Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“An elephant. A mouse built to government specifications.”     Robert A. Heinlein,    The Notebooks of Lazarus Long

November 30, 2007

Federalism vs. Individual Freedom

by Brad Warbiany

The Constitutionalism of Ron Paul has ignited a debate that’s sorely needed in this country. The Founding Fathers envisioned a nation of individual States, each with its own quirks and ideas, and each with wide latitudes to set its own internal laws and policies as it saw fit. The central government was tasked only with foreign affairs and acting as arbiter of inter-state matters. The individual States had nearly full sovereignty with most other affairs. In many ways, the United States was set up with a roughly similar mix between central authority and State sovereignty as the current EU.

Ron Paul and many libertarians reflexively yearn for a return to such an idea. The central government we have now is a behemoth, trampling our freedoms under its oppressive taxes and mountains of regulation. Even worse, the system is largely out of control, and citizens have almost no power over its workings. Devolving power to the States and local governments would counter the dilution of power that naturally occurs when one is a single voice out of 300 million. Petitioning your city or state representative is much more effective than some Senator who may represent several million people.

Inherent in the assumption by these libertarians, though, is that moving power to smaller levels of government will improve individual freedom. I’m not sure that assumption is accurate. There are pros and cons of both systems.

Federalism:

On the positive side, federalism allows for experiments in freedom. States and localities compete on a whole host of aspects, such as taxation, regulation, and social policies. In many instances, it allows those states to do things that would not be allowed in a true top-down structure. In some cases, that may be liberalized policies such as California allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana, the city of Galveston, Texas to opt out of social security for their retirement plans, or states like Massachusetts recognizing gay marriages. These are all things that individual states or localities are doing to increase personal freedoms.

But there’s a big negative. Many policies undertaken by individual states inimical to individual freedom. For example, the trend to outlaw smoking in private businesses would be a simple example. Another fairly innocuous example would be the crazy alcohol “blue laws” dotting the nation, many of which have absolutely no justification and are simply a way to appease special interests at the expense of freedom. On a more serious note would be the “Jim Crow” laws, or if you’re looking for a modern incarnation, Massachusetts’ new health-care plan. States are laboratories for new policies, but those policies are not always pro-freedom.

Central Government:

The benefit of central government mandates are simple: if the central government does something right, it can immediately apply that across the country. Many of our Constitutional amendments have followed this path, such as the 24th, eliminating a poll tax. It was a way to end an immoral form of discrimination in a place which sorely needed it. Similarly, while the 14th amendment may have opened the door to some very strange unintended consequences, the idea is purely in favor of liberty: to make sure that individual states and localities cannot engage in unfair discriminates against individuals based on things such as race or gender.

But again, there’s a big negative. As co-contributor tarran quoted Barry Goldwater to me in a discussion on this topic, “The government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take it all away.” Look no further than the government’s failed attempt at Prohibition, a distinctly anti-freedom policy that might have been proven to be damaging if done in individual states that was instead foisted on the entire nation. Even worse, our central government has the potential to cut down individual states’ pro-freedom policies at the knees, as we saw in Raich.

So what’s best?

Well, the ideal government would be a single world government that was only powerful enough to protect freedom but disciplined enough not to infringe on individual freedom for the “common good”. However, such a government has never existed, will never exist, and with the incentives inherent in government, can never exist. So looking at the ideal government is not a useful way to answer this question.

The best way to answer this question is to ask how federalism relates to individual freedom. I used “vs.” in the title of this post for a reason. Of course, I don’t believe that federalism works contrary to individual freedom. However, I don’t think it necessarily works FOR individual freedom either. Federalism is only a tool for individual freedom if the people in a region believe in individual freedom, likewise a strong central government is only as damaging to individual freedom as the populace allows it to become.

Where federalism does shine, however, is in giving individuals choice over what mix of freedom and of taxation/regulation they prefer. However, as the differences in politics between the “liberal” and “conservative” states show, federalism does not automatically equal liberty. In states like California, there are large degrees of personal freedom, but not much economic freedom. In states such as Georgia, there is a large degree of economic freedom, but the level of social conservatism circumscribes personal freedoms. All this occurs in the spheres of control outside those of the central government, and I see no reason to believe this would not be the case if the central government were weakened.

The problem, whether you look at the central government or individual states, is that the government will only be as pro-liberty as the populace it represents. If you’re in Massachusetts, you just might get a weak version of socialized medicine through “mandatory coverage”. If you’re in Alaska, you may find nearly non-existent government that actually pays you out of oil revenues to live there.

But as I mentioned, if you then have a choice between Massachusetts and Alaska, you have a lot more choice than between America and Australia. The closer in proximity those choices become, for example between Taxachusetts and the Free State, and the better it will be for lovers of liberty. And the weaker the central government is, the more differentiation there will be between more-free and less-free states.

Federalism is not a panacea that will solve our nation’s problems. It’s a step in the right direction, but it must always be remembered that the message must be about freedom, not about federalism. Federalism is a potential means to the end, but it is not the end in itself.

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18 Comments

  1. it must always be remembered that the message must be about freedom, not about federalism. Federalism is a potential means to the end, but it is not the end in itself.

    But how do you sell freedom to people who think they’re already free? Or to people who honestly believe freedoms aren’t absolute?

    I can sell federalism; that’s easy. I just point out that one-size-fits-all solutions are guaranteed to piss off 49% of the country (and they’re liable to be in that group 50% of the time) and then invite them to stake out their own little no-smoking enclave so long as tolerate the neighboring smoking enclave.

    But freedom? That word has been so mangled that I don’t know how to sell it to anyone that doesn’t already agree with me.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — November 30, 2007 @ 4:31 am
  2. The only way I can think of to sell freedom is to set a good example and win the war on ideas.

    Comment by uhm — November 30, 2007 @ 5:25 am
  3. If people choose to believe in hypotheses — adopt them as working beliefs in conjunction with others who share those beliefs on their own TERRITORY — it cannot be the business of a free society to oppose them. If the 13th and 14th Amendment are consistent with a free society then their interpretation must be limited to providing equal access to such territorial freedom of association for all citizens.

    This means Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is — and any other so-called “anti-discrimination” laws that violate territorial freedom of association for all citizens — are simply a way for one group of people to impose their beliefs on others providing “no place”, ie: TERRITORY, to put opposing beliefs to the test by freely associating adults and their families.

    You do not have a right to impose your religious beliefs on others if others are not imposing their religious beliefs on you. The moment you do, you lose your rights and self-defense justifies any action against you.

    Comment by James Bowery — November 30, 2007 @ 5:41 am
  4. The big positive to Federalism, the way I see it, is that if you live in an area or state that limits too many of your freedoms, then you can at least consider a move to a state which is more in line with your personal views. While that may or may not be practicable for most people, it is one of the few ways to effect change when your views are outnumbered.

    Comment by Kay — November 30, 2007 @ 5:58 am
  5. “Well, the ideal government would be a single world government that was only powerful enough to protect freedom but disciplined enough not to infringe on individual freedom for the “common good”. However, such a government has never existed, will never exist, and with the incentives inherent in government, can never exist. So looking at the ideal government is not a useful way to answer this question.”

    I’ve been kicking a somewhat similar concept around in my head for awhile. Ultimately, I think the ideal government is more realistic and achievable than you’d think, albeit extremely far off.

    My feeling is that the concept of federalism really does come close to an ideal since it attempts to create something resembling a free market in government. A real global federalism would thus be something equivalent to an ideal. The biggest problem is with the high costs of moving, but a properly run system of federalism at least can prevent local governments from imposing additional costs to moving.

    Federalism’s greatest advantage is its ability to limit the effects of “tyranny of the majority” to smaller geographic areas. Properly instituted, the preemptive power of the central government can also be used to protect minority rights in areas where the “tyranny of the majority” has relegated the minority to the status of being powerless. The trouble of course is the phrase “properly instituted.”

    Comment by Mark — November 30, 2007 @ 7:26 am
  6. Jeff,

    I can sell federalism; that’s easy. I just point out that one-size-fits-all solutions are guaranteed to piss off 49% of the country (and they’re liable to be in that group 50% of the time) and then invite them to stake out their own little no-smoking enclave so long as tolerate the neighboring smoking enclave.

    The problem with that is that the best you can offer them is that they’re going to be pissed off 20-30% of the time, not 50% of the time. And it doesn’t get to the root of the problem, because they then believe it is moral to vote away the freedoms of the 30% that are unlike them.

    It’s a pragmatic answer, but not a really effective sale (more on that in a moment).

    But freedom? That word has been so mangled that I don’t know how to sell it to anyone that doesn’t already agree with me.

    Again, if you’re looking to sell, let me give an example. I work in the technology industry, in a commodity market. But our product is differentiated from the commodity suppliers by our technology and our business model. I can go into a customer and try as hard as I can to sell on price, but my sale is only as effective as long as I can remain the low price guy. If I sell the technology, though, and make the customer believe in what we’re doing, not only are they willing to pay a higher price but they know that they’re receiving value for that price. The sale is permanent, as long as I live up to the promises made.

    It’s the same way with freedom vs. federalism. Federalism is an easy sell: “Go live with people who believe what you believe, and you’ll be generally happy.” Sure, that works, but it doesn’t necessarily enhance freedom. All it does is create pockets where different aspects of life are more or less free, and allows individuals to choose a mix of freedom vs. regulation. That’s an improvement, but it’s not changing hearts and minds. Freedom is a much harder sell. Especially when you’re selling something that runs contrary to someone’s personal preferences (such as the smoking ban). After all, most people don’t like being around smoke, so to get them to understand that they still don’t have the right to stop people from smoking on a business owner’s private property runs contrary to their personal wishes. But if you make the sale, it’s a permanent sale. Once someone “gets it”, they get it for good.

    I understand where you’re coming from. You’re selling federalism, i.e. find people who you can live with that will give you the freedoms most important to you. I’m selling freedom, i.e. it is wrong for you to take away others’ freedom and it is wrong for them to take that freedom away from you, and BOTH should stop. You’re selling a pragmatic compromise, I’m selling a value system of right vs. wrong. It’s a lot harder to do the latter, but when it works, it’s much more effective.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — November 30, 2007 @ 8:14 am
  7. I am a libertarian not only because I would enjoy my life more if the government weren’t involved, but because I think freedom actually WORKS and is practically better (Socially, economically, whatever). More prosperity, more freedom, higher standard of living for the most people.

    In the case of federalism there very well may be instances on a state scale or smaller where individual freedom is infringed for the “greater good” or some other dreamt up viture. I believe those schemes will fail , and a situation very similiar to the free market will occur where states and local governments compete for the best policies (if your state is failing, and a neigboring state is prospering, you’re going to want to change to be like them). This is how we got to have the municipal services that we like (public roads, schools, police, etc.) they were tried on a small scale, they worked, the idea spread to other localities.

    Based on that philosophy I think the more localized govt the better. By contrast the stronger centralized govt is worse.

    Comment by mike — November 30, 2007 @ 8:37 am
  8. It is also important to keep in mind that the original 1789 Constitution, even before the Fourteenth Amendment and even before the Bill of Rights, still placed individual liberty above states powers. See Article I, Section 10 and especially Article IV, Section 2, Clause 1.

    Comment by KipEsquire — November 30, 2007 @ 9:09 am
  9. This is an excellent article. By citing federalism and what it is capable of, you have correctly pointed out the possibilities of freedom.

    I will have to disagree, however, that federalism does not equal complete liberty and has a negative side regarding anything that does not equate to small government.

    A concept that enjoys remaining elusive is that true freedom is the freedom to not be free just as much as it is to be free. Choosing big government is just as related to freedom as choosing small government.

    That’s because freedom is about choice. And the fact of the matter is that many people WANT to have big government in their lives. Forcing small government on everyone is just as tyrannical as forcing big government on everyone, simply because it’s an ideal being forced against many people’s choice. It’s no different than forcing any other ideal. Force is force.

    What might be your preference for freedom is not going to be someone else’s preference. This is why we are so divided as a nation. This is why we have politics to begin with, because we keep trying to force only one preference on everyone.

    Confederations and federations provide the only answers we have yet to come up with that provide true freedom, by allowing multiple states to be “experiments in freedom”, as you said.

    Those experiments are going to represent a range of ideals, whether socialist high-tax states, to libertarian low-tax states, to blue law religious doctrine states, to moderate states that include an even mix of everything, and all in-between. And there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s freedom.

    The freedom to choose any of those things is true freedom. Federalism provides that freedom.

    Comment by DK — November 30, 2007 @ 9:12 am
  10. As a libertarian its hard to find a good compromise without giving up too much of the core belief in freedom. I think federalism still offers the best chance at pragmatically increasing the ability for like-minded libertarians to find a place in the American system. There is also the simple matter of economic efficiency – that is, sending taxes halfway across the country in hopes that they will make it back to you in the form of public services is like begging for a lower return on your dollar. I don’t mind spending tax money on schools and hospitals, but it only makes financial sense to do so at the local/state level.

    Comment by underground — November 30, 2007 @ 9:13 am
  11. Well, technically, the only “services” that you should be provided at the federal level by your taxes are things like national defense, national justice system, commerce regulation, and things of that nature.

    The more the federal government becomes involved, the less chance federalism and the ability for states to create their own levels/forms of government has to work.

    Schools and hospitals, as you said, should be paid for at the local and/or state level in any manner that each local or state sees fit, whether through a high-tax socialist state, or a low-tax libertarian state, or whatever.

    Comment by DK — November 30, 2007 @ 9:34 am
  12. “The Founding Fathers envisioned a nation of individual States, each with its own quirks and ideas, and each with wide latitudes to set its own internal laws and policies as it saw fit. The central government was tasked only with foreign affairs and acting as arbiter of inter-state matters. The individual States had nearly full sovereignty with most other affairs. In many ways, the United States was set up with a roughly similar mix between central authority and State sovereignty as the current EU.”

    Is this really a good thing? After all, the Founding Fathers promoted this system because the Southerners didn’t want a strong national government threatening slavery and I’m sure that some Northerners didn’t like the idea of a national government threatening their system of state-sponsored religion.

    Comment by FreedomDemocrat — November 30, 2007 @ 12:50 pm
  13. Wrong. The whole idea of going to a stronger central government than that provided by the Articles of Confederation was due to the the slave-owning founding fathers wanting a stronger central government with which to suppress Shay’s Rebellion, which arose because the Yeomen farmers who had fought the Revolutionary War were being put in a position of paying off war debts which endangered their subsistence.

    It was slave owning that resulted in a strong central government.

    Proof of this is even found in the Civil War where slavery of individuals was replaced by slavery of all States — even those which had never participated in slavery in a major way.

    Proof of this is the fact that if New Hampshire were to try to secede, for example, they would find themselves subject to armed invasion by the Feds.

    Comment by James Bowery — November 30, 2007 @ 3:48 pm
  14. individual states should know better how to tax themselves and take care of their affairs. “should.” states with high %minorities would actually be more represented in this era. “would.”

    i think irl in this era, your average citizen is both much more apathetic to any democratic process, as well as much stupider. much, much stupider. so given the deterioration of the populace, federalism will be the only choice in the future.

    Comment by oilnwater — December 2, 2007 @ 11:13 am
  15. ^^^ d’oh! i meant central govt, not federalism, is the only choice in the future ^^

    Comment by oilnwater — December 2, 2007 @ 2:43 pm
  16. oilnwater,

    Funny thing. As the Department of Education in Washington spends more and more money, our populace becomes ever “stupider”…

    Maybe if we broke the government’s monopoly on education (with a voucher system) we might see a better-informed populace?

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — December 3, 2007 @ 8:25 am
  17. Brad,

    People tend to become as dumb as they can get away with. If they can’t get away with being really stupid about their decision, they’ll learn quickly and smarten up.

    That’s why protecting the consumer from themselves is the worst thing you can do for the intelligence of the American population. Whereas before regulations, we only had a subset of people that made unwise decisions, under the new regulations, everyone can afford to be stupid and thus become that stupid.

    Government’s monopoly on education merely destroys the quality of education. At least people still crave better education. They’ll try to figure out ways around it (homeschooling!). Against the dumbing effects of regulation, there is no such motivation and there is no such desire to be smarter.

    Comment by TanGeng — December 3, 2007 @ 8:46 am
  18. “Do not separate text from historical background. If you do, you will have perverted and subverted the Constitution, which can only end in a distorted, bastardized form of illegitimate government.”–James Madison

    Indeed that is exactly what we have seen in this country is a distorted, bastardized form of illegitimate government. Because of the use of such arbitrary interpretation and therefore application, I think we should not be surprised when someone like Bush overtly trespasses against the Constitution. The Constitution’s standing in this country has been neutralized by a variety of political philosophies, the least of these are those who advocate original intent based upon a Christianized view of the founding of this country. Others have simply sought to render it so flexible that it no longer retains the viability of protection that they claim to support. These factions fail to see the meanings behind the principles, those both philosophical and practical. The principles, upon which the Constitution was structured, in a real sense, are neither totally static nor dynamic, but both and are essential to good government and to the pursuit of happiness by the people.

    This country has not seen such a critical a time in our political concerns as we now face and it is primarily due to the fact that we have allowed various political ideologies to arbitrarily interpret the Constitution to fit their particular ideological points of view. Today, our country not only stands before a period of extremes, but dangerous extremes that could, with ease, erase what we have always considered as particularly and essentially the American guarantee of the individual’s claim to Liberty. Instead of a country filled with free people, who assert their dignity through Liberty, we have become subjected to the will of a government that sets its own parameters of its reach and authority through the arbitrary interpretation and application of law. Principles are no longer considered inviolate, but are subject to the political whims of the day, whether those whims are Liberal, Conservative, Neo-Conservative or any other political ideology. Today we happen to be witness to the “living Constitution” as the Neo-Conservatives view it; tomorrow we might be witness to another group and their interpretation. Therein is the danger of such an arbitrary interpretation.

    When any political ideology or philosophy extends an arbitrary utility over a Constitutional principle, it does so at its own peril. I say that because, as we see with the Bush Administration, it is then easy for any group to take liberties with those principles and thus affect one or more sections of an opposing party or interest. Once the door is open to accept and approve the arbitrary interpretation and application of the Constitution, and then it becomes much easier for abuse to ensue. If the principles found within the Constitution are not foundational to both government and the People, then those principles will always be usurped, abused or denied. When the principles of the Constitution are no longer viewed as essential and therefore open to any interpretation, then they provide no protection from potential abuse by those of any political agenda.

    One amazing fact is that the various political ideologies always seem to support some degree of Constitutional stretch when it follows their own particular political agenda, but when an opposing agenda stretches beyond the bounds of the Constitution there is an uproar and condemnation. It was easy for the Republicans; for instance, to condemn the Clinton Administration over its Constitutional abuses but not its own abuses now that Bush is in office. Likewise, the cry from the Democrats is equally as adamant when a Republican abuses those powers and reaches beyond the Constitution in one way or another when those breaches are contrary to their own agenda. The government seeks the ease of power and yet the Constitution was created to make it cumbersome to govern, thereby removing the potential for both consolidation of powers and the abuse of such powers. Checks and balances are extremely cumbersome, viewed as outdated and inapplicable in our day and age, is it any wonder that the view of foundational and inviolate principles is looked upon with such disdain? It is symptomatic of all centralized governments to seek power for it eases its ability to rule, a fact that history bears out to be true.

    When we allow a very relative interpretation and application of Constitutional principles to prevail then not only will power seek the level of its own expression, but, in every case, the People will end up being the ones to eventually suffer the consequences of such relativity. Government bureaucrat’s prize relativity, for it removes restraints regarding the application of government statute over the principles designed to constrain such powers.

    This government cannot do anything unless we cede it the power to do so, that includes the abridgement of our Rights. The Bush Administration is only following a path that was already well beaten when it came to power. Granted, it has extended its power beyond anything seen since the Wilson Administration, but never the less, it is far from being an action beyond precedent.

    Political decentralization, a key structure found within the Constitution, is interwoven with the ideals of Individual Liberty. While it is the responsibility of the individual to place demands upon government for the appropriate execution of the Rights that foster such Liberty, it is not without precedent for any government, limited or not, to usurp and consolidate power to the bereft of the individual. Today we are witness to a vast number of powerful interests, both social and economic, manipulating government to the benefit of their particular agendas, all done, of course, under the carefully crafted guise of democratic freedom. People have always clamored over the promises of politics rather than the reality of politics and politicians are all too eager to oblige such inclinations of the People thus gaining their allegiance and support. The political reality of the day however, is far too disturbing to be spoken by the majority of politicians today; it is simply not palatable to the electorate.

    Currently we are asked to “voluntarily” relinquish a great many of our Rights, in one degree or another, for the sake of security. It is not the first time the government has made such requests, doubtless it will not be the last, but we must remember what we do when we allow such license to government. When extra-Constitutional license is ceded to government, the government will always willingly accept for it is in the nature of government to govern more by force than by consent.

    It is easy to see that the decline of Classical Liberalism in our society is mirrored by an increased power and centralization of The State as it takes advantage of the decline of citizen action and influence. The philosophy of Classical Liberalism that once prevailed in this country has been silent for far too long and thankfully it is experiencing a revival of sorts, partly out of necessity and partly out of the utter disgust with the quandary that passes as government in this country.

    Until the People openly oppose all attempts to evade Constitutional Order then we will all continue to be in jeopardy from those who have shown no qualms at its usurpation at the expense of the People. Unless we oppose all efforts to abridge our Rights and Liberties by any government, political party or ideology then we will continue down the road where our Rights are totally contingent upon the winds of political expediency.

    If the People take those vital principles for granted or if we continue to excuse them as outdated or ineffectual for our time, even though they were specifically designed to protect all of us, then why should we be surprised when the government takes advantage of our own complacency as we readily cede such power and grant such license to those are only too willing to accept a power with far less restraint then is ordered by the Constitution.

    Once again I want to bring up the superior system of the Republic in respects to the equal application of the Rights of all Citizens. The erosion of this extremely important principle from the governance of this country has been devastating to the cause of the individual, no matter what race, creed or gender.

    Those who seek majoritarian rule have transformed us into a national society and that fact has, in essence, crippled the proper and equitable functions of the Republic. The Constitution was not given by the assent of individuals that composed a nation, but as individuals that composed the independent and very distinct States in which they held citizenship. The States, based upon the authority of the People, then assented to the ratification of the Constitution as being federal in nature and not national. There is a very distinct and important difference that directly effects the not only the legislative process, but the application of law relating to the Right of the People and how the government functions.

    It is rare that we refer to ourselves as citizens of the individual State Republics; it was once the only reference to citizenship within this country. The reason for that was that this country was not viewed as a nation state, but a nation of States united under a federal system and not a national one. The thought of being a national citizen was contrary to the entire Republican ideal and for good reason; the federal government was only a reflection of the States and the authority the citizens invested, through the States, to the federal government. The People always acted as citizens of their respective States and not as citizens under the auspices of an aggregate national government.

    The Founders, well aware of the tendency of majoritarianism, intentionally placed walls of separation within this Republican system and for a very good reason. They knew that if the Constitutional transaction were to work properly, it would not, could not be regarded as forming one nation, but a federal union of States. They knew that if such a national system were to be placed above that of the federal union of States then the will of the majority would gradually bind the minority within society.

    Yes, I am aware that there will be those who will relate this to the catch phrase “States Rights”, and will dutifully denigrate any suggestion that we return to a system that allowed the States such authority and powers, yet there is nothing more Constitutional then doing just that. I make no apologies whatsoever for such a stance, for I know that it is one of the primary factors in saving this country from the terminal illness it now faces under the increasingly dangerous usurpations of the so-called federal government. While the Founders instituted attributes to the government that are national in nature, such as those relating to foreign relations, treaties, and interstate commerce; those attributes were extremely limited and were delegated to the federal government but not innately expressed.

    The Founders never adopted principles that remotely resemble the system that we now allow ourselves to be subjected to in this country. It was clear that the Framers of the Constitution always considered each State to be a sovereign body, composed of sovereign individuals, independent of all other States and bound only by the voluntary act of a reflective union of States. The Constitution established this union of States federally, not nationally. I will not, at this time, delve into the various actions and acts that have transformed this federal union of States into a National Union, but suffice to say, it has had the exact effects foreseen by Our Founders. They pegged the results of such a transition exactly and indeed their fears have become a reality in this country.

    The Founders were extremely wise in their delegation of powers, the system of elections that provided for the House of Representatives severed a national attribute because the their powers are derived directly from the People who are proportionally represented. On the other hand, the Senate [although no longer due to the 17th Amendment], served a federal attribute because it derives its powers from the State Republics and indirectly from the People. It was an incredible system that functioned to protect the People not only against the possible abuse of powers by the government, but from the possible threat of majoritarianism.

    Federal powers were limited to a defined sphere of influence because the Founders realized the propensity of power to corrupt those who hold power. It is readily easy to see that they were correct in their assumptions and had this country remained a Republic, such corruption would find a rather difficult expression due to all the checks and balances embedded within the system. At the time of the writing and ratification of the Constitution, the Founders placed the dependency of the federal government on the States rather than the States being dependent upon the federal government. Ultimately however, both the federal and the State governments were to be dependent on the People and their consent to be governed.

    While the federal government was fitted with a multiple layer of checks and balances, so too the States were placed under an equally powerful system of checks and balances. The interconnectivity of the system balanced the system and kept the respective powers and authorities in check. As the federal government was to reflect the States, so too was the States to reflect the districts, counties and local governments. Each layer of governmental processes reflected the consent and will of the People and in that reflection there was a high degree of restraint placed on each level of government. Those facts are extremely important if the application of law is meted out with justice and equality.

    The possibility of ambitious encroachments by either the States or the federal governments would be inhibited by the opposition of either level of government, not to mention the possibility of the vocal opposition of the People. The Constitution did not combine powers in a way that would lead to an accumulation powers that would pose a danger to the Liberty and Rights of the People. They were very precise in purpose to decrease, although not eliminate, the possibility of such consolidation.

    The Founders took particular note of the writings of Charles de Secondat, Baron de la Brede et de Montesquieu in the formation of this system of government. Indeed, the Baron stated: “When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person or body there can be no liberty because apprehensions may arise lest the same monarch or senate enact tyrannical laws to execute them in a tyrannical manner. Were the power of judging joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control, for the judge would then be the legislator. Were it joined to the executive power, the judge might behave with all the violence of an oppressor.” He was, of course, right in his assumptions and we see such combined powers in play today as the various branches of our government either relinquish powers or their powers are usurped by another branch. Likewise, the powers and authorities of the States have been trumped by the increased powers of the federal government.

    I will refrain from going into the various delegations of powers found within the Constitution, but suffice to say that the Founders thought of just about everything regarding the proper uses of powers and authorities within the system. Perhaps it is once again time to place our trust in a system that proved far wiser then the fading credibility of our present government; once again we should hearken to the voice of wisdom when it comes to the proper role of government in this country.

    Comment by Republicae — December 19, 2007 @ 1:37 pm

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