in committee hearings where experts are called …. all this is a better way to develop laws than some attention-overloaded members of the public running the show.

The internet always has intermediaries – look at they way Facebook, Youtube et al. were ‘guided’ during the COVID episode.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

An answer from the Ă©lite. The people only have a ‘superficial grasp of everything’. That is condescending to say the least. It is also anti-democratic.
People can only learn about the power of democracy by getting involved in it themselves. So they make mistakes but they learn. Or should they be kept out of the way so that we can tell them what is good for them?
Personally, I hate the internet – the fads, trans politics, stupid sports commentators, etc. But it is the start of true democracy.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

The internet is like tv in the sense that the trick is selective viewing, rather than throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

“But it is the start of true democracy”

I don’t think a mob is the way forward when we think about democracy. We need constitutions, conventions and rules and carefully thought out institutions and processes to create and sustain democracy. The internet is a mob that operates under a system that is meant to produce a profit for the owners of the platforms, who control what is said on those platforms.

The people I referred to as having a superficial grasp of everything were the people you referred to as ‘personally involved in everything’. Jack of all trades and master of none? Yet an incredibly tiny percentage of these people bother to engage with the political system. They don’t even contact their local MP, let alone research a topic and put in a submission to a committee, or start a petition – even though all this can be done easily online.

Which is fine – very few people want to spend their time doing the hard work of politics. There are a lot of other worthy things that need doing. But let’s not pretend that it would be better if we all ignored the hard work of sustaining democracy and just shouted our opinions on the internet.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

The internet is like tv in the sense that the trick is selective viewing, rather than throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

“But it is the start of true democracy”

I don’t think a mob is the way forward when we think about democracy. We need constitutions, conventions and rules and carefully thought out institutions and processes to create and sustain democracy. The internet is a mob that operates under a system that is meant to produce a profit for the owners of the platforms, who control what is said on those platforms.

The people I referred to as having a superficial grasp of everything were the people you referred to as ‘personally involved in everything’. Jack of all trades and master of none? Yet an incredibly tiny percentage of these people bother to engage with the political system. They don’t even contact their local MP, let alone research a topic and put in a submission to a committee, or start a petition – even though all this can be done easily online.

Which is fine – very few people want to spend their time doing the hard work of politics. There are a lot of other worthy things that need doing. But let’s not pretend that it would be better if we all ignored the hard work of sustaining democracy and just shouted our opinions on the internet.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago

That’s why Congress writes multi thousand page bills that no one reads – to counteract reduce the desire to be personally involved in it all. Even Congressmen lack the desire.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

An answer from the Ă©lite. The people only have a ‘superficial grasp of everything’. That is condescending to say the least. It is also anti-democratic.
People can only learn about the power of democracy by getting involved in it themselves. So they make mistakes but they learn. Or should they be kept out of the way so that we can tell them what is good for them?
Personally, I hate the internet – the fads, trans politics, stupid sports commentators, etc. But it is the start of true democracy.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago

That’s why Congress writes multi thousand page bills that no one reads – to counteract reduce the desire to be personally involved in it all. Even Congressmen lack the desire.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

“They want to be personally involved in everything.” Therein lies the problem: superficial grasp of everything, but deeper understanding lacking. Elected representatives are provided with fantastic information resources & staff (look at the research papers put out by the House of Commons Library), they participate in committee hearings where experts are called …. all this is a better way to develop laws than some attention-overloaded members of the public running the show.

The internet always has intermediaries – look at they way Facebook, Youtube et al. were ‘guided’ during the COVID episode.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Ms Nancy Pelosi was a great ‘advertisement’ for your benighted system.

B Timothy
B Timothy
1 year ago

Absolutely!

Imagine if we had a parliamentary system: “Prime Minister Pelosi”

B Timothy
B Timothy
1 year ago

Absolutely!

Imagine if we had a parliamentary system: “Prime Minister Pelosi”

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Oh, hear, hear, and bravo!

Christopher Thompson
Christopher Thompson
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

An excellent post, thank you.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Wonderful response to a load of dangerous tosh, thank you.
As you say, the constitution was designed to safeguard against exactly this sort of nonsense; to save liberty, the people’s rights, representation, and democracy for ever

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Well done! The selective outrage about the pesky electoral college is all we need to hear about to understand the true motives. They will whine on about it up until the point that FL and TX overshadow CA and NY in population. Then they will shift once again to praising the wisdom of the founders.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

They’ve already perverted the design of the Senate with the 17th amendment thereby rendering it little more than a second popularly elected Congress. If they eliminate the electoral college we might as well be France.

Jeff Hansen
Jeff Hansen
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Spot on. However even Intellectual philosophers cannot devise a system of government that can produce positive outcomes or even do no harm with 1.8 million unelected employees. Unaccountable, difficult to fire, ever enlarging budgets. I don’t hear many arguments for the benefits of monopoly however many mid-wits seems to think that a sprawling growing government monopoly is a good thing.

Wilma Grant
Wilma Grant
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

If only the author had actually said all that you attribute to him. How inconsiderate of young Adam that you were obliged to unpack the full horror of his musings at such length. And, yes, that little band of devout but flawed ‘intellectual philosophers’ – entirely ignorant of all that modern life entails and long dead – were uniquely able to grasp and codify the summum bonum. All efforts to ‘improve’ matters are futile. Futile, I tell you!

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Excellent post. I hope America holds up through these trying times. I am alarmed by the increasing number of people in the Anglosphere who view representational democracy as a pesky impediment to ‘enlightened’ one-party rule.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Very good post and I agree with almost everything. I have one slight problem – the internet.
When the government was set up, it was democracy but government by intermediaries who acted on behalf of the people. This was always open to corruption but the end result was success.
Today, people are closer to what is happening because of the internet. They want to be personally involved in everything. The system of intermediaries is still open to corruption but each incident requires an investigation to make things more open. The internet is frustrating, it can be trivial, but it is the beginning of a movement to real democracy – without intermediaries. One day the old system will not be good enough. Maybe today!

Last edited 1 year ago by Chris Wheatley
CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Ms Nancy Pelosi was a great ‘advertisement’ for your benighted system.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Oh, hear, hear, and bravo!

Christopher Thompson
Christopher Thompson
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

An excellent post, thank you.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Wonderful response to a load of dangerous tosh, thank you.
As you say, the constitution was designed to safeguard against exactly this sort of nonsense; to save liberty, the people’s rights, representation, and democracy for ever

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Well done! The selective outrage about the pesky electoral college is all we need to hear about to understand the true motives. They will whine on about it up until the point that FL and TX overshadow CA and NY in population. Then they will shift once again to praising the wisdom of the founders.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

They’ve already perverted the design of the Senate with the 17th amendment thereby rendering it little more than a second popularly elected Congress. If they eliminate the electoral college we might as well be France.

Jeff Hansen
Jeff Hansen
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Spot on. However even Intellectual philosophers cannot devise a system of government that can produce positive outcomes or even do no harm with 1.8 million unelected employees. Unaccountable, difficult to fire, ever enlarging budgets. I don’t hear many arguments for the benefits of monopoly however many mid-wits seems to think that a sprawling growing government monopoly is a good thing.

Wilma Grant
Wilma Grant
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

If only the author had actually said all that you attribute to him. How inconsiderate of young Adam that you were obliged to unpack the full horror of his musings at such length. And, yes, that little band of devout but flawed ‘intellectual philosophers’ – entirely ignorant of all that modern life entails and long dead – were uniquely able to grasp and codify the summum bonum. All efforts to ‘improve’ matters are futile. Futile, I tell you!

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
1 year ago

Another power-hungry Progressive wanting us all to fall in line. I would just say go to Hell, but I feel I should explain myself. You are exactly the kind of person the American system of government was designed to frustrate. It is always the same old argument. Shut up, give us all the power, and let your more enlightened betters run things without any interference. Ignore our self-destructive failures in the places we run. We will totally get it right next time. Anyone seen San Francisco lately?
The Electoral College again? Let’s just ignore the whole “Blue Wall” thing in the Obama years where you thought the Electoral College would give you American political supremacy for all time. It was called the Connecticut Compromise. The whole point was to make it so you had to have a balance of populational and geographical support to prevent some regions of the country from dominating all the others. That is why we have a Senate and a House of Representatives. The fact that almost all of your political power is heavily concentrated on the coasts and in the large cities and is only a recent thing sounds like a you problem. If you have an issue with it, you need to make your policies more appealing to more of the country. That is how this thing called Democracy you people cannot shut up about works.
As for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, who are you to tell us to do anything? I could give many examples of why Progressives are nothing more than authoritarians in sheep’s clothing, but let’s just go back to Covid-19 and the disaster that followed. Censorship on proven facts, lying about masks, abuses of power, encouraging rioting, and now trying to gaslight us into believing those were just “innocent mistakes”. FYI, saying these things were done with the best intentions does not help your case either. Throw away our Constitutional protections and trust our betters after that? Hell no!
See here’s the thing. This country was founded by devout intellectual philosophers and historians who understood the limits of human nature and were also freethinkers, drunks, gun nuts, and angry rabble rousers with serious authority issues. In fact, they were one of the few groups of people in history who realized they were not infallible and, in the process, created a remarkable government designed to protect the freedom of its citizens and its foundations from the worst excesses of human nature. I would not have it any other way.

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt Hindman
Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 year ago

America’s problems don’t really have much to do with the Constitution. They’re much more a consequence of the dominant role played by money in the electoral system.

In modern times the role of the Electoral College has been to defend Main Street from the vultures of Wall Street and their sycophants in the Washington establishment. Imagine the horrors that would have resulted from a Clinton victory in 2016. There wouldn’t be an upright structure left in the Middle East.

So, basically, you’re wrong on all counts.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Succinctly put Sir; Bravo!

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

There wouldn’t be an upright structure left in the Mioddlr East…and a lot of other places.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Succinctly put Sir; Bravo!

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

There wouldn’t be an upright structure left in the Mioddlr East…and a lot of other places.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 year ago

America’s problems don’t really have much to do with the Constitution. They’re much more a consequence of the dominant role played by money in the electoral system.

In modern times the role of the Electoral College has been to defend Main Street from the vultures of Wall Street and their sycophants in the Washington establishment. Imagine the horrors that would have resulted from a Clinton victory in 2016. There wouldn’t be an upright structure left in the Middle East.

So, basically, you’re wrong on all counts.

Janko M
Janko M
1 year ago

Clearly the author considers change necessary in the instutional setup of the US, but holds off until the last few paragraphs to start reasoning why. The first few paragraphs serve mainly to portray the founding document in a morally negative light. However, constitutional tampering needs a vision of why changes will lead to an improvement, something the author doesn’t really delve deep into, not to mention that it is assumed that institutions need to change, rather than underlying pressures.

Changes for the sake of changes and the mythical accusation of being outdated are insufficient. For example, Switzerland has had a federal constitution since 1848, and remains one of the strongest democratic setups anywhere on the planet (sure, constitutional amendments still take place on occasion). The constitution envisages a highly informed and motivated citizenry to regulate matters of the day, something that the citizens have to perform themselves, not wait for a constitutional amendment to do it for them.

In the US, whilst criticism of the electoral college and supreme court is rife these days, one should not be dismissive of the importance of their current setup. The electoral college exists, among other things, to exactly ensure a delicate internal balance, where a handful of states will not permanently run roughshod over all the others and make a mockery of federalism. The supreme court perhaps ought to have the nomination and approval processes reviewed, but truth be told, as long the parties treat the court as partisan, nobody will ever be happy with it. After all, the idea should be that parties should seek concensus candidates, rather than “stick it to the libs” and “uncompromising progressive” narratives, to ensure a court whose legitimacy is endorsed by both sides, not undermined.

This leads to the point that constitutional changes aren’t always the solution either. You can have a great constitution on paper, but that is no guarantee of a lasting and durable settlement. The USSR went through several constitutions, but none ever dreamed of creating an informed and responsible citizenry, leading to the fact that the rights and freedoms weren’t worth the paper they were written on.

All in all, this could’ve been a better article if we got over the moral grand-standing and into the practical wisdom of constitutional operation.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 year ago
Reply to  Janko M

Your point about an informed citizenry is excellent – and particularly relevant in the UK where it often seems the the goal of the education system is to prevent any such thing from arising.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

’the goal of the education system is to prevent any such thing from arising.’
This is only true if you think that children should be taught what you think is correct. As an old man, I agree with you in one sense. I was taught proper English, how to write legibly, Shakespeare, real history about everything good that Britain did. Therefore I can write in proper, grammatical sentences, as I do every day.
BUT. Today education comes from videos on screens, not necessarily from reading. Handwriting is almost unnecessary as is (arguably) mental arithmetic. Children are being terrified by climate scares (IMO, hoaxes but not many agree with me). A different history has appeared – not wrong history, not right history but different history.
So how can I say, as an old person, that education is bad? Education is for today’s world, not a wonderful, glorious world of the past. I think that applies to you as well.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

’the goal of the education system is to prevent any such thing from arising.’
This is only true if you think that children should be taught what you think is correct. As an old man, I agree with you in one sense. I was taught proper English, how to write legibly, Shakespeare, real history about everything good that Britain did. Therefore I can write in proper, grammatical sentences, as I do every day.
BUT. Today education comes from videos on screens, not necessarily from reading. Handwriting is almost unnecessary as is (arguably) mental arithmetic. Children are being terrified by climate scares (IMO, hoaxes but not many agree with me). A different history has appeared – not wrong history, not right history but different history.
So how can I say, as an old person, that education is bad? Education is for today’s world, not a wonderful, glorious world of the past. I think that applies to you as well.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
1 year ago
Reply to  Janko M

I suppose I was triggered by:
“a tiny number of bewigged, silk-stockinged, well-fed gentlemen — many of them slaveholders and all of them dead”. The bias is obvious and ugly. In a way those founders were remarkable, mostly young, well educated men who understood the failures of most government forms. Those failures persist even today. And of course, the slave issue must arise in these times of tension. But the founders also understood the issues in creating a compromise between property rights and free citizens.
“of course, he meant white, male Americans” – Not too many minorities around back then and most females preferred to manage the homesteads because there were no corporations needing cheap labor. 
“one of the more successful multi-racial societies in human history” – Kudos for that comment. There are few other places that have achieved that harmony of so many diverse cultures where acceptance and adaptation has happened.
“How many presidents can be elected with fewer votes than their opponents before the system cracks?” – The crux of the article where anger over the federalist notion, electoral college is asserted. Anybody looking at the one-party states of CA and NY is happy not to reside there and most certainly don’t wish to be governed by leaders from those places as currently operated. The President, aside from the current one, is supposed to represent all citizens, not just those who voted from him. He is failing at that job because he is not a valid representative of all.
There are many changes needed in the US but those changes to its constitution are unlikely from the Congress. A Convention of the States is needed to restrain the federal government and perpetual sinecure of its leaders.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 year ago
Reply to  Janko M

Your point about an informed citizenry is excellent – and particularly relevant in the UK where it often seems the the goal of the education system is to prevent any such thing from arising.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
1 year ago
Reply to  Janko M

I suppose I was triggered by:
“a tiny number of bewigged, silk-stockinged, well-fed gentlemen — many of them slaveholders and all of them dead”. The bias is obvious and ugly. In a way those founders were remarkable, mostly young, well educated men who understood the failures of most government forms. Those failures persist even today. And of course, the slave issue must arise in these times of tension. But the founders also understood the issues in creating a compromise between property rights and free citizens.
“of course, he meant white, male Americans” – Not too many minorities around back then and most females preferred to manage the homesteads because there were no corporations needing cheap labor. 
“one of the more successful multi-racial societies in human history” – Kudos for that comment. There are few other places that have achieved that harmony of so many diverse cultures where acceptance and adaptation has happened.
“How many presidents can be elected with fewer votes than their opponents before the system cracks?” – The crux of the article where anger over the federalist notion, electoral college is asserted. Anybody looking at the one-party states of CA and NY is happy not to reside there and most certainly don’t wish to be governed by leaders from those places as currently operated. The President, aside from the current one, is supposed to represent all citizens, not just those who voted from him. He is failing at that job because he is not a valid representative of all.
There are many changes needed in the US but those changes to its constitution are unlikely from the Congress. A Convention of the States is needed to restrain the federal government and perpetual sinecure of its leaders.

Janko M
Janko M
1 year ago

Clearly the author considers change necessary in the instutional setup of the US, but holds off until the last few paragraphs to start reasoning why. The first few paragraphs serve mainly to portray the founding document in a morally negative light. However, constitutional tampering needs a vision of why changes will lead to an improvement, something the author doesn’t really delve deep into, not to mention that it is assumed that institutions need to change, rather than underlying pressures.

Changes for the sake of changes and the mythical accusation of being outdated are insufficient. For example, Switzerland has had a federal constitution since 1848, and remains one of the strongest democratic setups anywhere on the planet (sure, constitutional amendments still take place on occasion). The constitution envisages a highly informed and motivated citizenry to regulate matters of the day, something that the citizens have to perform themselves, not wait for a constitutional amendment to do it for them.

In the US, whilst criticism of the electoral college and supreme court is rife these days, one should not be dismissive of the importance of their current setup. The electoral college exists, among other things, to exactly ensure a delicate internal balance, where a handful of states will not permanently run roughshod over all the others and make a mockery of federalism. The supreme court perhaps ought to have the nomination and approval processes reviewed, but truth be told, as long the parties treat the court as partisan, nobody will ever be happy with it. After all, the idea should be that parties should seek concensus candidates, rather than “stick it to the libs” and “uncompromising progressive” narratives, to ensure a court whose legitimacy is endorsed by both sides, not undermined.

This leads to the point that constitutional changes aren’t always the solution either. You can have a great constitution on paper, but that is no guarantee of a lasting and durable settlement. The USSR went through several constitutions, but none ever dreamed of creating an informed and responsible citizenry, leading to the fact that the rights and freedoms weren’t worth the paper they were written on.

All in all, this could’ve been a better article if we got over the moral grand-standing and into the practical wisdom of constitutional operation.

Saul D
Saul D
1 year ago

One of the great strengths of the American system is the idea of the balance of powers. Those who wrote the constitution knew that political conflict was an impossible to eradicate, but also that the institutions needed to be framed so no single group got a permanent upper hand. For this reason the judiciary needed to be separated from electoral pressures, states and geography needed to balance population (it is, after all a union of states, not a regionalised nation-state), the political centre would be separate from the financial centres, the executive would be subject to oversight from the representatives, and the representatives subject to the veto of the executive. It is knowingly designed to ensure politics does not become the tyranny of one institutionalised viewpoint.
However, from outside as a non-American, the careful institutional design has slowly been eroded. The permanent executive administration has melded into the Congress’s sphere as Congress’s law making powers transferred into regulatory powers by the executive branches and from that, have become the ‘interagency’ branch, detached from full executive control or electoral oversight, pushing a single institutionalised viewpoint that is intolerant of dissent.

Cassander Antipatru
Cassander Antipatru
1 year ago
Reply to  Saul D

I’m sympathetic to the argument that the “balance of powers” argument rests on a misunderstanding of the 18th-century British constitution, more specifically Montesquieu’s, whose Spirit Of The Laws popularised the concept of separation of powers in Western constitutional discourse.
Basically, the argument runs, the reason why the elements of the British constitution were balanced was that the different parts had different and independent sources of economic power — land and farming in the case of the Lords, trade and commerce in the case of the Commons. As the economic balance of the country changed, however, so did the political balance. The first casualty was the Crown: by the late 17th century, the business of government was getting so complex and expensive that the King could no longer govern the country using the revenues of the his own lands. (Of course, Kings had needed to raise taxes before, of course, but generally only in times of war; in peacetime, the King was expected to “live off his own”, that is, fund the day-to-day expenses of government from the income of his own estates.) Consequently, the Crown ended up becoming subordinate to Parliament, which alone had the authority to authorise extra taxes; by the late 18th century, the actual business of government was done by the Prime Minister, and by the late 19th century the monarch was little more than a rubber stamp. Next to go was the Lords: quicker transport and better food preservation methods invented during the late 19th century undercut British agriculture with cheap foreign importants, causing the collapse in the incomes of many aristocratic families, which had traditionally lived off the rent paid by their (agricultural) tenants. This left economic power in the hands of the wealthy business class, represented by the House of Commons, which consolidated its dominance through the Parliament Act of 1911. Nowadays, although the Lords and Crown still exist, they’re shadows of their former selves, and it’s hard to imagine them blocking a law the Commons wants passed.
What does this imply for the American situation? The US’ constitutional evolution hasn’t exactly mirrored the UK’s, but the erosion of checks on governmental power has also been evident across the Atlantic: Joe Biden has far more scope for exercising power than, say, Theodore Roosevelt did, who in turn had more than George Washington. And I think the cause of this is similar to the cause of the erosion of Britain’s system of checks and balances. The US hasn’t had the equivalent of a landed aristocracy since the Civil War, and has never had the equivalent of a hereditary head of state. Consequently all the high positions in government, the civil service, and society more generally, are held by wealthy members of the merchant/business class, who generally have the same background, upbringing, and economic interests as each other. Consequently they all support more or less the same set of policies (cf. the complaints about the American “uniparty” or the Republicans as “controlled opposition”: the views of senior Republicans are closer to those of senior Democrats than the views of their base are) — in other words, we have “tyranny of one institutionalised viewpoint”, because having separate branches of government doesn’t help much if those branches are all pursuing the same goal.

Cassander Antipatru
Cassander Antipatru
1 year ago
Reply to  Saul D

I’m sympathetic to the argument that the “balance of powers” argument rests on a misunderstanding of the 18th-century British constitution, more specifically Montesquieu’s, whose Spirit Of The Laws popularised the concept of separation of powers in Western constitutional discourse.
Basically, the argument runs, the reason why the elements of the British constitution were balanced was that the different parts had different and independent sources of economic power — land and farming in the case of the Lords, trade and commerce in the case of the Commons. As the economic balance of the country changed, however, so did the political balance. The first casualty was the Crown: by the late 17th century, the business of government was getting so complex and expensive that the King could no longer govern the country using the revenues of the his own lands. (Of course, Kings had needed to raise taxes before, of course, but generally only in times of war; in peacetime, the King was expected to “live off his own”, that is, fund the day-to-day expenses of government from the income of his own estates.) Consequently, the Crown ended up becoming subordinate to Parliament, which alone had the authority to authorise extra taxes; by the late 18th century, the actual business of government was done by the Prime Minister, and by the late 19th century the monarch was little more than a rubber stamp. Next to go was the Lords: quicker transport and better food preservation methods invented during the late 19th century undercut British agriculture with cheap foreign importants, causing the collapse in the incomes of many aristocratic families, which had traditionally lived off the rent paid by their (agricultural) tenants. This left economic power in the hands of the wealthy business class, represented by the House of Commons, which consolidated its dominance through the Parliament Act of 1911. Nowadays, although the Lords and Crown still exist, they’re shadows of their former selves, and it’s hard to imagine them blocking a law the Commons wants passed.
What does this imply for the American situation? The US’ constitutional evolution hasn’t exactly mirrored the UK’s, but the erosion of checks on governmental power has also been evident across the Atlantic: Joe Biden has far more scope for exercising power than, say, Theodore Roosevelt did, who in turn had more than George Washington. And I think the cause of this is similar to the cause of the erosion of Britain’s system of checks and balances. The US hasn’t had the equivalent of a landed aristocracy since the Civil War, and has never had the equivalent of a hereditary head of state. Consequently all the high positions in government, the civil service, and society more generally, are held by wealthy members of the merchant/business class, who generally have the same background, upbringing, and economic interests as each other. Consequently they all support more or less the same set of policies (cf. the complaints about the American “uniparty” or the Republicans as “controlled opposition”: the views of senior Republicans are closer to those of senior Democrats than the views of their base are) — in other words, we have “tyranny of one institutionalised viewpoint”, because having separate branches of government doesn’t help much if those branches are all pursuing the same goal.

Saul D
Saul D
1 year ago

One of the great strengths of the American system is the idea of the balance of powers. Those who wrote the constitution knew that political conflict was an impossible to eradicate, but also that the institutions needed to be framed so no single group got a permanent upper hand. For this reason the judiciary needed to be separated from electoral pressures, states and geography needed to balance population (it is, after all a union of states, not a regionalised nation-state), the political centre would be separate from the financial centres, the executive would be subject to oversight from the representatives, and the representatives subject to the veto of the executive. It is knowingly designed to ensure politics does not become the tyranny of one institutionalised viewpoint.
However, from outside as a non-American, the careful institutional design has slowly been eroded. The permanent executive administration has melded into the Congress’s sphere as Congress’s law making powers transferred into regulatory powers by the executive branches and from that, have become the ‘interagency’ branch, detached from full executive control or electoral oversight, pushing a single institutionalised viewpoint that is intolerant of dissent.

David Giles
David Giles
1 year ago

“Originalists believe that the constitutional text ought to be given the original public meaning that it would have had at the time that it became law.”

Well fancy that, interpreting a text by both the spirit and the literal meaning of its words! One can only imagine just how frustrated a Professor of US Politics & Political History at Oxford University must be by the limitations of these little people sat in the Supreme Court.

David Giles
David Giles
1 year ago

“Originalists believe that the constitutional text ought to be given the original public meaning that it would have had at the time that it became law.”

Well fancy that, interpreting a text by both the spirit and the literal meaning of its words! One can only imagine just how frustrated a Professor of US Politics & Political History at Oxford University must be by the limitations of these little people sat in the Supreme Court.

AC Harper
AC Harper
1 year ago

Consider Robert Michels Iron Law of Oligarchy (see Wikipedia):

…all complex organizations, regardless of how democratic they are when started, eventually develop into oligarchies. 

The USA (and other countries too) end up centralising authority and protecting the leaders’ self interests. So relying upon the Constitution is not a failing (for the oligarchs) it is a feature. It is a pretense of democracy.
If it suited the oligarchs ambitions to modify the Constitution to remove the protection of Free Speech, or the right to bear arms, then they would do so – as long as it didn’t expose the nature of the Government. Meanwhile the oligarchs attempt to achieve these aims by stealth because too much democracy gives the ordinary people dangerous ideas.

Last edited 1 year ago by AC Harper
AC Harper
AC Harper
1 year ago

Consider Robert Michels Iron Law of Oligarchy (see Wikipedia):

…all complex organizations, regardless of how democratic they are when started, eventually develop into oligarchies. 

The USA (and other countries too) end up centralising authority and protecting the leaders’ self interests. So relying upon the Constitution is not a failing (for the oligarchs) it is a feature. It is a pretense of democracy.
If it suited the oligarchs ambitions to modify the Constitution to remove the protection of Free Speech, or the right to bear arms, then they would do so – as long as it didn’t expose the nature of the Government. Meanwhile the oligarchs attempt to achieve these aims by stealth because too much democracy gives the ordinary people dangerous ideas.

Last edited 1 year ago by AC Harper
Jim Hurley
Jim Hurley
1 year ago

“In the Nineties, no one could imagine it being acceptable in the modern age for a president to be elected with only a minority of the popular vote because of the workings of the Electoral College.”
The current Canadian Prime Minister ran second in the popular vote in the last two federal elections with 32.6% and 33.1% of the vote respectively. Is this “acceptable in the modern age”?

Arthur G
Arthur G
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Hurley

Of course it’s acceptable, he’s a progressive.

Terry M
Terry M
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Hurley

Even a cursory review of Wikipedia shows how little the author knows about US elections:
“The presidential elections of 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016 produced an Electoral College winner who did not receive the most votes in the general election.[9][10][11] Additionally, in 14 other presidential elections (1844, 1848, 1856, 1860, 1880, 1884, 1892, 1912, 1916, 1948, 1960, 1968, 1992, and 1996), the winner received a plurality but not a majority of the total popular votes cast.”

Jay Chase
Jay Chase
1 year ago
Reply to  Terry M

I thought the same thing while reading it, does historybro Smith not know that this happened multiple times prior to 2000? Oxford must be scraping the bottom of the barrel to find woke historybros to indoctrinate their students.

Jay Chase
Jay Chase
1 year ago
Reply to  Terry M

I thought the same thing while reading it, does historybro Smith not know that this happened multiple times prior to 2000? Oxford must be scraping the bottom of the barrel to find woke historybros to indoctrinate their students.

Arthur G
Arthur G
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Hurley

Of course it’s acceptable, he’s a progressive.

Terry M
Terry M
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Hurley

Even a cursory review of Wikipedia shows how little the author knows about US elections:
“The presidential elections of 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016 produced an Electoral College winner who did not receive the most votes in the general election.[9][10][11] Additionally, in 14 other presidential elections (1844, 1848, 1856, 1860, 1880, 1884, 1892, 1912, 1916, 1948, 1960, 1968, 1992, and 1996), the winner received a plurality but not a majority of the total popular votes cast.”

Jim Hurley
Jim Hurley
1 year ago

“In the Nineties, no one could imagine it being acceptable in the modern age for a president to be elected with only a minority of the popular vote because of the workings of the Electoral College.”
The current Canadian Prime Minister ran second in the popular vote in the last two federal elections with 32.6% and 33.1% of the vote respectively. Is this “acceptable in the modern age”?

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
1 year ago

“Perhaps even the oldest and crankiest country can rediscover its youthful capacity for reform”
I actually agree with this author 100%!
I would love it if we could abandon our deification of Enlightenment liberalism. John Locke started this ball rolling, and Mill gave it a huge push before the postmodernists sent it (and us) careening off a moral cliff. The sooner we abandon liberalism’s delusion that society can exist without shared moral compass, the better.
Liberalism seeks to liberate… from everything… always. The same force that freed slaves from the oppression of the plantation owners now frees those slaves great-grandchildren from the oppression of their own biology. Of course it ends in transgenderism and transhumanism and fantasies of artificial wombs and geneticly engineered children — these are all liberations! No guardrails! No rules! Be whatever you want to be! “And ye to shall be as God!”
Unfortunately, most humans don’t do very well in that world. Maximal personal autonomy is great for about 5% of the population, and varies from inconvenient to disastrous for everyone else. So by all means, let’s abandon Enlightenment liberalism in favor of a truly humanist moral order, one that centers not maximal human autonomy but maximal human flourishing instead.
If you’re really serious about humanism, you need to accept limits on what humans can do.

Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
1 year ago

If you will not accepts God’s laws, you will live to Satan’s rules.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

Which God are we talking about? There’s been lots of them throughout history after all

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Don’t understand the downvotes. Clearly there are different gods around. You have to be blind not to see that.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I’ve noticed there’s a strong evangelical presence amongst our transatlantic cousins in this comment section, and they don’t take kindly to blasphemy

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Interesting. I’ve developed the impression that most of the defenders of strict religion on these comments were from the U.K.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Interesting. I’ve developed the impression that most of the defenders of strict religion on these comments were from the U.K.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Any god is one too many.

Last edited 1 year ago by Clare Knight
Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I’ve noticed there’s a strong evangelical presence amongst our transatlantic cousins in this comment section, and they don’t take kindly to blasphemy

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Any god is one too many.

Last edited 1 year ago by Clare Knight
Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Don’t understand the downvotes. Clearly there are different gods around. You have to be blind not to see that.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

Good grief!!

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

Which God are we talking about? There’s been lots of them throughout history after all

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

Good grief!!

Rick Frazier
Rick Frazier
1 year ago

A number of practical “reforms” come to my mind, but I suspect the author of this article would resist all of them. Most notably, term limits for members of Congress and a much smaller federal government.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago

As the article argues and Yoram Hazony agrees, liberalism is only part of the picture. The Constitution of the United States is in many case a conservative document, most obviously in the deliberately undemocratic elements of equal representation of the States in the Electoral College and of course the Electoral College.

Cassander Antipatru
Cassander Antipatru
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

“Liberal” and “democratic” aren’t synonyms. Nor are “conservative” and “undemocratic”, for that matter.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

I would suggest that “liberal democracy” is an oxymoron. These two are in constant tension, and one will always win out over the other.
For example: in the EU, liberalism trumps democracy; in Hungary and Poland, democracy trumps liberalism. That’s the reason the EU bureaucrats hate Hungary and Poland.
According to Patrick Deneen, this flaw was baked in at the Enlightenment. I believe he’s correct.

Cassander Antipatru
Cassander Antipatru
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

“Liberal” and “democratic” aren’t synonyms. Nor are “conservative” and “undemocratic”, for that matter.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

I would suggest that “liberal democracy” is an oxymoron. These two are in constant tension, and one will always win out over the other.
For example: in the EU, liberalism trumps democracy; in Hungary and Poland, democracy trumps liberalism. That’s the reason the EU bureaucrats hate Hungary and Poland.
According to Patrick Deneen, this flaw was baked in at the Enlightenment. I believe he’s correct.

Jon Barrow
Jon Barrow
1 year ago

Yes a few years ago I started thinking that late-stage Enlightenment (epecially the original error, that humans and human structures are blank slates and that problems can be solved by clever people applying first principles) was more of a source of problems than of solutions.

Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
1 year ago

If you will not accepts God’s laws, you will live to Satan’s rules.

Rick Frazier
Rick Frazier
1 year ago

A number of practical “reforms” come to my mind, but I suspect the author of this article would resist all of them. Most notably, term limits for members of Congress and a much smaller federal government.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago

As the article argues and Yoram Hazony agrees, liberalism is only part of the picture. The Constitution of the United States is in many case a conservative document, most obviously in the deliberately undemocratic elements of equal representation of the States in the Electoral College and of course the Electoral College.

Jon Barrow
Jon Barrow
1 year ago

Yes a few years ago I started thinking that late-stage Enlightenment (epecially the original error, that humans and human structures are blank slates and that problems can be solved by clever people applying first principles) was more of a source of problems than of solutions.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
1 year ago

“Perhaps even the oldest and crankiest country can rediscover its youthful capacity for reform”
I actually agree with this author 100%!
I would love it if we could abandon our deification of Enlightenment liberalism. John Locke started this ball rolling, and Mill gave it a huge push before the postmodernists sent it (and us) careening off a moral cliff. The sooner we abandon liberalism’s delusion that society can exist without shared moral compass, the better.
Liberalism seeks to liberate… from everything… always. The same force that freed slaves from the oppression of the plantation owners now frees those slaves great-grandchildren from the oppression of their own biology. Of course it ends in transgenderism and transhumanism and fantasies of artificial wombs and geneticly engineered children — these are all liberations! No guardrails! No rules! Be whatever you want to be! “And ye to shall be as God!”
Unfortunately, most humans don’t do very well in that world. Maximal personal autonomy is great for about 5% of the population, and varies from inconvenient to disastrous for everyone else. So by all means, let’s abandon Enlightenment liberalism in favor of a truly humanist moral order, one that centers not maximal human autonomy but maximal human flourishing instead.
If you’re really serious about humanism, you need to accept limits on what humans can do.

Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
1 year ago

Who can read this stupid INGSOC drivel – I had to give it up after a couple paragraphs – I am twice this guy’s IQ and 10 times more knowledgeable and seen 100X more of the world than him, but I am a White Man – and that’s all he sees is my guess, so no need to read it – I got the whole thing in the first 2 paragraphs….haha.. No wonder the products of our universities are such a mess.ï»ż

”a tiny number of bewigged, silk-stockinged, well-fed gentlemen — many of them slaveholders and all of them dead”

You ‘Education’ guys just gotta do it….

FFS!

”but now lamented and departed race of ancestors.” Americans — of course, he meant white, male Americans — had inherited the earth and therefore it was theirs to lose.”

Orwell, ministry of truth, ”Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” haha… a modern day Winston, but happy in his job of re-writing history….finds it ‘doubleplusgood, no doubt.

In the Hammerstein tradition,

”singing) Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, I gotta *

*be woke till I die, can’t stop…………

Because you Liberal Lefties, you University swamp creatures – you just gotta knock White Men, and if you absolutely cannot avoid giving them some credit you are required to add some gratuitous negative for balance – ‘Equity’ requires it…haha, you guys are nuts.

Stu N
Stu N
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

You’re commenting on an an article you admit you haven’t read. Your unhinged conspiracy theories are even less valid than usual.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

I always look for your posts because they are different. I did read the article but, as you infer, it didn’t really say much.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

The “ha ha” is a red flag.

Stu N
Stu N
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

You’re commenting on an an article you admit you haven’t read. Your unhinged conspiracy theories are even less valid than usual.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

I always look for your posts because they are different. I did read the article but, as you infer, it didn’t really say much.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 year ago
Reply to  Elliott Bjorn

The “ha ha” is a red flag.

Elliott Bjorn
Elliott Bjorn
1 year ago

Who can read this stupid INGSOC drivel – I had to give it up after a couple paragraphs – I am twice this guy’s IQ and 10 times more knowledgeable and seen 100X more of the world than him, but I am a White Man – and that’s all he sees is my guess, so no need to read it – I got the whole thing in the first 2 paragraphs….haha.. No wonder the products of our universities are such a mess.ï»ż

”a tiny number of bewigged, silk-stockinged, well-fed gentlemen — many of them slaveholders and all of them dead”

You ‘Education’ guys just gotta do it….

FFS!

”but now lamented and departed race of ancestors.” Americans — of course, he meant white, male Americans — had inherited the earth and therefore it was theirs to lose.”

Orwell, ministry of truth, ”Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” haha… a modern day Winston, but happy in his job of re-writing history….finds it ‘doubleplusgood, no doubt.

In the Hammerstein tradition,

”singing) Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, I gotta *

*be woke till I die, can’t stop…………

Because you Liberal Lefties, you University swamp creatures – you just gotta knock White Men, and if you absolutely cannot avoid giving them some credit you are required to add some gratuitous negative for balance – ‘Equity’ requires it…haha, you guys are nuts.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago

Yikes. If you don’t want to get a real sense of American politics and history, take this guy’s class.

Paul M
Paul M
1 year ago

Agreed; so much wrong with this article it is kind of scary that it is coming from a professor who’s jam this is supposed to be. I especially found the reinterpretation (by italics) of Lincoln’s quotes highly “problematic”.

Paul M
Paul M
1 year ago

Agreed; so much wrong with this article it is kind of scary that it is coming from a professor who’s jam this is supposed to be. I especially found the reinterpretation (by italics) of Lincoln’s quotes highly “problematic”.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago

Yikes. If you don’t want to get a real sense of American politics and history, take this guy’s class.

B Timothy
B Timothy
1 year ago

Are there any better arguments in favor of our glorious Constitution than progressive Academics ranting about it?

Our Supreme Court Justices should be unaccountable. That’s a major part of the brilliant design!

“But at the same time, it is, to put it mildly, difficult to address issues of structural inequality when meaningful reform of the institutional structure is effectively off the table.”

This is Lefty-speak for “we want to turn our country into Venezuela but the rules prevent us from doing so and therefore must be changed”

Never!

B Timothy
B Timothy
1 year ago

Are there any better arguments in favor of our glorious Constitution than progressive Academics ranting about it?

Our Supreme Court Justices should be unaccountable. That’s a major part of the brilliant design!

“But at the same time, it is, to put it mildly, difficult to address issues of structural inequality when meaningful reform of the institutional structure is effectively off the table.”

This is Lefty-speak for “we want to turn our country into Venezuela but the rules prevent us from doing so and therefore must be changed”

Never!

Ben Shipley
Ben Shipley
1 year ago

The article is a bit snarky for my taste, but not likely to sway many. The reason the constitution and founding fathers are so venerated isn’t a matter of paralysis, but an understanding in America (and elsewhere, judging by all the imitations) that the founding of the republic came out of a near-miraculous confluence of events and personalities. Do we really want the incompetent leaders of today to tinker with the genius of the founders? And this starts with the quirky bits like the electoral college. If you want to ensure that your candidate gets the job with a clear majority, try fielding better candidates. And stop pretending that you have a mandate for change when you barely squeak by.

Ben Shipley
Ben Shipley
1 year ago

The article is a bit snarky for my taste, but not likely to sway many. The reason the constitution and founding fathers are so venerated isn’t a matter of paralysis, but an understanding in America (and elsewhere, judging by all the imitations) that the founding of the republic came out of a near-miraculous confluence of events and personalities. Do we really want the incompetent leaders of today to tinker with the genius of the founders? And this starts with the quirky bits like the electoral college. If you want to ensure that your candidate gets the job with a clear majority, try fielding better candidates. And stop pretending that you have a mandate for change when you barely squeak by.

David Giles
David Giles
1 year ago

“…the ghostly chaps in silk stockings seem more than ever the pale-faced opponents of institutional innovation.”

Oh Adam, you so black, Dude!

David Giles
David Giles
1 year ago

“…the ghostly chaps in silk stockings seem more than ever the pale-faced opponents of institutional innovation.”

Oh Adam, you so black, Dude!

Jay Chase
Jay Chase
1 year ago

This is a long-winded and patrician whinge about how Republicans dominate the Supreme Court and unfairly benefit from the division of powers in Congress because of dead white dudes.
Homeboy Smith, I wasted 6 minutes reading your weak sauce rant, please submit to the Guardian next time.

Jay Chase
Jay Chase
1 year ago

This is a long-winded and patrician whinge about how Republicans dominate the Supreme Court and unfairly benefit from the division of powers in Congress because of dead white dudes.
Homeboy Smith, I wasted 6 minutes reading your weak sauce rant, please submit to the Guardian next time.

jonathan bailey
jonathan bailey
1 year ago

The appalling retrospectroscope of modern historical scholarship is as Lord Sumption correctly states the Death of History.
The pathetic intrusion of the values of today to past centuries provokes nothing but mirth

jonathan bailey
jonathan bailey
1 year ago

The appalling retrospectroscope of modern historical scholarship is as Lord Sumption correctly states the Death of History.
The pathetic intrusion of the values of today to past centuries provokes nothing but mirth

David Giles
David Giles
1 year ago

If Progressive left is so very keen on strictly proportional democracy, let them go and live in Israel. They might, however, find the proportions aren’t completely to their liking.

David Giles
David Giles
1 year ago

If Progressive left is so very keen on strictly proportional democracy, let them go and live in Israel. They might, however, find the proportions aren’t completely to their liking.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

America is in the evening of its global power, and if the tech industry starts to wane, as has its myopic antediluvian car industry, its brewing industry, now all foreign owned, all that will be left is its investment banking power.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

… propped up by the power of the Fed and Treasury who, unlike much else in The Old Colony, are still the best in the world at what they do…. unlike the numpties we have in nu britn.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

… propped up by the power of the Fed and Treasury who, unlike much else in The Old Colony, are still the best in the world at what they do…. unlike the numpties we have in nu britn.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

America is in the evening of its global power, and if the tech industry starts to wane, as has its myopic antediluvian car industry, its brewing industry, now all foreign owned, all that will be left is its investment banking power.

Romi Elnagar
Romi Elnagar
1 year ago

“It is now more than half a century since a significant constitutional amendment was passed.”
Doesn’t the EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT count? It SHOULD be in the Constitution by now, if Biden did his duty and instructed the National Archivist, but–interestingly enough–women aren’t important enough for Biden to do that.
So, more than ONE HALF of the population do not have the protection afforded blacks and other people in the Amendments cited in the article.
And the article completely ignores that fact. Women are invisible. Our rights SIMPLY DON’T MATTER. 

Romi Elnagar
Romi Elnagar
1 year ago

“It is now more than half a century since a significant constitutional amendment was passed.”
Doesn’t the EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT count? It SHOULD be in the Constitution by now, if Biden did his duty and instructed the National Archivist, but–interestingly enough–women aren’t important enough for Biden to do that.
So, more than ONE HALF of the population do not have the protection afforded blacks and other people in the Amendments cited in the article.
And the article completely ignores that fact. Women are invisible. Our rights SIMPLY DON’T MATTER. 

Adam K
Adam K
1 year ago

‘For all the rhetoric of being a “new nation”, a tiny number of bewigged, silk-stockinged, well-fed gentlemen — many of them slaveholders and all of them dead — still have a powerful political voice.’
Why the need to mention slavery? The practice was exceptional in the eighteenth century how? Why the derisory tone in describing men as “well fed”? Would the writer rather that they had been starving?
Sounds like a sour progressive.
Too much leftism here of late.

Adam K
Adam K
1 year ago

‘For all the rhetoric of being a “new nation”, a tiny number of bewigged, silk-stockinged, well-fed gentlemen — many of them slaveholders and all of them dead — still have a powerful political voice.’
Why the need to mention slavery? The practice was exceptional in the eighteenth century how? Why the derisory tone in describing men as “well fed”? Would the writer rather that they had been starving?
Sounds like a sour progressive.
Too much leftism here of late.

R Wright
R Wright
1 year ago

I would prefer to have a system that puts a brake on the progressive slippery slope like the U.S constitution. Here in Britain we lost fundamental freedoms in mere decades due to the actions of a handful of activist judges and useless politicans in thrall to the civil service-media blob.

R Wright
R Wright
1 year ago

I would prefer to have a system that puts a brake on the progressive slippery slope like the U.S constitution. Here in Britain we lost fundamental freedoms in mere decades due to the actions of a handful of activist judges and useless politicans in thrall to the civil service-media blob.

Alan Gore
Alan Gore
1 year ago

“Moving forward while looking back” is exactly the attitude we ought to have. Maintaining a Constitution that specifies the form of national government and the areas of human interaction that it must stay away from is what has kept the US free of rule by those movements, like Jacobinism and Nazism, that Europeans feel compelled to keep trying and finding wanting at the cost of millions of lives.

And no, giving geographic areas representation in addition to populations (the Electoral College) and gun ownership by a broad cross-section of ordinary people (the Second Amendment) are not antique holdovers that lack present-day relevance. They are part of our system of checks and balances.

As an American by adoption, rather than by birth, I had to study the Constitution as preparation to making a specific oath to defend it.

Last edited 1 year ago by Alan Gore
Alan Gore
Alan Gore
1 year ago

“Moving forward while looking back” is exactly the attitude we ought to have. Maintaining a Constitution that specifies the form of national government and the areas of human interaction that it must stay away from is what has kept the US free of rule by those movements, like Jacobinism and Nazism, that Europeans feel compelled to keep trying and finding wanting at the cost of millions of lives.

And no, giving geographic areas representation in addition to populations (the Electoral College) and gun ownership by a broad cross-section of ordinary people (the Second Amendment) are not antique holdovers that lack present-day relevance. They are part of our system of checks and balances.

As an American by adoption, rather than by birth, I had to study the Constitution as preparation to making a specific oath to defend it.

Last edited 1 year ago by Alan Gore
Mr. Swemb
Mr. Swemb
1 year ago

“For things to remain the same, everything must change” dixit Tancredi

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
1 year ago

Thank God, in whom we Trust. . . we have recently survived yet another Constitutional crisis. In 2020, the question of who, exactly, is qualified to select the Electors to the Electoral College.
Is it the individual legislatures of the various States? Or is it We the People who cast our votes based on prospective individual commitments to vote for the candidate who wins the popular majority of that respective State.
We got through that. Now we need to–for the sake of preserving our Union– clarify the Resolution, by a Congressional Act to more precisely define the process of designating, or appointing (if that’s what we call it) or (actually) electing the Electors.
I think that we are able, God willing, to accomplish this before the 2024 election. Perhaps your observation here, Adam, will spur some energetic citizen(s) to get on the horn and help us get this cleared up–perhaps in the 2024 primaries–before we have another crisis in November&ff, that could, if the last controversy is any indicator, drop that terrible extremist guillotine blade on our very Republic*.
*Or would it be safer to call it a “Democracy”?