Presidential Power Rising: A Conversation with Frank Buckley

the once and future king

This next Liberty Law Talk is with Frank Buckley about his new book The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America. Buckley's book is a profound challenge to the script of presidential power that many conservatives have read from over the past decades. Our conversation focuses on Buckley's argument that the American constitutional system has become dangerously unmoored from the congressional system of government that its ratifiers intended for it. This conversation explores a close reading of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to understand Buckley's claim of how indisposed the members of that convention were to an…

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The Filibuster: A (Reluctant) Madisonian Case

As the Senate filibuster braces to receive what may be a mortal wound via the invocation of the “nuclear option” on executive nominees, there are at least 413 reasons to wish the dilatory tactic ill—and one compelling constitutional reason to keep it.  The former is the number of times cloture motions to end debate have been filed since 2007 alone, a measure of the collapse of comity in an institution that used to run on that quality.  The latter is that the filibuster may—or at least can—now function as a constitutional prosthetic, performing the seasoning function the Senate was initially intended to fulfill but which the frenzied pace of modern life has subsumed.

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Creed, Conservation and the American Founding

July 4 is separated from Bastille Day by a week and a half on the calendar but by eons in political culture.  The interim is an appropriate interval for reflection on why exactly the two events were so different.  One reason is arguably that America is precisely not what one might be led to believe from exclusive emphasis on the Declaration of Independence: a simply creedal nation bound solely by political belief.  The creation of a new people connected by creed alone rather than shared tradition and history would, like the French Revolution, have been a radical event.  As Willmoore Kendall would remind us, the American Revolution is better understood as a restorative or conserving one.

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‘The True Sage of Woodstock’

How can reasonable men and women reclaim equality over and above egalitarianism? The first principled step is to get right with our compromised Declaration of Independence. This Declaration both affirms equality in self-government and reconciles our deeply contrasting Lockeanism and Calvinist Christianity as the basis of our liberty. This is an American Thomism of sorts, a reconciliation of seemingly opposed principles on the head of deliberative republicanism. It’s probably our best hope.

We should, however, look even deeper into our compromising. In doing so, we can recover John Courtney Murray’s notion that “Civilization is formed by men locked together in argument.” I offer Murray’s account to underscore his American Proposition. Its components are human dignity, constitutionalism, government limited by law as given to America by the common law tradition, self-government as faith in citizens to exercise the duties of moral judgment in basic political decisions, and the constitutional consensus that forms the Proposition and serves as the basis for rational argument and the compromises that it forges. This is the deep background that enables “the deliberate sense of the community” effectuated by our republican institutions to be reasonable.

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