The Fatal Conceit

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“Have you heard of the wonderful one-hoss shay, that was built in such a logical way, it ran a hundred years to the day?” If you haven’t, you’ve missed one of the most amusing poems of the nineteenth century, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.’s splendid satire of the American constitution. Shays or carriages break down, said Holmes, when one joint is stronger than the next. “There’s always somewhere a weakest spot, … and that’s the reason, beyond a doubt / A chaise breaks down but doesn’t wear out.” And so the Deacon built a carriage that wouldn’t break down because each part was a strong as the rest. On and on the carriage went, until 100 years from the day it was made it all turned into dust. “End of the wonderful one-hoss shay, logic is logic, that’s all I say.”

The poem was written three years before the outbreak of the Civil War, when the defects of a logical constitution seemed all too apparent to Holmes’ fellow Bostonians. Not that the Framers were logicians, of course. They were almost all practical politicians and simply strove to give us something better than what they had had.

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Impeachment Won’t Stop the Debasement of Our Government

Proper as it is to dismiss President Obama’s daring his opponents to impeach him as childish posturing for his political base – secure as he is that the Senate’s Democratic majority would prevent his conviction regardless of any Constitutional evidence brought against him – nevertheless we must note that Obama risks disaster, as do children who play with matches in the presence of gasoline. His flaunting of impeachment sets up the alternative between the unfettered power of any president supported by a Senate majority and, on the other hand, the unfettered power of any Congressional majority coherent enough to remove presidents politically unpalatable to it.

Either way, Obama is opening the door to the partisan erasure of the distinction between executive and legislative power.

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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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Indiana’s Current Dilemma: College Readiness versus STEM Readiness

In my previous post, I discussed the true meaning of Common Core’s “College Readiness” and I showed—using the words of Common Core’s own authors—the low level of its college-readiness definition and of its high school content in mathematics.

But what about the plus (“+”) standards? As already mentioned, those “+” standards go beyond what every student is supposed to study. Perhaps, if students take all those, too, they will be prepared to study calculus in college and have a reasonable chance of success in STEM? No such luck, says Jason Zimba, the Bennington professor and lead writer of the math standards.

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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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Friday Roundup, June 7th

June's Liberty Forum is an exotic one that evaluates the deficiencies of the presidential system and separation of powers in the protection of liberty. Frank Buckley's lead essay, "A New Critique of American Exceptionalism" posits that These findings will come as no surprise to anyone who has examined the empirical literature on liberty and constitutional design. Parliamentary governments, which lack a separation of powers, rank significantly higher on measures of political freedom. That’s not to deny that America is one of the freest countries in the world. It’s simply to assert that it wasn’t the presidential system that made the difference.…

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