Abstract: This paper argues that centralization is both contrary to the received traditions of the American people and has proven negative to all aspects of good governance and society – excluding order which cannot long last once all else is lost. The paper is divided into two sections with an introduction and conclusion. The first is a historical survey of the ideas and events from the 1760s to 1868 and comprise the Revolution, formation of the Republic and establishment of the New Order. Section one establishes background and axioms referred to in the main argument in section two.
Section Two depends upon axioms established in Section One and defends the thesis that, Centralization has proven false, dangerous and a negative path because it is fundamentally contrary to nature, human nature, and natural law, and must invariably lead to less morality, less liberty, less prosperity, and ultimately less happiness.
In summary, this paper argues that the central conflict in the American political system was between a Lockean liberal (universalism) polity and particularism (Montesquieu and Burke).
The fundamental question that defined political debate in English speaking North America, specifically in the regions that would come to eventually comprise the United States, was primarily, from 1620 until 1868, one of local versus central. One could go further and argue that political debates and conflict before 1620 in most parts of North America among indigenous peoples revolved around this same matter. For most of history, insofar as it can be discerned through writing or archeology, America has been a place of people that struggled for greater local autonomy, through words, deeds, and when required the ‘sword’. Much of the organic support for the American Revolution was based upon sentiments related to local rule, as opposed to a revolt against British traditions or the King, to many, it was a restoration of ancient British liberties and an active protest against the overreaches and centralizing actions of Parliament. However, not all that supported revolution did so from a mere restorationist and traditionalist viewpoint. A small, yet intelligent and vocal, cadre envisioned something truly revolutionary. To these, a perfection of the Neoplatonism view of a republic, buttressed by Cicero’s view of the law and flavored heavily with idealism was the revolutionary mandate of the American experiment. Centralization was to these men the mechanism by with good government and liberty might be secured. By 1865 the ideas of this initially small minority prevailed through military force to be followed by the adoption of a new legal framework in 1868 that solidified centralization as the defining hallmark of the U.S. Government. Centralization has been the minority view, held firmly only by a dedicated minority, a minority whose lineage, genealogy, and ideology can be traced through the outlines of American history. Centralization has proven false, dangerous and a negative path because it is fundamentally contrary to nature, human nature, and natural law, and must invariably lead to less morality, less liberty, less prosperity, and ultimately less happiness.
Revolution or Reformation
The period of American history beginning in the late 1760s and ending in the early 1790s, our revolutionary and nation-building era, is important to examine precisely because it captures the crux of the conflict between centralization and localism (and within that particularism) as well as a tradition of convention versus idealism and utility. We can state that the bulk of those that directly and tertiarily supported The American Revolution, both the event that led to it and the actual conduct of hostilities did so not in the vein of John Adams and his compatriots but rather in support of something more traditional and more British. The support of most can be traced back to concepts of localism and separation of powers deriving from the Magna Carta rather than novel and radical ideas of Locke. Some historians beginning in 1902 with George Sydney Fisher’s works, The True History of the American Revolution claim that a letter written in 1813 by John Adams to James Lloyd prove this to be true as Adams claims “The middle third, composed principally of the yeomanry, the soundest part of the nation, and always averse to war, were [sic] rather lukewarm both to England and France…” Fisher himself demonstrated a certain skepticism of the core rhetoricians behind the push for independence rather than the restoration of rights and liberties. To be fair, not all historians agree with Fisher’s assessment, William F. Marina is but one example and it is reasonable to conclude that Adams might have been referring to the Revolution in France rather than in America in the letter quoted. Russell Kirk certainly contends that the vast majority of Americas in 1775 were well satisfied with the society of their birth and that even the majority of Patriots were appealing to established constitutional usages as opposed to revolutionary change.
What is not in dispute is the view the British took of the mood in America. In October 1775, George III, speaking before parliament voiced an opinion held by Gage and many others, that there were many loyal Americans and that many were simply unhappy with policy. We might consider the breadth of pamphleteering and demagoguery proceeding hostilities in America and continuing thereafter to add credence to Fisher’s general conclusion even if we were to conclude that he misquoted Adams’ 1813 statement. Fisher and Marina ultimately agree that what we might call the American revolution as consisted of three phases; debates over liberty, prosecution of war and independence, and struggles over the establishment of an American nation persisting until the Civil War. Fisher argues that common to these three phases we find a core cadre, dedicated to independence and novel ideas of statehood based upon new philosophical concepts. He argues that the British crown rightly viewed the mood of the people and that Parliament was conciliatory toward America until 1778. Events in America bear out this observation, The Olive Branch Petition, supported by Tories and those of a conservative and traditional mind represented obvious avarice toward independence and separation by many notable names among the ‘founders’. Most tellingly, Adams was silent on the matter, seeing war as inevitable and even preferable and independence desirable, his subsequent actions served to thwart any possibility of reconciliation. Hamilton, Madison, Adams, and their Federalists compatriot conspirators were almost to a man deistic in their theology and secular in their worldview in that they believed in the perfecting nature of man through enlightened progress. These were views directly opposed to the vast swath of the American population where a traditional interpretation of Scripture, specifically Romans 13 would have made the notion of rebellion against a worldly prince anathema to their conception of reality. We can conclude from these facts that Fisher’s interpretation of the internal struggle in America between reformers and rebels was very real, based upon different worldviews. This difference was only resolved in favor of complete revolution through acts that inflamed the conflict and brought war to those that would have chosen otherwise. Thus, the battle between localism and traditionalism versus idealism and centralization raged before during and after the events of 1776, however, the nature of the centralizers was from the start contrary to the nature of the American people, and their traditions.
If reconciliation rather than independence was the true objective of many regular Americans and British leaders by 1778 it no longer mattered. Howe certainly mismanaged British affairs in America, confirming the rhetoric of sophists and pamphleteers and pressing those hesitant to ‘rebel’ to choose sides. Independence absent reconciliation became inevitable.
Later, the adoption of the Articles of Confederation was a mere necessary compromise for those inclined toward centralization. The document was doomed to fail and every crisis that arose during its short life was used to justify the need for something greater. Shay’s Rebellion in 1786-87 was the last necessary ‘crisis’. One exacerbated to a bloody end by the hand of Samuel Adams and the Riot Act as well as the suspension of habeas corpus. That same year, Hamilton wrote in Federalist 21, “[t]he United States, as now composed, have no powers to exact obedience” and used the events of Shay’s Rebellion to justify the need for a constitution to replace the Articles, a document Hamilton’s associate Madison had already written before the crisis as the Virginia Plan. It is interesting to note that Congress had only authorized a convention for the “sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation”. The competing New Jersey plan did just that. The Federalists Virginia plan, written before the last ‘necessitating crisis’, exceeded the Congressional mandate and created a new nation with a new constitution. It was only through persuasive personalities, rhetoric and at time outright lies that the minority view prevailed, and this in a time of crisis, partially exacerbated by one of the Federalists’ cousins; actions further inflamed as, “all the powers of rhetoric, and arts of description, are employed to paint the condition of this country, in the most hideous and frightful colors”. In one rebellious act, for intentionally exceeding Congressional mandate to merely revise the Articles can be termed as nothing short of rebellion at worst and conspiracy at least, Burke and Blackstone were relegated to ‘also ran’ status in the American pollical system. The New Jersey plan contained the philosophy of Burke, a sovereign legislature and the received interpretation of Blackstone to guide law. Instead, the Virginia Plan prevailed, owing to Montesquieu’s vision of separation of powers and a tacit nod to philosophy of Locke. Thus, it can be reasonably argued that the final stage of the Revolution described by Marina began with another victory of the minority view over the majority through decisive action, rhetoric, and leveraging crisis and perceived crisis. However, as Jeffery Rogers Hummel observed, the period between the end of the revolution and the constitutional convention was “not dominated by economic depression, political turmoil, and international peril, jeopardizing the independent survival of the American experiment in liberty.” The crisis and reasons so passionately written about in The Federalist simply did not exist. And most Americans did not support the idea of a national government or a new constitution. The document written by Hamilton and supported by the Federalists was counter-revolutionary and not as desperately needed as argued in The Federalist. The new document dispensed with the much convention of America’s British heritage and was contrary to the principles upon which most Americans that supported the revolution did so; primarily local liberty. Finally, the Federalist document fully separated man, culture, and God from the state, thus divorcing the institutions that engender morality from their subsidiary positions in society. Therefore, the U.S. Constitution, influenced primarily by the Federalists, was the anthesis of what America had been for nearly two-hundred years prior and it was divorced from many of the most foundational political notions derived from British heritage. It was a centralizing document that set the course for future political debate, philosophy, and ideology. It was a document by the few, sold to the many.
Philosophical Influences on The Federalist
Russell Kirk in The Roots of American Order identifies order as the primary requirement of civilization and therefore government. In describing the nature of the conception of societal order, specifically as observed in the Federalists, he traces the origins of these conceptions to four sources, The Law and the prophets, Greece (Solon primarily), Rome (Cicero and Polybius), Christianity and Britain. Of the influence of The Law as received and transferred by the Hebrews, Kirk acknowledges a foundational influence. Of Greece, he contends there was little practical influence, absent perhaps Polybius writing of the Roman constitution and admiration for Solon.
As for Rome, Kirk contends there was no greater influence on both the Federalists and antifederalist, for and against centralization, than the example of Rome. As for the Federalists, he states “American Statist [Federalists] looked for greater permanence” than Greek theory-crafting and squabbling city-states might offer, they looked to improve on the failures of the Romans. Kirk discerned something akin to an awestruck devotion to the notion of duty and virtue and right reasoned conceptualization of the law and saw Cicero and Marcus Aurelius as the primary Roman voices consulted.
Kirk admits that despite the longevity of Rome as a degenerate empire and its indisputable influence on Western Civilization, the idealized, ‘incorruptible’ Rome existed merely 241 years, from 387 BC to 146 BC. Rome had achieved the ‘mixed’ government praised by Aristotle, yet he believed it impossible to maintain at scale – proven ture. Polybius in his Histories described the growing decadence as deriving from the loss of virtue, drift from the rule of law, and growing evil. We might compare the mere, and brief period of Roman virtue and order with that of the traditions and conventions form which the America people sprang, the British Isles. From 1066 to 1800 we see a progressively elaborating system of order, liberty, and prosperity with only one major ‘accident of history’ that was quickly walled over. A much brighter example than Rome’s short run at republicanism.
If we accept Kirk’s assessment, that the framers of the U.S. Constitution, Federalists and antifederalists were first and foremost concerned with order and the rule of law, influenced by Montesquieu and Cicero, then we must ask what were the additional influences and interpretations of those influences that led each group to see the best possible implementation of these concepts through either localism or centralization. Kirk argues that for instance, Hume’s influence is indisputable in the spirit of the U.S. Constitution, specifically not relying upon a compact. Hume’s Toryism found a considerable following in Whiggish America and in a strange way his realism and commonsensical approach influenced both those inclined to aspire to a Burkean and Blackstonian conception and those more interested in templating Montesquieu onto a modified Lockean new ideal. Jefferson despised him, Madison admired him, Franklin called him a friend but his contemporary influence was profound in separating skepticism in politics from faith in religion. For the Federalists, the additional influence is as has been discussed, primarily Roman. To improve on the idealized view of the republic seemed the destiny of the enlightened man.
Among the entire generation, we must admit a strong influence from the Scottish School of Realism; Reid and company. The sort of ‘humanistic Calvinism’ exported to America and into the institution that educated the great thinkers cannot be overlooked. For those of a deist persuasion, this manifested into an affinity for the idealized secular notions, such as an improvement upon the Roman experiment. To others, such as Richard Henry Lee, it translated into a realistic skepticism of idealism, and a realist view of human nature combined with the value of the established versus the experimental.
The antifederalist position was more fractured and diverse than that of the Federalist, but if we ignore Thomas Paine and his ilk, for now, his influence will come of age later and focus on just the antifederalists positions that most closely aligned with that of Madison, Adams and Hamilton vis-à-vis ‘order’, the question remains, why did one group propose centralization and the other localism through sovereign states. Contrary to subsequent Straussian and Jaffite claims, it was not an adherence to Classical Liberalism or Lockean notions that inspired much of the opposition to the Constitution. Morton Borden’s 1965 index of the antifederalsits papers shows a clear line of thought both to Reid and the Scottish School but also to the conventions of the existing and received order that Blackstone codified and Burke defended. Order it seem, from the perspective of Lee and his compatriots was best ensured locally and conventionally.
Sovereignty existed in America in the various states, it was transferred to each in the Treaty of Paris to each state, individually, from the British sovereign. According to Western tradition since 1648, supremum dominium, sovereignty could not be divided, only surrendered. Therefore, the realist, commonsense, and conventional position held by Lee and others is that the proposed constitution was revolutionary as it was not federalism at all but created a new nation.
It was these differences of interpretations, variations in philosophical influences, and differing worldviews related to convention, idealism, and realism that defined the debates in the late 18th century. After a very brief period of ‘good feelings’, euphoria, and rising nationalism” it was these same differences that led to further debate, division, and finally, bloodshed before the mechanism of centralization was finally solidified in the 19th.
The Era of Debate
If there was immediate validation of the fears and trepidations expressed by the antifederalists, it was to be found in the Federalist Era, and specifically during the presidency of Adams. The Federalists instituted a national bank (1791), and excise tax, a direct tax (1798), a tariff, subsidized industry, machinated for a standing army (1794), initiated war (1792). Each of these items was articulated in previous antifederalist fears and many of them denied as possibilities by Federalist in The Federalist. Finally, in a move that partially thwarted and mollified the centralizers for three decades, the Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts – an action that would be unprecedented until 1861, and that ensured the destruction of the Federalist Party, but not the centralizing ideology. There is room for debate as to the intention of the Federalists and from whence they derived their ideas, however, there can be little debate as to the nature of their programs while in power immediately following ratification. It portended statism, militarism, centralizationism, and repression of liberty – all claims opponents predicted the ideology would bring.
If Rome enjoyed 241 years of incorruptibility as a republic, we might argue that America experienced the same only through the Jeffersonian era, the ‘Era of Good Feelings’, and into midway through the Jacksonian Democratic period. From 1801 to perhaps 1828. We can mark the end of this era by the transformation of the most vocal and eloquent critic of the growing nationalist and centralist nature of the United States, John C. Calhoun. The Federalist Party had died in 1800 but nationalism and the ideology of centralization persisted. It was the tariff of 1828 that convinced Calhoun that the concerns he had with The Federalists after the Alien and Sedition Acts did not die with the party and lived on as a practical ideology of progressive action.
It was of course in this period, 1831, that Alexis de Tocqueville traveled parts of America and made his famous observations. As a classical liberal Tocqueville held to certain foundational axioms that have proven to be true, if dangerous, namely the belief in the inevitable victory of the principle of equality above other virtues. His analysis of the American condition in 1831 presents his view of two founding events, one in 1630 and another in 1775-1798, Tocqueville never mentions the Declaration of Independence and gives little attention to the notion of Natural Rights playing a part in either event. This position is at odds with Federalists, Republican(19th Century), and Progressive historiographies. Histography often aligns with worldview and ideology, considering Tocqueville’s classical liberal orientation it would have seemed logical for his account of American history to feature more prominently those elements than other attributes as foundationally aligned with natural rights; yet it did not. Tocqueville choose instead to write a creedal story using customary history as a tool. Samuel Huntington, in his last and most controversial work, Who we Are, dispenses with much of the creedal theory he had held through much of his career.
One explanation of Tocqueville’s omission of Lockean concepts and the Declaration from the history of America he intended to write is the fact that it was relatively easy to disprove, or at least build a case that would engender rationale skepticism that the Declaration or those concepts had any part at all in forming who Americans were – Americans as a people were who they were by conventional and received tradition long before 1776. Some that opposed them feared that the Federalists were secret Tory monarchist that intended to install an American Caesar. To these, they saw little of natural rights in the documents that form the legal basis for the republic. Federalists actions when they were in power right after ratification lent credence to these fears. Thus, it could be argued that Tocqueville wrote little of Lockean natural rights in his history because it was plausible it was not present in those that won the battle of which constitution would prevail.
What is clear, from his own words, he intended to tell an American story as customary history in order to inform, educate, and influence. Customary history is narrative building, it derives from the sort of meta-narrative building of the ancient historians, combining legend, myth, and fact into a thematic story. As customary history, his descriptions certainly ignored numerous facts, such as the entirety of the Southern founding, her people, their origins, and their customs and conventions. His focus on two events only was myth-building. Tocqueville was correct to see more than one founding event, he was wrong to focus on only the two he chose and ignore others. He was correct to see the concepts of rights, liberty, and justice displayed in America as having an origin aligned with custom and convention rather than theory. It can be argued that his greatest impact was upon others that would follow him in crafting meta-narratives as history, out of whole cloth. By 1838 Abraham Lincoln “proposed to make obedience to the laws, attached to the memory of the Founding, into “the political religion of the nation.” Nineteenth century Republican histography and the Straussian versions that flowed from it certainly follow Tocqueville’s lead.
It was against this backdrop, growing political tendency toward statist and nationalist actions in politics and the hard lessons learned immediately following the Alien and Sedition Acts combined with a growing ideological trend to shape even history to fit an ideology that added iron to Calhoun’s spine and resolve to his words. His speeches, debates, and writing from 1828 on were intended to both stem the tide of statist centralization and provide an alternative that might preserve order, liberty, and convention -that might preserve the republic. His debates with Clay and later with Webster were simply more gentile, refined and polite expressions of the conflict that was to come. His was an argument that “ours is a system of governments, compounded of the separate governments of the several states” each divided into the three spheres, with power divided across the ‘organism’ was a refinement and perfection of Aristotle’s ‘mixed system’. Many have written of this previously, of Calhoun’s ability to see beyond his contemporaries and his efforts to effect solutions that accounted for the true nature of all of America and the various traditions, conventions, and customs therein. It is only relevant herein to acknowledge that Calhoun foresaw the looming danger. His 1842 warning summarizes the opposition to centralization in the age of debate and the coming crisis.
As the government approaches nearer and nearer to the one absolute and singular power, the will of the greater number, its actions will become more and more disturbed and irregular; faction, corruption, and anarchy, will more and more abound; patriotism will daily decay, and affection and reverence for the Government grow weaker and weaker, until the final shock occurs, when the system will rush to ruin, and sword take the place of the law and constitution.
1848 and its Aftermath
The aftermath, and in many cases failure, of the democratic (and sometimes socialist) nationalist revolutions in Europe resulted in both an influx of immigration to the U.S. as well as a flurry of literature and correspondence related to the growing radical zeitgeist. The effects of this immigration of large numbers of people with a philosophical worldview at variance with the conventional American perspective was not without impact on dialogue and ideas of radicalism within the U.S., particularly on radicals, nationalist and centralizers.
A New Order
By 1861, conflict did come. Of that conflict more has been written than any other event in American history, two points are relevant to the discussion here. First, if the ignition was an argument of what to do about slavery the real casus belli was a fundamental difference of interpretation related to the nature of the federal union and constitution. Second, and more importantly, the method and progressively elaborating justifications used by Lincoln simply did not comport with either convention, the rule of law, or ‘originalism’ if one were to believe anything written by the Federalists. In essence, Lincoln had to synthesize a version of customary history that reached back to Puritan ideals (of self-righteousness) and a Ciceroean conception of the founding but also had to include something of Lockean idealism from Jefferson and the Declaration. As argued previously, “the war was a revolution no less than that of 1776, in its aftermath, the very meaning of words changed, the idea of the source of sovereignty and what rule of law meant changed; in essence, a new and very different nation was born.” The only preexistent and settled principle Lincoln might be said to have attempted to uphold was that of order. In order to justify this, both morally and politically, he synthesized ideas he had developed as early as the 1830s – reaching back to find equality in the original formation of the republic where it never existed. The Radicals that followed him completed the centralizing work of the Federalists as George P. Fletcher  contends, we essentially had a second constitution after 1865 based upon “organic nationhood, equality of all persons, and popular democracy” concepts different and opposed to those of our first constitution which promulgated “peoplehood as a voluntary association, individual freedom, and republicanism.
Lincoln’s new centralized nation, focused on equality and the perception of popular democracy was solidified by the enactment of the 14th Amendment, an act Forrest McDonald and others have argued was accomplished contrary to the rule of law.
A Foundational Shift
The change in the very nature of the U.S. political order was perhaps imperceptible to many Americans in 1868, those perhaps not living in the South. On a philosophical level, it was an inarguable change. In 1798 one could have taken the Federalists at their word, the nation created through the ratification of the Constitution was Aristotelian in its alignment with a ‘mixed system’. One could have argued, and many have and still do, that there were Lockean influences. After 1868, the state was a Hobbesian indestructible organism, centered on the Federal government alone. Social order, buttressed by platitudes of equality, was the primary function of government. The ‘rule of law’ had been defined in utilitarian and pragmatic terms rather than virtuous and realistic terms. Everything had fundamentally shifted.
Section One Conclusion
To this juncture, we have established seven points that will be used as axioms for later arguments.
- The Federalists’ view was dominant in the framing of the U.S. Constitution.
- The federalists were primarily influenced by a Roman-centric histography as well as the ideas of Solon, Cicero, Polybius, Marcus Aurelius, and Montesquieu.
- The Federalists valued order above all else.
- The minority view was diverse but within the minority there existed an element that agreed with the federalists the order was of primary importance.
- The Federalists and the antifederalist that valued order over liberty disagreed on how convention and received tradition best ensured ordered liberty – centralization versus localism and subsidiarity.
- Many of the warnings and objections to Federalist proposals were proven true by federalists themselves during their ascendancy to power in the twelve years following ratification.
- The ideology of centralization, statism, and nationalism survived the demise of the Federalists party and drove much of the debate and conflict in the early to mid-19th century America.
- The aftermath of the European uprisings in the late 1840s saw the influx of continental Europeans to the U.S. with traditions, worldviews, and ideologies different than previous generations predominately from the British Isles – more nationalistic and socialist in nature and less Calvinist.
- Lincoln synthesized federalist ideology, a modified version of Tocqueville’s customary history, and Lockean principles of equality into a new nation in a second revolution in the 1860s.
- Centralization was completed by Republican radicals under the color of law through the enactment of the 14th
- The nature of the new republic and new order aligned well with a synthesis of Neoplatonism idealism, Hobbesian dark realism, the pragmatism of Machiavelli, an egalitarian perversion of Locke, utilitarianism of Bentham combined with a religious-like spirit of self-righteousness and improvement(progress).
Centralization has proven negative because it has limited access to representative government, created apathy and mistrust, engendered corruption and cronyism, led to warlike behavior, reduced liberty, denigrated subsidiary institutions that should engender morality, degraded the value and meaning of ‘rule of law’, and has overall instituted a reductionism to the mean and vulgar in culture, education, thought and civility. The American movement toward centralization began within the framework of an idea of a perfected Roman republic, shaped by conviction in the importance of ordered liberty. From the start centralizers and centralization meet opposition, from those that saw liberty and order best served locally and through subsidiarity to those that privileged liberty over order. The victory of Federalist proposals involved some degree of deception and propaganda, a fact that engendered political skepticism and disdain. Despite the collapse it the original party dedicated to centralization and there existing no codified general theory of centralization it persisted and progressed for two reasons. First, it is well-established that human nature generally seeks and expands power. Second, various ideologies, sufficiently diffused into the public mind coalesced in the mid-19th Century into a workable ideological framework that allowed the establishment of a new republic in American (circa 1868) and the beginning of the progressive nationalist era in America and the Western world. Centralization and the incumbent ideologies that have both accompanied it and enabled it has been, in broad and general terms, the prime cause of wars, oppression, and tyranny in the West unprecedented in history.
Throughout the history of western peoples, the concept of faraway rulers is relatively unheard of, and in each case when such has become reality it enjoyed a brief existence. The ‘DNA’ of western man has been, historically, local in nature. The heritage brought to the American shores from the British Isles was one of order established by trial and error and convoluted arrangements of power-sharing, organic and peculiar institutions, variations in local customs, laws and tradition, and even different conceptions of the role of the sovereign. Contrary to Tocqueville’s description of American history, there were not merely two founding events. The waves of Calvinist Scots that landed in places such as Cape Fear North Carolina from the seventeenth through the early nineteenth centuries certainly consisted of a founding of its own. These hearty folks dispersed into the heartland, shaping and affecting culture and politics; perhaps to a greater extent than any other group. There were others. The commonality of these founding events, those that came primarily from an English or Scottish heritage prior to the mid-19th Century, is their heritage of localism, subsidiarity, sense of the importance of place and community, and staunch independence with self-governance resulting from their Calvinism. This is the convention and tradition that formed a bulk of the American people and dominated the culture, religion, and politics of vast swaths of territory. Centralization was anathema to the received traditions and collective memory of these people – it was simply not in their nature. Templating a constricting and repressive alien mold on such a people was destined to result in bad moral, cultural, and societal ends.
Ancient Theories and Warnings of Large Republics and Democracies
The theorist of antiquity had as many negatives to say about large democracies as they did positive, perhaps moreso as it often required philosophical gymnastics to make their imaginary constitutions for imaginary people’ theoretically function. Despite their ineffectiveness in creating systems that functioned in the real world, the ancient philosophers were proficient in identifying the flaws with various systems of government – large, centralized republics and democracies being no exception.
Plato identified the reductionist nature of these systems – ‘reductionism to the mean and vulgar’ mentioned above – by observing that democracy was not designed to inspire the ordinary, non-philosopher, toward good. Democratic man in his eyes potentially becomes “lotus-eaters” assigning equality to unequal things. Aristotle held that men were susceptible to the arguments of sophists. He also contended that larger, as to enable greater military might, was neither the best form of government nor the only way to gain security. Cicero argued that the farther the people are separated from political deliberations the less liberty they enjoy. Certain, it can be argued, that the system initially established under the U.S. Constitution was a ‘mixed system’. Aristotle thought such a system best but considered that it could not survive long uncorrupted. It seems the Congress was intended to represent democratic interest through direct and frequent elections, the Senate both the states and an aristocracy of sorts and the presidency as a monarch of a kind, with limitations and differentiation. Of course, ours was never a true ‘mixed system’, as Hans-Hermann Hoppe argues, the benefit of a monarchy to the people, economy, and culture is a sense of ownership. Petty, self-interested, and short-term political machinations are less observed in a true monarchy simply because the monarch himself, or his prodigy, will be around to face the long-term consequences of short-term decisions.
If a number of the framers of a new nation read with great interest Cicero and his romanticized version of the glories of the Roman republic, St. Augustine saw it as a gigantic larceny, at war internally and therefore externally. Scale does not matter, one man stealing from another is the same as an army sacking a city. Thomas Aquinas, synthesizing Aristotle with convention received through practical application and commented on by Neoplatonist and Cicero, saw the common good as harmony between the pieces and parts of the polis. Not a mere admixture, but building block pieces and institutions, beginning with the family and extending to the sovereign that comprise together and interlaced, subsidiarity. To Aquinas, social order was not the mere absence of conflict, nor the supremacy of one institution or part of the system, the common good could only exist when there was harmony. He saw the best regime, like Aristotle as a mixed regime that comprised monarchy, aristocracy, and polity – Aquinas added the qualifier ‘mixed in harmony’. The harmony prescribed by Aquinas removes the burden of excellence and happiness from the political sphere alone – no longer is government or theories of an ideal government required to produce all that man needs to live a complete life. Harmony between the necessary, essential, and as Russel Kirk would offer, the permanent things are key. The influence of Thomistic thinking is apparent the political heritage of the British Isles as cataloged by Blackstone in 1765, but existent long prior. It is also clear in Scottish legal thinking and education was a definitive influence on James Wilson. While the system of government and the eventual constitution in Britain was not the result of theory but rather a series of ‘accidents and convention’ the recognition that the system consists of subsidiarity, a mixed regime, and of institutions intended to engender virtue as well as jurisprudence based on a foundation of natural law is inescapable – it is Thomistic. This was the legacy and the system that Americans had access to when considering the form and nature of government.
If political convention, custom, and tradition in the West were Thomistic is nature we must admit that Thomas Hobbes is the decisive pivot point, and from the perspective of centralization justified by theory, Hobbes is certainly the main progenitor. While it is difficult to assert that any of those involved in framing the U.S. Constitution read or adhered to a Hobbesian perspective specifically, it is not difficult to see the diffused influence initially, and it is easier still to see his conceptions manifest more over time. Hobbes introduced the notion of dispensing with the old ways as inadequate, in a theory wrapped in science that gained steam. He broached the concept of greater universal equality than previously considered. Locke is credited with the Jeffersonian branch of ideas among the founders, although not universally presnt, yet it must be admitted that the conceptions of Hobbes in the ‘indestructibility’ of government and of universal equality fit much more with the centralist view that eventually came to be reflected by Lincoln. If Locke had a moment in the sun in American political theory, it was brief.
Others followed of course. Montesquieu further attacked the Thomistic tradition and received a wide reading. He also advocated heavily for social order. Both concepts were important in justification for centralization. Hume, quoted by Hamilton in at Federalist No. 85, “dealt a deathblow to natural right”. Hume also advised that established order must be given great weight. Both the concept of diminished natural rights and the primacy of the state would serve the centralist and statist cause – Leviathan cannot really exist in a world where there is a strong preference for natural rights.
Likewise, we might admit that none of the framers of the U.S. Constitution read Immanuel Kant, neither did the incremental centralist between 1798 and 1860, Lincoln too likely never read any of Kant directly. However, it is very likely that by the second quarter of the 19th century, there were those of a statist and centralist perspective certainly had corresponded our dialogued with folks that had read Kant or Kant derived ideologues. Kant was the father of all bad philosophy to follow, giving credence to Hume where Hume was dismissed and repudiating fully the Thomistic tradition. Perhaps more egregiously, it was Kant, a popular voice, a sophist perhaps, that sealed the fate of one of the last voices of common-sense that might have pointed a way toward a more reasonable future – Thomas Reid, by attacking his criticism of Hume’s skepticism as absurd without having apparently read Reid.
Through the diffusion of bad ideas, and the progressive nature of power to seek power, by 1861, Lincoln was imbued with a conception of equality and order, the supremacy and indestructibility of the state, and leveling of men as the key components of what would become the new American order. Statism, nationalism, and centralization had replaced interposition, subsidiarity, convention, and realism. “Organic nationhood, equality of all persons, and popular democracy” replaced “peoplehood as a voluntary association, individual freedom, and republicanism”.
Negative Results of Centralization
Tracing the negative impacts of these changes from 1868 (the coup de grâce of the old order and the formation of a de facto new nation) is problematic and dangerous. In one sense, the culminating events of the Civil War could have become no more significant, in a transformative way, than the Glorious Revolution. After all, the institutions remained, many of the legal words were the same. Americans might have repudiated Lincoln’s action and the notion of centralization as the English did Cromwell. The entire event might have become an ‘accident of history’ that shaped us but did not change us. That we did not chose that path is indicative of the scope and extent of the diffusion of the ideas associated with and enabling those events. As radical as many viewed Lincoln, his ideas were not so radical as to be repudiated, rather they were and are celebrated, his illegal and warlike actions have been validated. It is, therefore, presumable that the nature of American political order changed because the polity changed, some disenfranchised and silenced, others carried away with the exhilaration of the power and possibility that power brings; but we changed, but how far and to what ends?
If we scope our analysis to just the immediate aftermath, perhaps the subsequent sixty-years, we can more reasonably access the impact. Large nations are war-like. From the 1860s to the second decade of the 20th century America was continually at war somewhere, large or small, a trend that has only intensified since. The latter half of the 19th century saw the rise of progressivism, first of a religious nature, and then religious in nature but divorced of the divine. This spawned further expansion of the government, the birth of eugenics, and eventually of abortion as an off-shoot of eugenics. It was Kantian republican nationalism and internationalism that was evident in Woodrow Wilson’s machinations to enter World War One and for the League of Nations. It was ‘do-gooder’ progressivism that was the progenitor of the social justice movement and the final destruction of a culture in the following century.
In essence, everything the antifederalists feared, everything that Calhoun warned of – these and more have been the fruits of centralization and nationalization. One could even argue that the reduction to the mean, man swallowed in a sea of sameness that he is incapable of influencing has exacerbated the influence of bad philosophy, skepticism, relativism, and humanism; these have further separated man from God and religion that honors Him.
Histography, even an attempt at honest histography, is simply inadequate to properly describe the nature of the change from sovereign states in compact, based upon ancient received traditions and customs, to a centralized, all-powerful state than exists solely for its own preservation and the metering out of doles (bread and circuses) as required to mollify the population. Most ideologies left and right, craft narratives that either 1) tell a story of exceptionalism and treat the foundational shift as a mere ‘accident of history’ or 2) deconstruct history based upon postmodern theories of power. Historiography, in the main, has failed to properly identify the change. Philosophy is equally impotent, incapable of discussing truth in a meaningful way. Legal scholars, with few exceptions, have tackled the issues related to the rule of law, the unprecedented events surrounding the enactment, rather than ratification, of the fourteenth amendment; most accept it as settled law even if they know it to be de facto rather than de jure.
We might then say, the first and prime victim of our ‘progress’ toward centralization was truth. Denying truth in the face of what any intelligent observer knows is irregularities only engenders apathy and skepticism. It leads and has led to decadence – just as it did in the Roman Republic some of the framers of the Constitution admired so greatly.
With centralization, we have become warlike, ungodly, morally depraved, slothful, filled with pride and envy, and uncivilized. As Wendell Berry often says, “small is beautiful”, the converse is equally true. Absurdity prevails, The barbarians are and the gate, and we are the barbarians. Only authoritarianism and tyranny can follow.
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Barry Clark [Blog]
The Calhoun Institute, https://calhouninstitute.com/
Dedicated to the purpose of enhancing scholarship, education and critical thinking related to matters of first principles, right reason and good government.
Broden, Morton., The Antifederalist Papers. United States, Michigan State University Press, 1965. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Antifederalist_Papers/u5aGAAAAMAAJ.
Brown, Weldon A. Empire or Independence: A Study in the Failure of Reconciliation, 1774-1783. Port Washington, N.Y: Kennikat Press, 1966. https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-03-02-0052.
Caesar, James., Designing a Polity: America’s Constitution in Theory and Practice, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Dec 16, 2010. pp. 38-39. https://books.google.com/books?id=WTz-2DB0Xb8C.
Ceaser, James W. “Alexis De Tocqueville and the Two-Founding Thesis.” The Review of Politics, vol. 73, no. 2, 2011, pp. 219–243. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23016380.
Cheek, H. Lee, Calhoun and Popular Rule: The Political Theory of the Disquisition and Discourse, University of Missouri Press, 2004. https://books.google.com/books?id=jZcVN3r9Bz8C.
Clark, Barry, The First War of the New Order: How Rule of Law and the Form of Government Changed in America’s Second Revolution (February 7, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2728971 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2728971.
Clark, B.L., The Philosophy of Commonsense, The Calhoun Institute, Abbeville, SC, 2019. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Philosophy_of_Commonsense/CK6-DwAAQBAJ.
Croxton, Derek. 1999. “The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 and the Origins of Sovereignty.” The International History Review 21 (3). http://www.jstor.org.lumen.cgsccarl.com/stable/40109077.
Ewald, William, “James Wilson and the Scottish Enlightenment” (2010). Faculty Scholarship. Paper 989.
Fisher, S G, The True History of the American Revolution, Collection Canadiana de Louis Melzack (J.B. Lippincott, 1902), https://books.google.com/books?id=SZccAAAAMAAJ.
Fletcher, G P. 2003. Our Secret Constitution: How Lincoln Redefined American Democracy. Oxford University Press. https://books.google.com/books?id=P5VSyor50fIC.
Forbes, Alexander M. “Johnson, Blackstone, and the Tradition of Natural Law.” Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature, vol. 27, no. 4, 1994, pp. 81–98. JSTOR. www.jstor.org/stable/24775800.
Hoppe, Hans-Hermann. Democracy – The God That Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy and Natural Order., Taylor & Francis, 2018. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Democracy_The_God_That_Failed/bvdKDwAAQBAJ.
Hummell, J.R., “The Constitution as counterrevolution: A tribute to the Anti-Federalists”, Independent Institute, https://www.independent.org/news/article.asp?id=1400.
Huntington, Samuel P. Who are We. United States, Simon and Schuster, 2004. https://books.google.com/books?id=6xiYiybkE8kC.
Kirk, Russell. The Roots of American Order. United States, Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ORD), 2014. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Roots_of_American_Order/xNQ6AwAAQBAJ.
Marina, William., “Only 1/3rd of Americans Supported the American Revolution?”, History News Network, Columbian College of Arts & Sciences, August 08, 2005. https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/5641.
McDonald, Forrest, et al. The Annotated Secessionist Papers. The Calhoun Institute., Abbeville, 2018. “Was the Fourteenth Amendment Constitutionally Adopted?”. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Annotated_Secessionist_Papers/-jVhDwAAQBAJ. Originally published, Georgia Journal of Southern Legal History, 1991.
Pole, J.R. The Federalist. Hackett Publishing, Cambridge, 2005. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Federalist/IGlt_DahElUC.
Robinson, Daniel N. “The Scottish Enlightenment and the American Founding.” The Monist, vol. 90, no. 2, 2007, pp. 170–181. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27904025.
Strauss, Leo, Cropsey, Joseph. History of Political Philosophy. United States, University of Chicago Press, 2012. https://www.google.com/books/edition/History_of_Political_Philosophy/E7mScxst9UoC.
Towsey, Mark, ‘Philosophically playing the Devil’: recovering readers’ responses to David Hume and the Scottish Enlightenment, Historical Research, Volume 83, Issue 220, May 2010, Pages 301–320, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2281.2009.00503.x.
 S G Fisher, The True History of the American Revolution, Collection Canadiana de Louis Melzack (J.B. Lippincott, 1902), https://books.google.com/books?id=SZccAAAAMAAJ.
 Ibid. p. 109.
 See, “The American Revolution and the Minority Myth”, Independent Institute, (Originally published in Modern Age) January 1, 1975. https://www.independent.org/publications/article.asp?id=1398.
 Kirk, Russell. The Roots of American Order. United States, Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ORD), 2014. (Amazon eReader), Ch. 11, Loc 6708. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Roots_of_American_Order/xNQ6AwAAQBAJ.
 See, King George III speaks to Parliament of American rebellion, October 26, 1775. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.rbc/rbpe.10803800.
 Marina, William., “Only 1/3rd of Americans Supported the American Revolution?”, History News Network, Columbian College of Arts & Sciences, August 08, 2005. https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/5641.
 S. G. Fisher, p.7.
 See complete text, Olive Branch Petition, July 8, 1775, https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Olive_Branch_Petition.
 Brown, Weldon A. Empire or Independence: A Study in the Failure of Reconciliation, 1774-1783. Port Washington, N.Y: Kennikat Press, 1966. https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-03-02-0052. Adams letter calling for more military action was intercepted by the British who assumed that the Olive Branch Petition was insincere. One could argue that Adam’s actions were reckless, and seditious not only to the Crown but to his compatriots in the Continental Congress, perhaps even a calculated attempt to foil attempts at a peaceful resolution and force war.
 ‘conspirators’ is a word one can rightly apply based upon the depth and breadth of their actions during the 1760s to 1790s. Applied in the most basic definition of the word, without assumed bias, it certainly fits their actions.
 J.R. Pole. The Federalist. Hackett Publishing, Cambridge, 2005. p. 110. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Federalist/IGlt_DahElUC.
 Resolution of Congress, February 21, 1787. http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/a7s1.html.
 Much like the Patriot Act, consisting of thousands of pages was written long before 9/11 and sat on a shelf awaiting the right crisis.
 J.R. Pole. The Federalist. p. 87. See Hamilton in Number Sixteen, “I confess I am at a loss to discover what temptations the persons entrusted with the administration of the general government could ever feel to divest the states of the authorities of that description.” A ‘confession’ not based upon honest historical observation.
 Broden, Morton., The Antifederalist Papers. United States, Michigan State University Press, 1965. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Antifederalist_Papers/u5aGAAAAMAAJ.
 See, https://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/debates_615.asp#1.
 See, https://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/vatexta.asp.
 One can rightly argue, only a tapestry of Locke covering a foundation of Hobbes, centered on Cicero and Neoplatonism.
 Hummell, J.R., The Constitution as counterrevolution: A tribute to the Anti-Federalists, Independent Institute, https://www.independent.org/news/article.asp?id=1400.
 See, Religious Tests and oaths in State Constitutions. 1776-1784, https://csac.history.wisc.edu/document-collections/religion-and-the-ratification/religious-test-clause/religious-tests-and-oaths-in-state-constitutions-1776-1784/.
 Kirk, Russell. The Roots of American Order. Ch. 1, Loc 350.
 Ibid. Ch. 1.
 Ibid. Ch. 2.
 Ibid. Ch.3, Loc. 1167.
 Ibid. Ch.3. Loc. 1252.
 Ibid. Ch. 4.
 Ibid. Ch. 3. Loc. 1212.
 Ibid. Ch.4. Loc. 1947.
 Ibid. Ch. 4. Loc. 1973.
 Ibid. Ch. 10. Loc. 6185.
 Mark Towsey, ‘Philosophically playing the Devil’: recovering readers’ responses to David Hume and the Scottish Enlightenment, Historical Research, Volume 83, Issue 220, May 2010, Pages 301–320, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2281.2009.00503.x.
 Robinson, Daniel N. “The Scottish Enlightenment and the American Founding.” The Monist, vol. 90, no. 2, 2007, pp. 170–181. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27904025.
 See, “Providence and the Straussian Narrative”, https://calhouninstitute.com/providence-and-the-straussian-narrative/.
 See, https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Paris_(1783).
 Croxton, Derek. 1999. “The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 and the Origins of Sovereignty.” The International History Review 21 (3). http://www.jstor.org.lumen.cgsccarl.com/stable/40109077.
 See, https://avalon.law.yale.edu/17th_century/westphal.asp.
 Broden, Morton., The Antifederalist Papers. No. 39 “Appearance and Reality —
the Form Is Federal; the Effect Is National”, http://resources.utulsa.edu/law/classes/rice/Constitutional/AntiFederalist/39.htm.
 Strauss, Leo, Cropsey, Joseph. History of Political Philosophy. United States, University of Chicago Press, 2012. p. 762. https://www.google.com/books/edition/History_of_Political_Philosophy/E7mScxst9UoC.
 Ceaser, James W. “Alexis De Tocqueville and the Two-Founding Thesis.” The Review of Politics, vol. 73, no. 2, 2011, pp. 219–243. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23016380.
 Huntington, Samuel P.. Who are We. United States, Simon and Schuster, 2004. p. 49. https://books.google.com/books?id=6xiYiybkE8kC.
 Caesar, James., Designing a Polity: America’s Constitution in Theory and Practice, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Dec 16, 2010. pp. 38-39. https://books.google.com/books?id=WTz-2DB0Xb8C.
 Clark, Barry, The First War of the New Order: How Rule of Law and the Form of Government Changed in America’s Second Revolution (February 7, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2728971 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2728971.
 Ceaser, James W. “Alexis De Tocqueville and the Two-Founding Thesis.”, p. 241.
 H. Lee Cheek, Calhoun and Popular Rule: The Political Theory of the Disquisition and Discourse, University of Missouri Press, 2004, p. 41. https://books.google.com/books?id=jZcVN3r9Bz8C.
 Ibid. p. 131.
 Ibid. p. 156. From Calhoun’s “Speech in Support of the Veto Power, February 28, 1842
 Clark, B.L., The Philosophy of Commonsense, The Calhoun Institute, Abbeville, SC, 2019. p. 102. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Philosophy_of_Commonsense/CK6-DwAAQBAJ.
 Fletcher, a lawyer and legal historian, was an advocate for what Lincoln wrought, his provocative book title and assertion that Lincoln perpetrated a second revolution was intended as praise.
 Fletcher, G P. 2003. Our Secret Constitution: How Lincoln Redefined American Democracy. Oxford University Press. https://books.google.com/books?id=P5VSyor50fIC.
 McDonald, Forrest, et al. The Annotated Secessionist Papers. The Calhoun Institute., Abbeville, 2018. “Was the Fourteenth Amendment Constitutionally Adopted?” p. 40. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Annotated_Secessionist_Papers/-jVhDwAAQBAJ. Originally published, Georgia Journal of Southern Legal History, 1991.
 See, Scottish Influence in Early Southern American Culture, http://barryclark.info/geneology/scottish-influence-early-southern-american-culture-alexander-clark/.
 Strauss, Leo, Cropsey, Joseph. History of Political Philosophy. p. 63.
 Ibid. p. 64.
 Ibid. p. 121.
 Ibid. p. 149.
 Ibid. p. 163.
 Hoppe, Hans-Hermann. Democracy – The God That Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy and Natural Order., Taylor & Francis, 2018. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Democracy_The_God_That_Failed/bvdKDwAAQBAJ.
 Strauss, Leo, Cropsey, Joseph. History of Political Philosophy. p. 189.
 Ibid. pp. 255-256.
 Ibid. p. 257.
 Forbes, Alexander M. “Johnson, Blackstone, and the Tradition of Natural Law.” Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature, vol. 27, no. 4, 1994, pp. 81–98. JSTOR. p. 84., www.jstor.org/stable/24775800.
 Ewald, William, “James Wilson and the Scottish Enlightenment” (2010). Faculty Scholarship. Paper 989.
 Strauss, Leo, Cropsey, Joseph. History of Political Philosophy. p. 396.
 Ibid. p. 399.
 Ibid. p. 535.
 See, Scottish School of Common Sense, https://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/scottish-school-of-common-sense.
 Fletcher, G P. 2003. Our Secret Constitution: How Lincoln Redefined American Democracy.
 Clark, Barry, The Rise of Absurdity in Western Philosophical and Political Views (January 22, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3523995 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3523995.
 Clark, Barry, From Radical Progressivism to Authoritarianism (December 19, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3506918 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3506918.
 W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming, 1919.
Be the first to comment on "Centralization and the New American Order"