Monday, April 30, 2007

"The Radicalism of the American Revolution" and "The Frozen Republic"

By Gordon S. Wood and Daniel Lazare, respectively. Just added them to the sidebar. I know, I know, the thing is getting to be endless, but these are two really worth checking out. I was trying to find a quote by Thomas Paine where he essentially laughs at the concept of three equal branches of government by saying that there can be only one branch where power is located; if you have three branches trying to check each other than either no one's in charge, or the real power is obscured. I knew I got it from somewhere, but it's hard to find in his collected works. Aha! It's in Daniel Lazare's book "The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution is Paralyzing Democracy". Paine's argument is really good, for the not too hard to see reason that the executive, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch serve completely different purposes: there's no equivalency between them, especially not between the Executive and Legislative, on the one hand, and the Judiciary on the other. Government is made up of making an executing laws, checking them by means of a constitutionality test is an adjunct process to real government. The executive is the body that governs, and that checks the legislative branch; the Supreme Court in practice checks the legislative branch; Congress can only really indirectly challenge the power of the executive---unless it wants to impeach every single appointee that messes up. Sure, they say that the legislative has power over the executive because they have to approve appointees, but that doesn't have anything to do with removing people who were already approved from office when they're found to have really fucked up or to have done something really malicious. Neither is the fact that they can obstruct the passage of legislation by the executive branch really a check either because it works both ways---the party of the President can obstruct the passage of bills hostile to it too.

In practice it comes down to power politics between the President and the Congress, not an orderly system of checks and balances, and in that situation the President has much more power to start with and any real radical power that Congress can have over the President has to be basically taken, with the hope that the Supreme Court won't overturn it later.

That's where "The Frozen Republic" comes in. In it, Lazare argues for a Parliamentary form of government for the U.S.A., outlining how that's different from what we have now, basing his proposal on the British system. Britain has no fixed constitution; it's all a series of interlocking precedents which can be changed by legislation. The equivalent of the Supreme Court doesn't have anywhere as much power as the American Supreme Court, and the executive branch is subordinated to the legislative branch. In other words, there's no system of checks and balances.

Yet Britian hasn't become some sort of lawless state where government either doesn't work or exercizes some sort of dictatorship over people, with the feared majority abusing the weak (yet wealthy) minority.

It's a really good read.

Lazare's main weakness is that he advocates a unitary state, like England, in other words proposing that the power of the States themselves to initiate independant legislation be reduced, making the Federal government and the Congress the main law making bodies for the entire U.S.

This isn't just unworkable but if it was ever realized it would create this continent wide monster federal government beyond the dreams of even the most paranoid conservative.

That's where "Radicalism of the American Revolution" by Gordon S. Wood comes in. Wood, who is a social historian focussing on how political ideology is conceptualized by regular people and how that evolves, focusses mainly on the initial period of the Revolutionary war and the articles of the Confederacy and describes the social and cultural changes that happened during that time. He gets to the Constitutional period late in the book and examines in detail the differences between the thought of the Revolutoinary period and immediately after and that of the Federalist point of view.

Buy it now! You'll never regret it! It'll change your life! It'll make you happy!

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