In addition to requiring instruction in US government and politics, Texas law requires undergraduates at state-sponsored colleges and universities to take a course “which includes consideration of the . . . constitutions of the states, with special emphasis on that of Texas.” I am pretty sure part of the department’s deliberation at Texas A&M University in favor of hiring me those many years ago touched on the fact that the statistical portion of my dissertation drew on a unique state-level data set that I developed. The main point of interest would not be the uniqueness of the data set, but rather that I dipped into state legislative records. That thin reed was sufficient to justify my habitual assignment to teach the state-mandated course in state government, a course most of the faculty in the department preferred to avoid.
In the July Liberty Forum essay, Joseph Postell boldly takes on the core problem of representative government: how a representative legislature can be made to serve the common good instead of the parochial interests to which its members are tied. While the argument is strong—that congressional deliberation requires patience and tolerance of “inherent messiness,” and that the design of political institutions matters a great deal—none of the solutions from Willmoore Kendall that Postell proffers solves the problem. More critically, the idea that political institutions can foster virtue, civic or otherwise, is alien to the political thought of the Framers of the…
The Constitution’s aim to limit the influence of factions and passion gets the lion’s share of attention among modern readers of The Federalist. To be sure, these are critical aspirations, as much or more so today as they were in the 1780s. These aspects of the Constitution’s underlying theory, however, so dominate discussion that students often overlook another theme developed throughout The Federalist, the significance of knowledge and information in policy making, and how constitutional structure can elicit more rather than less knowledge and information.
Between the breathless whispers that Judge Neil Gorsuch intends to impose either medieval Catholicism or, worse, Oxford sensibilities from the bench through the mechanism of natural law and the fear that he might otherwise glide into the legal positivism of which Justice Scalia was unreasonably accused lies another possibility: The Constitution can neither be interpreted through natural law nor reduced to positive law. It is more profitably understood as fundamental law.
To say legislation is not a discretely rational exercise is not to say it is positively irrational. But what of the fundamental law that is often taken to be the apex of legislative reason: the Constitution of the United States?
Peggy Noonan recently suggested that “elites are often the last to see their system is under siege. ‘It couldn’t be, I’ve done so well.’” There is much to this idea, especially in a nation like America where many are, in fact, doing very well, and are often socially isolated from others who are not doing so well. Near zero interest rates have flooded the stock market with money, and that, among other things, has been good for the wealthy. Outside of that, however, things are tougher, and not only economically. Because Americans are increasingly isolated socially and economically, our governing class often has trouble seeing this reality.
Our system was supposed to be designed to ensure regular contact between elites and the common citizen.