We the deputies

The notion of popular sovereignty is old, older than the modern vote. When the Pope crowned Charlemagne emperor in 800 CE, for instance, he said that he “merely declared and exercised the people’s will.”1 But just as popular sovereignty was beginning to “imply the enfranchisement of the people,”2 the seceding Southern states ratified a constitution that opened with “We, the deputies of the sovereign and independent states.”3 Lincoln pointed to this language in his July 4, 1961 address to Congress, his unofficial declaration of war against the seceding states: “Why? Why this deliberate pressing out of view, the rights of men, and the authority of the people?”4

Pope Leo III crowns Charlemagne
Pope Leo III crowns Charlemagne

It’s a fair question. If European rulers were claiming the people’s mandate before the modern vote existed, why was it so hard for the South to mimic the famous opening to the United States Constitution, “We, the people”?

The division between state sovereignty and popular sovereignty was evident even while our Constitution was being debated and ratified in the late 1780’s. At Virginia’s ratification convention, Patrick Henry argued that the proposed constitution’s “We, the people” opening was error because sovereignty rested in the states, not the people. In her book Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787 – 1788, Pauline Maier summarizes part of Henry’s argument: “The people in their collective capacity were not the proper agents for entering leagues, alliances, or confederations; that was the work of ‘states and sovereign powers.’” Henry didn’t believe that the “people in their collective capacity” were sovereign.5

Henry’s argument against people’s sovereignty may have been associated with another argument he advanced, this one outside of the Richmond convention, against the proposed constitution: “They’ll free your niggers.”6 (Like John Randolph of Roanoke and John Calhoun after him, the author of Virginia’s famous “Liberty or Death” speech believed in liberty without equality.7) As Lincoln pointed out, the doctrine of state sovereignty was inimical to the rights of men.

Lincoln understood that the state sovereignty claim, cited by Henry, was the philosophical basis of the South’s secession. In his July 4, 1861 address to Congress, Lincoln described how, from an historical perspective, the states didn’t make the Union; instead, the Union made the thirteen colonies into states. Consequently, the states have no power – even no political existence – outside of that Union. The Constitution merely reserves to the states what is inherently local: “whatever concerns only the State, should be left exclusively, to the State” (emphasis original). While Lincoln accepted this limited definition of states’ rights, he demolished, in a lawyerlike manner, the notion of “state sovereignty.”8

Political scientist Harry V. Jaffa, founder of the conservative Claremont Institute, points out that the Revolutionary colonial assemblies declared union with one another and independence from Great Britain at the same time, and most of those declarations proclaimed the rights of man in language similar to the Declaration of Independence’s statement of inalienable rights. Their instructions to their delegates to the Continental Congress all contained but a single qualification: the new states would reserve police powers. “Thus [the new states] could, euphemistically, be called sovereign, but only in this limited sense,” Jaffa argues. He points out that each of the nine prohibitions on the states in the Constitution’s first article – “for example, the denial of the right to coin money – is a denial of a power regarded as an attribute of sovereignty by international law.” 9 This limited, “police power” notion of states’ rights grew to full sovereignty precisely when states’ rights were no longer associated with natural rights. Jaffa again: “The state rights that allegedly justified the ordinances of secession of 1860 – 61, and which served as the foundation of the Confederacy, had severed the connection with natural rights that had informed the generation of the Revolution.” 10

The Constitution’s ratification and the North’s successful prosecution of the Civil War were victories for popular sovereignty and aided the gradual movement to universal suffrage. They also established the falsity of today’s claims for state sovereignty and to a right of secession. States have “rights” to the extent of their police powers, but they are not, nor have they ever been, sovereign.11

  1. Lippmann, Walter. The Public Philosophy. Boston: Little, Brown, 1955. Print. Pages 37-38.
  2. Id. at 37.
  3. Lincoln, Abraham, Mario Matthew. Cuomo, and Harold Holzer. Lincoln on Democracy: His Own Words, with Essays by America’s Foremost Historians. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. Print. Page 220.
  4. Id. at 223.
  5. Maier, Pauline. Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. Print. Page 264.
  6. Smith, Jean Edward. John Marshall: Definer of a Nation. New York: Holt, 1996. Print. Page 119.
  7. See my post “Liberty and inequality.”
  8. Lincoln, supra, at 220 – 221.
  9. Jaffa, Harry V. A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000. Print. Pages 373 – 374.
  10. Id. at 251.
  11. Texas is an exception, of course: it was once a sovereign state. But as Lincoln pointed out in his July 4, 1861 address, “even Texas gave up the character on coming into the Union; by which act, she acknowledged the Constitution of the United States . . . to be, for her, the supreme law of the land.” Lincoln, supra, at 220.

This book I wrote

The Nature of Government - Front CoverI didn’t set out to write a book this summer. I had planned to write, but not a book, and to write fiction. But Michael, my dear friend, suggested in June that I teach what I’ve been learning about Lockean liberalism and equality.

I’ve been writing about liberalism here for years, but I’ve wanted to teach the church about it for over a quarter century. Up until about three years ago, I knew I didn’t know enough about it to write anything as comprehensive as a book would require. And my reading and writing this summer didn’t raise me from amateur status. I guess we all better be practicing amateurs at self-government, though with humility to hear out those who know more than we, not to mention those who think differently than we. Leaving government to the professionals, thankfully, isn’t in the American tradition, though either is humility.

Even after Michael’s suggestion, I didn’t set out to write a book. Instead, I wrote the script for six half-hour videos, and I filmed myself. But summarizing stuff to the point of comprehension makes me despair of comprehensiveness. I am more advocate than teacher, more adept at writing well-supported briefs than textbooks. So as soon as I finished the videos, I started the footnotes. By the time I forced myself to stop (school was starting in two days), I had written over ten thousand words of footnotes. The book took most of the summer to research and write.

Taken together, the book’s footnotes constitute a second and higher-level course on the video’s material.

My intended audience is Christian. It sounds exclusive to speak of an intended audience. But I have to pick an audience to have a chance at writing, even a chance at writing in my journal. I do think the book is accessible to people outside of the Christian faith, who, after all, may be interested in how I’d frame for evangelical Christians the material on liberalism I’ve been writing on this blog for over five years. And I was surprised how little different writing to Christians now feels from writing on my blog to everyone. That may be purely a function of how I’m beginning to see things.

I’m putting the videos on slowpress.com after their premieres at Michael’s place. The first three are available there now. I reckon the last three will be out in a month or two.

I self-published the book today on slow press. You can read a description of it here and the table of contents, a sample chapter, the works cited, and the index here.

The basis of liberal-conservative rapprochement

Through wisdom is an house builded; and by understanding it is established: and by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches. – Proverbs 24:3-4 (KJV)

I’ll use Solomon’s continuum to summarize how American government could work again. Government is the house. Properly fitting conservatism with Lockean liberalism is wisdom. Lockean liberalism itself is understanding. And conservatism is knowledge. Or, as Professor Alexander Rosenthal puts it:

[L]iberalism by itself is not a self-sustaining source of values but must be undergirded by some more substantive understanding of the good, the true, and the beautiful. And where shall this understanding be found, if not in that broader religious, intellectual, and moral inheritance of Western civilization which traditionalists have sought to conserve?

(Rosenthal wrote one of my favorite books — Crown Under Law: Richard Hooker, John Locke, and the Ascent of Modern Constitutionalism.)


Photo copyright Hash Milhan. Used by permission.


On Tom Jones, Moderate. I loved it when I found Fielding and his editor, Martin Battestin, linking Calvin and Hobbes. Now I discover Walter Lippmann in his 1955 book The Public Philosophy linking Calvin and Rousseau. More strange bedfellows! (A philosophical ménage à trois?)

To Rousseau, as to John Calvin who lived in Geneva before him, men were fallen and depraved, deformed with their lusts and their aggressions. The force of the new doctrine [“Rousseau’s dogma of the natural goodness of man”] lay in its being a gospel of redemption and regeneration. Men who were evil were to be made good. Jacobinism is, in fact, a Christian heresy — perhaps the most influential since the Arian. (71 – 71)

Calvin’s person falls before he’s born, but Rousseau’s falls when he’s educated. (Wordworth stakes out a middle ground, I think: his person begins to fall when she’s born, “trailing clouds of glory.”) Calvin’s theology led his English followers to argue for a theocracy; Rousseau’s philosophy led his French followers to tear down classes and institutions. Idealism works well only when it works slowly. We Christians cannot point vaguely to secularism as the source of governmental ills. Lippmann is right: Jacobinism, still alive and well in concepts such as Robert Bork’s majority morality, is a Christian heresy.

Calvin and Hobbes

Finding books online

Years ago I got a lot of helpful comments on a rather long post I wrote on finding used books online. (The comments are gone: Echo’s demise was also the demise of my blog’s old comments.) In yesterday’s post about a strain of political science books, I found myself veering into the same old territory. I think a single paragraph on book buying would be adequate now, and I reproduce it below from yesterday’s post. But I’m sure the paragraph is incomplete, and I suspect it’s inaccurate. Do you have any suggestions for improving this summary?

Three good steps for finding free or cheap books: (1) showroom Amazon (many would say it’s only fair) using its customer reviews and its “Look Inside” feature where available, or Google Books, to see what you want, (2) look for free e-book downloads at Project Gutenberg,  archive.org’s texts sectionOpen Library, or Amazon’s Kindle store and the like (usually books out of copyright) (you can borrow many e-books at these sites, too), and, barring that, (3) shop for used hard-copy books, starting at bookfinder.com. Abebooks.com and alibris.com often shine there. And three guidelines for buying used books: (1) hardbacks are often way cheaper than paperbacks, (2) older editions are often way cheaper than newer editions, and (3) (contrary to all reason) well-marked books are often way cheaper than “clean” books.

(I thank Margaret, Julie, and Nancy for their helpful suggestions. I’ve amended the above paragraph with them.)

Copyright Thalita Carvalho. Used by permission.

Photo copyright Thalita Carvalho. Used by permission.

Good reads on natural law, Lockean liberalism, & equality

Walter Lippmann stampA few people recently asked me for some good reads to start them into natural law, Lockean liberalism, and the equality clause. I oblige them here.

The Teaching Company’s Great Courses includes a thoughtful overview on the history and development of natural law theory. Joseph Koterski’s “Natural Law and Human Nature” course comes with a good “course guidebook” that has lots of suggestions for more reading.

One of those suggestions is Paul E. Sigmund’s book Natural Law in Political Thought. Here is the most approachable scholarly book I’ve read on the subject. Like Koterski’s course, Sigmund’s book traces natural law’s development over the centuries.

Sigmund’s book, in turn, mentions Walter Lippmann’s book The Public Philosophy. I’m reading it now. Unlike Koterski and Sigmund, Lippmann was not a scholar but (as Wikipedia puts it) a public intellectual and an amateur philosopher. He wrote The Public Philosophy in 1955, near the end of his reign as probably the twentieth century’s most influential American columnist. Lippmann’s book isn’t a history book; instead, it advocates that America readopt natural law as its public philosophy.

Ruth W. Grant
Ruth W. Grant

Another well-argued piece is political science professor Harry V. Jaffa’s 1987 law review article “What Were the ‘Original Intentions’ of the Framers of the Constitution of the United States?” Jaffa takes issue with his fellow conservatives who reject natural law in favor of strict constructionism. (If you click the above link to that article, be prepared to be patient. It takes a while to load.) Jaffa’s shorter article along those same lines is “The False Prophets of American Conservatism.” If you end up liking Jaffa and want to challenge yourself, treat yourself to what I consider to be the past few decades’ greatest work of American political science, A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War, published in 2000. In it, Jaffa develops the founders’ and Lincoln’s political philosophy and establishes the significance of the equality clause and the natural-law hierarchy it reinforces among God, mankind, and nature. Very slow, difficult, but rewarding reading.  (You can read my Amazon.com customer review of the book here.)

Three good primary sources would be Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay’s Federalist Papers, and Lincoln’s writings. Political Writings of John Locke has a long (115 pages) and excellent introduction by David Wootton. The introduction puts Locke’s works in the context of his life and times and explains his works’ appeal to the American revolutionary generation. The Signet Classic version of the Federalist Papers has a much shorter but equally thoughtful introduction, this one by Charles R. Kesler. Written in 1999, the introduction presciently demonstrates how pertinent the Federalist Papers are to us today: “The American Union is threatening to split up into separate confederacies of states, Publius argues, and each state is itself teetering on the brink of tyranny due to the danger of majority faction.” As for Lincoln’s writings, I use Lincoln on Democracy, edited by Mario M. Cuomo and Harold Holzer, and the Holzer-edited version of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. My favorite intellectual biography of Lincoln is the very approachable Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President by Allen C. Guelzo.

Alexander Rosenthal
Alexander Rosenthal

Two other books I’ve read should not be missed: Alexander S. Rosenthal’s Crown Under Law: Richard Hooker, John Locke, and the Ascent of Modern Constitutionalism and Ruth W. Grant’s John Locke’s Liberalism. The links associated with those titles lead to my extensive reviews of the titles.

Three good steps for finding free or cheap books: (1) showroom Amazon (many would say it’s only fair) using its customer reviews and its “Look Inside” feature where available, or Google Books, to see what you want, (2) look for free e-book downloads on archive.org’s texts sectionOpen Library, or Amazon’s Kindle store and the like (usually books out of copyright) (you can borrow many e-books at these sites, too), and, barring that, (3) shop for used hard-copy books, starting at bookfinder.comAnd three guidelines for buying used books: (1) hardbacks are often way cheaper than paperbacks, (2) older editions are often way cheaper than newer editions, and (3) (contrary to all reason) well-marked books are often way cheaper than “clean” books.

I can’t compile such a digest of political science books as this without acknowledging the work that got me interested in natural law, Lockean liberalism, and the equality clause more than a quarter-century ago: Jaffa’s Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. I trembled, reading it the first time.