F.H. Buckley

F.H. Buckley is a Foundation Professor at George Mason School of Law and the author of “The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America” (Encounter Books, April 8, 2014).

To Love America Well

With this I end with thanks a month-long stint as a Law and Liberty blogger. It’s been great fun, even with the distractions that came from pushing my book, The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America.

The book’s thesis is that, from an admirable patriotism and a less attractive ignorance of history, American libertarians do not adequately defend liberty.

We are all patriots first and philosophers second—and that is just as it should be. For American theorists, patriotism means elevating people such as James Madison to the pantheon of political philosophy. The British have Hume and Burke, the French have Rousseau and Tocqueville—and the Americans have Madison and Hamilton. To be sure, they’re not mediocrities. But then they’re not the people who made the deals that produced the Constitution, or whose beliefs informed its content.

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Government as an Incentive Problem

There is a tendency to liken modern parliamentary systems to the kind of one-man rule seen in most presidential regimes. The claim, made by Don Savoie and others, is that prime ministers are all-powerful. But it’s more accurate to see parliamentary systems as a kind of corporate government, with the PM as CEO and the party bigwigs as a not impuissant board. The CEO is fine as long as he seems to be able to lead the party into the next election, but if not he’ll find he’s not really in charge. As happened to Thatcher in 1990 and Jean…

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The Fog of Constitution-making

From a Canadian perspective, America looks a wee bit like a unitary state and not a federal country. In Canada, provinces can opt out of the Charter of Rights, Quebec has its own immigration policies, and so on. Remember Trent Lott? He belonged to something nasty called the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission. Sovereignty… The word gave me pause. I turned to the web site of my native province to see how it described Canadian federalism. What it said was that Canada was a federal country and that provinces were sovereign within their sphere of competence, as defined by the British North America…

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When Judges Talk to Politicians

Imagine, if you will, that a president who has not shown himself overly careful about a strict observance of the Constitution, announces that he does not propose to abide by the term limits of the Twenty-Second Amendment, and that he proposes to run for a third term. He notes that the members of the Supreme Court might have a problem with this, but argues that they should not have the sole authority to interpret the Constitution, that he also might do so when backed by the will of the people, and that democratic government is the grundnorm of the Constitution…

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In which I review a book I won’t read

So there’s yet another biography of Madison out, and this one is by Lynne Cheney. I might have bought it for the author, not the book’s subject, as it’s hard to see this sort of thing as much more than a display of patriotism. The French have Rousseau, the Germans Kant, the British (or Scots) Hume. The Americans have Madison, and must make the most of him, even if he is not much read outside of their country. One of the Philadelphia Convention’s turning points came on July 17, when Gouverneur Morris argued for an elected president on a theory of…

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Senate Reform in Canada

Last week the Canadian Supreme Court wisely rejected the government’s plans for Senate reform in Reference Concerning Reform of the Senate. The Harper government had proposed a number of changes, including the popular election of senators, through a simple Act of Parliament without a constitutional amendment and this, said the Court, the government could not do. The government had even contemplated abolishing the Senate altogether, and all of this was entirely inconsistent with the scheme of government enacted in the British North America Act. The Senate is an integral part of the government, the Court held, and absent a constitutional…

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The President’s Non-enforcement Power


Are there any limits to the president’s discretion not to enforce a law? Conservative scholars think so. I say they’re wrong, and that we are witnessing the rise of what I call crown government in The Once and Future King. Where conservatives see a constitutional crisis, I see the inevitable working out of the pathological logic of presidential government.

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Everyone expects the Inquisition

There’s been another naughty pastor. No, not the usual, but instead a minister who mentioned Christ’s name when asked to pray at a town council meeting. (They will do that!) Happily, the offending pastor need not repair to Capri, for the Supreme Court upheld the prayer in yesterday’s decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway. I’m especially delighted, since it means that pastors need not follow the advice I gave them in The American Spectator. Since obscene speech enjoys First Amendment protection, and since it doesn’t raise religious establishment problems, I suggested that pastors might prudently lace their sermons with a few F-Bombs.

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Puzzling Questions

the-once-and-future-king-20141Legal scholarship is too often a game of small ball, where vast efforts are expended in pursuit of minimal gains, like a game of football with 50 downs, or trench warfare where lives are expended for mere inches. How vastly more interesting are Sir Thomas Browne’s puzzling questions. “What Song the Syrens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among the women, though puzzling Questions, are not beyond all conjecture.”

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