Limiting the Power of Government

Political Reflections

“High Popalorum” or “Low Popahirum”

Taking Human Depravity Seriously

Taking human depravity seriously is the heart of the matter in politics—it’s why only the ignorant or fools think that we can separate politics from religion.  Al Gore, John Kerry and George Bush are all religious men, but then again so were Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Hitler and Hirohito. The question is which god a man worships and what kind of thinking that god leads men to embrace.

Understanding that humankind is born in sin and that sin colors every aspect of the human personality, including his ability to reason, ought to lead us to embrace the concept of limited government such as that envisioned in the Constitution of the United States.

1.   This Government is under a written Constitution that was deliberately very difficult to amend:  “The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.” ( United States Constitution, Article V.)

2.   This Government was not democratic in terms of fickle popular opinion, but democratic by representative government.  That is, the United States and the individual states that comprise it are republics, not popular democracies:  “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.” (Ibid., Article IV, Section 4, Clause 1.)

3.   This Government carefully balanced the authority of the Federal government with the authority of the individual states:  “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” (Ibid., Amendment X.)

4.   It had three fundamental divisions, each with the ability to hold the others in a measure of check.  Of those three, the first to be listed was the legislative, then the executive and lastly the judicial.

4.1.            “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States , which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” (Ibid., Article I, Section 1.)

4.2.            “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America .” (Ibid., Article II, Section 1.)

4.3.            “The judicial Power of the United States shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.”  (Ibid., Article III, Section 1.)

5.   The first branch of government is the legislative, and there is no hint of an “Imperial Presidency” with power to legislate.  (The line item veto is an egregious breach of Constitutional government.)  The legislative branch also deliberately embraced a certain inefficiency with two houses of Congress, one popular and easily changed, the other reflecting the individual states and more difficult to change.

5.1.            “The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States.” (Ibid., Article I, Section 2.)

5.2.            “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof for six Years.”  (Ibid., Article I, Section 3.)  In a move away from both the authority of the individual states and away from a republican form of government, this was amended in 1912, and Amendment XVII was ratified in 1913:  “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof.” (Ibid., Amendment XVII.)

In addition to these Constitutional structures that very much reflect the Founders and Framers’ understanding of human nature, the early leaders of America also profoundly believed in minding our own business and leaving the rest of the world alone unless our national security was threatened.

Consider, for example, these words of America ’s first President.  While he did open the door to “temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies,” the weight of his words was for the United States not to “entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice.”

“Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities . . .

Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe , entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?” (George Washington, “Farewell Address,” 1796.)

Or consider the words of President John Quincy Adams, in 1821, when he was Secretary of State, in response to foreign nations’ question, “What has America done for the benefit of mankind?”

“Let our answer be this: America , with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America , in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity. She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights. She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own. She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama,* the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right. Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force....She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit . . .”

Bob Vincent

* Aceldama:  a Greek word found in Acts 1:19 (This became known to all who lived in Jerusalem, so that in their own language they called that field Hakeldama, that is, “Field of Blood.”) and based on two Aramaic words, field and blood, pronounced together as cha KAYL de MAH.  The Greek transliteration, Hakeldama, is often Anglicized and pronounced as ah SEL da ma.  It refers to the field the priests bought with the money Judas received for betraying Jesus and later returned to them. It was a place for the burial of strangers and was formerly called the potter’s field according to Matthew 27:7. It is located by tradition south of the valley of Hinnom, Gehenna, the biblical picture of hell.  As the word is used by President Adams, it means a place with dreadful associations.