Archive for Political Philosophy

Mini-Federalist #30 – Concerning the General Power of Taxation

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are intended to be shorter, more understandable versions of the Federalist Papers. This post deals with Federalist #30, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_30.html

Originally published December 28, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

We already discussed how the Federal government should provide for the military including raising troops, building a navy, and anything else that might be needed for defense. Of course, this isn’t the only thing that the government should be able to collect tax money for. The Federal government needs to be able to pay off national debts, and pay for other things that have a national scope. Clearly, the proposed Constitution must give the Federal government a general power to collect taxes.

It’s obvious that any government needs money, so it follows that the government ought to be allowed to regularly collect enough of it to do its work. If mechanisms for this collection aren’t in-place, then either the people are going to be hit up for money whenever there’s a crisis, or the government will quickly go bankrupt.

As an example, think of the Ottoman Empire – the Sultan has no power to impose a tax on his citizens. Instead, the governors of the individual provinces are allowed to rob their citizens so that the Emperor has the money he needs for his own (as well as the government’s) use. We face the other problem here: our government has been allowed to whither down to almost nothing. Wouldn’t it be better for both countries to have a well-established, regular tax system?

Our current system was supposed to give the Federal government the means to collect all the funds it needed, but the design is flawed. Congress is allowed to figure out what it needs and ask the States (who are legally obliged to comply) to provide it. The States aren’t supposed to get a say in the matter – except in how they collect the necessary funds – but in practice, they drag their feet if they disagree with Congress’ demand. Things will always be like this as long as Congress is dependent upon the States for funding. Even people who don’t care about politics know that this is going on, and we’ve already talked about it at length in these papers. This is the main reason that our government is a mess, and it is a bad thing for us, and a good thing for our would-be enemies.

How can we fix this other than by changing the whole system? We can’t rely on quotas imposed on the States anymore. We have to allow the Federal government to collect its own taxes. Even smart people can disagree about this at first, but there’s no other solution to keep us from going bankrupt.

Some of our smarter opponents will admit that our solution has merit, but they suggest that we limit the Federal government to so-called “external” taxes, like duties on imported goods, while leaving the “internal” taxes – those against the citizens directly – to the States. This idea doesn’t make any sense. The Federal government would still be depended on the States for funding. We can’t possibly bring in enough money to meet our current needs with these purely “external” taxes. And that is to say nothing of our future needs! We need our government to have maximum flexibility in collecting funds.

These opponents go on to say that any lack of Federal funding can be made up by the States. On the one hand, this admits that we can’t really rely on their solution, but that we ought to for any needs we have above a certain amount. Anyone who has really thought through this problem (or read my other papers) will be horrified at the idea of entrusting our national interests to this system. This proposal would make our country weaker, and lay the groundwork for conflict between the States. What makes us think that the same problems won’t crop up just because the Federal government will theoretically be asking for less money from the States? As if there is some point at which the States could decide that the Federal government doesn’t really need any more money. How could any government operate in a state of constant neediness like this? It can’t possibly have stability or establish credit – either at home or abroad. It can’t address anything but short-term issues, and always in “crisis mode”. There can be no long-term planning to advance the greater good.

What would happen if we’re ever drawn into a war? Let’s assume for the moment that the “external” taxes are enough to handle our day-to-day needs during peacetime. How would the Federal government handle an unexpected attack against us? We already know from experience that we can’t rely on the States to provide the Federal government with money – even during a time of great danger. So the Federal government would be forced to divert funds from normal operations (like paying off our debt) to cover the cost of the military. I can’t imagine any other way. And if that happened, our credit would be ruined at a time when we may need it most. Even countries that are richer than ours need to borrow money when they get involved in a war, and if we can’t be trusted to pay our debts, the amounts and terms of the loans we’ll be able to secure will be far from ideal.

You might argue that even with the Federal government having a full power to tax as it needs to, that we may still find ourselves in a position where we have to divert funds from normal operations like debt repayment during a war. There are still two advantages to the system where the Federal government has its own tax power: 1) we know that all the resources possible will be acquired and used, and 2) it will be easier to get loans to cover any gaps.

If the Federal government has the power to tax as much as it needs to, there will be no problem getting loans from either foreign or domestic sources. But if the Federal government is fully dependent upon the whims of 13 other State governments in order to pay it’s own bills, no creditor is going to loan to it.

These may seem like small concerns to people who imagine that we are building some kind of utopia here in this country. But those of us who know the problems and crises that have been experienced by other countries don’t expect that we’ll be able to completely avoid them. These matters deserve our serious consideration.

“A Few Appropriate Remarks…”

151 years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln delivered quite possibly the greatest speech in American history at the dedication ceremony for the Soldier’s National Cemetery at Gettysburg. He had been asked only to provide “a few appropriate remarks” during the ceremony, delivering this masterpiece in the process:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

“Legitimate State Interest”

27 years ago today, in 1987, the case of Nollan v. California Coastal Commission was argued before the Supreme Court of the United States.

A few months later, when the opinion was delivered, it included one of the dumbest (or maybe scariest) lines in the history of American law:

Our cases have not elaborated on the standards for determining what constitutes a “legitimate state interest”…

To paraphrase Tim Sandefur‘s thoughts on the matter: On the 200th anniversary of the Constitution of the United States – even with the aid of the Federalist Papers – the nation’s best lawyers, on the highest court in the land, still have no idea what the government exists to do.

This is the state of things, folks.

Charity

I make no secret of the fact that I’m a libertarian. I’m also a recently-converted Christian. Some people (on both “sides”, as it were) see this as being something of a conflict. Libertarians are supposed to be free spirits – we’re not supposed to like authority, so we’d naturally hate church, and church people wouldn’t be accepting of us because we wouldn’t be as rigid and controlling as they are.

In reality, these two traits are totally compatible. For one thing, not all churches are stuffy and authoritarian. And part of being free to choose how you want to live your own life means that you are free to live in a “conservative” way, too. In fact, there’s quite a bit that libertarians and Christians have in common – one of those is on how we look at charity.

It’s well known that libertarians don’t look at government programs (or taxes that go toward them) as being charitable – they are even seen as forced theft to some of us. REAL charity we say, comes from giving of yourself because you want to, not because someone else is making you do it. Christians see it the same way. When the collection plate comes past, or when a friend or neighbor needs help, it’s not enough to say, “I already paid my taxes.” You’re supposed to have a giving spirit, and that means going above and beyond.

I was thinking about all this in church this morning. Last week, my pastor Mike approached me about leading a tour of Gettysburg when some of the men in our church head up there for a retreat this coming spring. He knows about my interest in Civil War history and especially Gettysburg. In fact, we went up there together a little over a year ago. One of the things that I mentioned to him on that visit was about how practically all the buildings in town became hospitals in some sense. Of course, there were major hospitals set up in big buildings in town: one was at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church. There was an outdoor hospital – Camp Letterman – set up on the east side of town, too. But there were so many wounded that those hospitals weren’t enough, and many citizens took a few wounded men into their own homes to care for them. It was a point that resonated enough for Mike that he mentioned it in a sermon last fall.

The story I relayed to him was one I’d picked up from the diary of Sarah Broadhead. She was one of the 2,400 residents of Gettysburg left to deal with the 50,000+ casualties left over from the battle. Here’s what she wrote on July 9, 1863 – less than a week after the fighting ended:

Nearly every house is a hospital, besides the churches and warehouses and there are many field hospitals scattered over the country near the scene of the battle. A man called to-day and requested me to take into our house three wounded men from one of the field hospitals. I agreed to take them, for I can attend to them and not be compelled to leave my family so long every day as I have done.

You can see why Mike wanted to use this as part of a message about Christian charity. Sarah was “compelled” to leave her family for a long time each day to help these men. Indeed, having these sick, wounded, needy people in her own home was a convenience for her.

I think we’ve lost some of that spirit as a culture. What Sarah’s story embodies is true charity. When we see stories like hers on the news nowadays, we think, “what a remarkable person.” Actions like hers are special and noteworthy – even abnormal – in these times, but in the Gettysburg of 1863, she was just one of many (as she notes) who were doing the very same thing.

You have to remember – there was no FEMA (and you have to wonder how effective they’d be anyway), no PEMA, no CDC, not even a Red Cross (yet). There were no telethons to raise money for the victims. No “change your Facebook profile pic to support…” campaigns. All of these organizations that we have in our modern, so-called advanced society have come together to remove our individual responsibility to help others. And it’s not just that either – our culture is so litigious that if you try to help but fail, you may face legal consequences. Everything is set up to actively prevent us from helping each other. In 1863, people had no option but to help each other directly – person to person. Taking in people who need help, getting their entire family involved, altering their own routines, making sacrifices for their fellow man.

Isn’t that more like the kind of world we want?

As libertarians, as Christians, as humans – this is what we are “called” to do. To help each other, not to sub-contract that out to someone else, or some private or government organization who we make “responsible”. We’re ALL responsible.

It’s a message I believe in, and one you can be sure I’ll be talking about with our group in a few months.

September 17

Today is a big day in American history.

226 years ago, the US Constitution was signed. Its brilliance has yet to be matched by any other political document. While it certainly wasn’t perfect, it has the ability to be made better as time goes on.

151 years ago, the bloodiest single day in American history – the Battle of Antietam – took place. Despite their overwhelming numerical advantage, the Union Army of the Potomac under Maj. Gen. George McClellan fought the Confederates under Gen. Robert E. Lee to a stalemate, claiming around 24,000 casualties in the process. While it was a Union victory strategically (as it ended Lee’s invasion of the north), it didn’t make anyone feel good.

Sadly though, today isn’t marked on many people’s calendars. For whatever reason, these two events don’t reach even the level of Flag Day in the American schedule. I’m not calling for a national holiday or anything – I mean, do we really need another Congressionally-mandated 3-day weekend that everyone uses to go to the beach?

So take a few minutes today and learn about these events. If you’re inclined, plan a trip to Antietam. Read the Constitution (or better yet, the Federalist). Let’s bring some meaning to this day.

Mini-Federalist #29 – Concerning the Militia

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are intended to be shorter, more understandable versions of the Federalist Papers. This post deals with Federalist #29, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_29.html

Originally published January 9, 1788 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

Control of the militia is clearly a natural part of providing for the common defense, and protecting peace at home.

It doesn’t take a military genius to realize that having a well-trained and uniform militia is a good thing. A militia with this kind of experience is best equipped to help if an emergency arises, and that type of consistent training can only be provided by the national government. That’s why Congress is given this power under the proposed Constitution (leaving the selection of the officers and the implementation of the national standard training to the States).

Even though this arrangement makes a lot of sense, the opponents of the Constitution have still attacked it. Think about it – if the militia is our best national defense, it should be under the control of the government that is responsible for the national defense. And shouldn’t the government’s control of the militia ease the temptation to create a dangerous standing army? Without some force to use in providing for the common defense, the Federal government may resort to using standing armies more often. Isn’t the most effective defense against a standing army, the removal of the need for one?

In order to make the militia powers look bad, there are those who argue that the proposed Constitution doesn’t allow for the executive to call for the citizens to help enforce the laws. They imply that the use of military force is his only legal option. Of course, we know that they’re talking out of both sides of their mouths. You can’t simultaneously claim that the Federal government is too powerful, but that it is powerless to even call for the citizens’ help. Of course we know that the Federal government has all powers necessary and proper to carry out its responsibilities. It’s completely clear that the power to call forth the citizens is part of that. It’s nonsense to assume that just because the Federal government can use the military, that it is the only option available to it. What kind of people make this argument?

Those people have even gone so far as to suggest to us that the militia is to be feared. They suggest that special units (comprised of the young and impressionable) could be formed for nefarious purposes. Of course, we don’t know what the actual regulations will be on the militia. Let me tell you what I would want if we ratified the Constitution:

Keeping the whole population organized in a militia is a huge task. It takes more than a couple days to really master the skills you need to be successful in the military – we’d need almost constant drilling for everyone. If the people themselves don’t outright object to that inconvenience, our State budgets surely will. All we could really do is make sure the people have proper weapons and equipment, and maybe get them together once or twice a year.

What seems like a better idea is to have a small core of people that will be more highly-trained. This militia can serve in an emergency (maybe well enough that we wouldn’t need an army) and can act as a check against the power of an army if one is ever needed. This is probably our best available option.

I arrive at a very different conclusion than the opponents of the Constitution, even though we’re talking about the same document. I see safeguards where they imagine danger. But we do have to keep in mind, none of us really knows how the militia will actually be regulated.

The whole idea that the militia could be a threat to liberty is so insane that I don’t really know how to respond. Is it just some kind of rhetorical exercise? A kind of trick to get people against the proposed Constitution? Or the product of a fanatical mind? If we can’t even trust our friends and neighbors, we’re in serious trouble. What possible danger can exist from the people in our own community, living and struggling side-by-side with us? If the States are the only ones who can appoint the militia’s officers, what do we have to fear from Federal control of the militia? That fact alone should be enough to allay any fears – the States will always hold the upper hand.

When you look at what these opponents of the Constitution write, their objections read like a trashy novel; full of lies and so many made-up boogiemen.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the examples they bring up about the militia. They assert that men will be sent all over the country, and even used as mercenaries to pay off foreign creditors. At the same time, we are told there will be a massive army destroying our liberties, we’re also going to have militia men sent hundreds of miles from their homes to threaten the people of other States. Do they really think we’ll believe this stuff?

Think about it: if the government can raise an army to use against the people, why would they need the militia for that purpose? Even if they tried to use the militia – to send them far from home, and force them to fight against their countrymen – isn’t it more likely that the militia will turn their fight against that corrupt government instead? Would such a government ever stand a chance if they tried to use the militia like this? It would only raise the alarm among the people. So, is it more likely that the opponents of the Constitution who are raising these objections have actual concerns, or that they’re just trying to foment hate of the Constitution? Even if a tyrant came to power eventually, they wouldn’t be this stupid.

Naturally, if there’s a crisis of some kind, the militia from one State may come to the aid of its neighbor. This happened a lot during the Revolution, and it’s one of the reasons we have a Union in the first place. If the Federal government controls this process, it’s far more likely that help will be there when it’s needed (and before it’s too late).

Mini-Federalist #28 – The Same Subject Continued: The Idea of Restraining the Legislative Authority in Regard to the Common Defense Considered

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are intended to be shorter, more understandable versions of the Federalist Papers. This post deals with Federalist #28, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_28.html

Originally published December 26, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

It’s always possible that governments will have to use force. We know this from world history as well as our own experience. It’s totally natural that there will be revolts from time to time. No government can avoid that and rely only on the rule of law.

In such a case, all the government can do is resort to force. Now, of course the response must be proportional – if only a small rebellion is underway, then only a small force should oppose it – but some force is still needed. Any rebellion would eventually threaten everyone if not stopped in time, so it is within the power of the Federal government to step in if needed.

If an insurrection overtakes an entire State, the militia may not be enough – troops may need to be raised. Some States (like Massachusetts and Pennsylvania) have already considered this in specific cases. Since the Federal government faces the same threats as the States, shouldn’t it have the same power to counter them? I don’t know how anyone that is pro-Union can think it would be bad for the Union to defend itself.

Even for people that favor the plan of 3 or 4 confederacies, wouldn’t the same problem exist for those confederacies as for our proposed Federal government? You have to admit that this same objection would apply just as much to that scenario. Even if we remain as 13 individual, separate States, a time may come when the militia just isn’t enough to keep the peace.

Setting aside all other arguments, isn’t it really enough of an answer to say that in our plan, the power to raise troops is under the direct control of Congress, which is under the control of the people. This is really the best security for individual rights that can be had.

Even if Congress goes out of control, the people can resort to defending themselves with their own weapons. It may sound counter-intuitive, but this would be easier to do against the Federal government than against a State. For one thing, there are not enough organized subdivisions within one State to provide for effective raising of troops. It would be every man for himself. The tyrannical forces in government would be able to take them down piecemeal – perhaps even using the legal system to do it. It would be extremely difficult for any kind of citizen resistance.

The larger the scope of the government, the harder it will be for tyrannical elements to take it over (especially if the people are aware of and protective of their rights). A larger group of citizens would also be more effective against such a government. The other advantage of our particular arrangement will be that the States will always want to defend their power from Federal encroachments (and vice versa). That will serve as a natural defense against tyranny, and if the people throw their weight on one side or the other, they will tip the balance of power. The people hold the deciding vote at all times.

But the State governments will be able to see these problems coming – the people won’t need to be involved too often. There will be smart, engaged people running the States, and if the Federal government becomes tyrannical, they can take action to stop it (at the very least, they can raise the alarm and coordinate actions with other States).

The sheer size of our country will also be a bulwark against a tyrannical military power. Think of how much trouble the British had maintaining military control here. Even if one part of the country is quelled, the others can come to its rescue.

And remember, of course, that we have to be able to pay for an army. With the state of our economy, we won’t be able to afford a huge military force for quite some time. Even if the Federal government gets richer, so will the States and the people. Will there ever be a time that the freedom of the people can be overpowered in this way? I doubt it. Anyone who thinks this is a serious threat obviously isn’t thinking clearly.

Mini-Federalist #27 – The Same Subject Continued: The Idea of Restraining the Legislative Authority in Regard to the Common Defense Considered

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are intended to be shorter, more understandable versions of the Federalist Papers. This post deals with Federalist #27, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_27.html

Originally published December 25, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

Some people are saying that the government proposed in the Constitution can’t survive without military force. Like most of their arguments though, this is just an assumption, with no real evidence to support it. I don’t really understand it, but I think they assume that the people won’t listen to the Federal government on domestic issues. Now, we know there is no distinction in the document itself between foreign and domestic matters, but let’s try to figure out if there’s any merit to this idea nonetheless. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to think the people would hate the Federal government any more than they hate their State governments (unless the Feds end up screwing up everything they try to do). Loyalty from the people is derived from how well a government runs. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but they’re exceptions. We have to look at these things in the way that they normally work.

I’ve outlined a lot of reasons why the Federal government will probably work better than the States’: the candidate base for the Federal government is the entire country; the Senate will be composed of quality men (since the State legislatures pick them); we’ll thus end up with smarter men who won’t be swayed by petty or local special interest groups to “do something” that might harm the people. You’ll also be able to see a lot more reasons once we start looking at the details of the structure of the proposed Federal government. Suffice it to say, that until the opponents of the Constitution can show that their fears have any basis, you have to assume that the people will treat the Federal government no different than they do the governments of the States.

If people think they can get away with ignoring a government, they will. If the government is strong, the people will listen to it. Isn’t it more likely that the people would follow the rules of a government that can marshal the resources of all the States, instead of just one? A small special interest group may be able to have influence in one State, but it can’t hope to influence all of them. If this is true, then there’s less danger with the Federal government than with the individual States.

Let me propose an idea (even if it is new to some of you): the more the people get used to the Federal government working in their lives – seeing it make things better and run properly – the more loyalty they will naturally feel toward it. We’re all creatures of habit. “Out of sight, out of mind”, right? If the people never have to interact with the Federal government, of course they won’t have any feelings about it! The strength and influence of the government with the people can only be increased with more interaction, and the more the people trust the government, the less it needs to resort to violence to get its way.

One thing is obvious: the proposed Constitution creates a government that is much less likely to need the threat of force than the weak confederacy of States that our opponents have in mind. We explained already that a system that has to deal only with States (who likely will ignore its provisions – as we’ve seen with our own experiment there) must resort to force sooner or later.

This Constitution, since it gives the Federal government the power to touch individual citizens (as opposed to just the States), will make it much easier for the Federal government to enforce its laws. Clearly, this arrangement will lead people to hold the Federal government in higher esteem and will mitigate the threat of rebellion against the government. We should also remember that under this plan, the powers specifically given to the Federal government are the supreme law of the land, and all of the States (and their officers and courts) have to follow the laws made by the Federal government. As long as the Federal government is well-run, there’s no reason to think that it will be ignored by the people. Of course we can assume that it will be horribly mismanaged, but can you show me any government that would survive in that case? Even if our opponents insist on thinking that we’d have terrible, nefarious leaders, how would those leaders ultimately benefit from their bad behavior in a system that is run by the people?

Mini-Federalist #26 – The Idea of Restraining the Legislative Authority in Regard to the Common Defense Considered

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are intended to be shorter, more understandable versions of the Federalist Papers. This post deals with Federalist #26, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_26.html

Originally published December 22, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

It was a surprise when the revolution ended up bringing us to a place right between POWER and PRIVILEGE, trying to keep our rights while giving the government some power. We didn’t get it quite right though, and that has been the source of our trouble. This mistake should be corrected, or else our future attempts to fix it won’t really change anything at all.

Removing government power over the military sounds like a better idea than it actually is. Even though we seem to have invented the concept, we aren’t really employing it ourselves – only Pennsylvania and North Carolina have – everyone else refuses to consider it, and really they are right. You have to trust someone, and it’s a better idea to take the risk of abuse-of-power, than to leave us in a state where the government can’t protect us. Those who oppose the Constitution are at odds with the majority in this regard, and rather than moderating their own views, they want to drive us deeper into extremes. They recommend a solution that has been flatly rejected before, and frankly, they’d make this country ungovernable. It’s a good thing that won’t happen – the people are too smart for that. We know how important a sufficiently powerful government is. I’m sure of that.

But where does this idea come from? You might think it came about because history teaches us about the tendency for military encroachments on freedom. It actually comes from England.

Their King had almost total power for centuries. Over time, that power was eroded away by the aristocracy and the people to the point that there’s no real danger left. Eventually, the English Glorious Revolution secured this arrangement permanently. Various monarchs had kept troops – in increasing numbers – for their own purposes over the years. The Bill of Rights made it illegal for standing armies to exist without Parliament’s permission.

Even at the height of awareness of liberty in England, they had the good sense to not restrict the power of the legislature over the military. They understood that troops were necessary for emergencies that might come up, and they knew that the legislature was the safest place for the military power to be held.

Since we come from England, we’ve grown up in this same fear of standing armies. We got so caught up in the Revolution that we’ve gone too far in a few instances (like Pennsylvania and North Carolina did above). We mistakenly extended our fears from the King to the legislature, and put unnecessary provisions in some of our State constitutions. Of course the power to raise armies should belong only to the legislature – it goes without saying! The constitution of New York (clearly one of the greatest) says absolutely nothing about the subject.

Even in the two States that seem to fix the problem, they only say that standing armies shouldn’t be kept in time of peace, not that they can’t be kept. In using this wording, it’s obvious that the authors realized that a total prohibition would be a dangerous thing.

And of course, isn’t it true that any prohibition would be read as merely a suggestion if a crisis came up? What use would any of this language be if it was simply ignored when “necessary”?

So how is the situation different with the proposed Constitution? In the government it creates we do have a limit (though a perfectly reasonable one) that Congress can only set aside money for an army for a 2-year period. Since this isn’t anywhere near as extreme as a total prohibition on standing armies, it is more likely to be followed and have the desired effect.

This rule basically forces the Congress to discuss and vote on whether we need to have an army at least once every 2 years. They aren’t allowed to give the President a blank check for the military (even if they’re dumb enough to want to). This also forces the majority party to be open about what it is doing with both the people and the States. It would be hard to continue a tyranny for very long under this system.

In order to have a military build-up strong enough to threaten the people’s freedom, it would take a long time and require the constant cooperation of both the Congress and the President. It’s unlikely that such a coalition would survive for long with elections in Congress every 2 years. Would every new member of Congress instantly play along with the conspiracy and not raise the alarm? If you’re afraid of that, we can’t have any kind of federal system at all.

Even if a conspiracy like this began, it wouldn’t remain hidden. It would become obvious when the size of the army is being increased every 2 years. As soon as people know what is going on, the scheme will be finished.

Some people will argue that the President wouldn’t need the support of Congress once he has a sizable army – he can merely raid the countryside for supplies. But of course, how would he get an army that big in the first place? They’ll tell you that an army raised to counter a threat may stick around and be used against the people, but aren’t they really arguing that we shouldn’t ever have an army to defend ourselves? If we legitimately need a huge army to counter a specific threat, there’s really no way to prevent it from being used to attack freedom. No government can totally stop that.

But this isn’t really a concern for us as a united country. I can’t imagine a situation where the entire country was under attack at once, and we therefore needed a massive army (that would also threaten our freedom) to protect us. Especially when you consider that we’ll still have a militia. If we don’t go for a Union though, it’s almost inevitable that our liberty would constantly be threatened by the military (as we discussed before).

Mini-Federalist #25 – The Same Subject Continued: The Powers Necessary to the Common Defense Further Considered

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are intended to be shorter, more understandable versions of the Federalist Papers. This post deals with Federalist #25, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_25.html

Originally published December 21, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

Some people might suggest that the States (while taking direction from the Federal government) should have responsibility for the common defense. The problem with this idea is that it throws the whole system on its head. Not only is it potentially dangerous and burdensome for the States to handle this task, it defeats the purpose of having a Union in the first place.

We are surrounded by foreign nations – it’s not like only specific States are on the borders. All the States face the same danger, so why not have a common government to deal with them? There are some States that face a slightly higher danger and therefore have more responsibility to defend their neighbors (like New York because of its long border with Canada) – this burden isn’t fair to New York, though. And if New York isn’t up to the task of defending that whole border by itself (which it isn’t) that puts every other State in jeopardy, too. Even if New York was up to the task, wouldn’t it be trouble for one State to have such an over-powering military all to itself? Wouldn’t its neighbors be nervous enough that they might build larger military forces than they actually need to counter the threat from other States? It isn’t hard to see how this could lead to friction amongst ourselves. There are a lot of things that are bad about this idea.

We’ve already discussed that the States will be fighting for power with the Federal government regularly. In any such conflict, the local government will probably win out. If those governments also control their own militaries, they would certainly have too much power against the Federal government. It’s also going to be worse for the freedom of the people. It’s better to have the military be under the control of the Federal government (which the people are more likely to be skeptical of) than under the individual States. History teaches us that the most dangerous people are the ones that we trust.

With the understanding that heavily-armed States would be dangerous to the Union, the framers of the Articles of Confederation restricted the States from having armies and navies. In reality, this rule is effectively ignored just like the quota system for revenue.

There are other issues with this idea, too. What proponents of it are trying to do is prevent standing armies during peacetime. But does this prohibit raising armies as well as maintaining them? If it applies to maintaining, how is that going to be determined? Are they only allowed to be maintained for a brief period, or until the crisis is over? Under such a system, couldn’t armies exist in times of peace, and if so, wouldn’t that go against the literal words of the prohibition? Who is going to be the judge of what “time of peace” means? Obviously the Federal government would have to be the judge of this, so how much of a restriction would this be really, if it can be circumvented so easily?

The only thing this is defending against, in reality, is the unlikely event that the legislature and the executive co-operate to make trouble. And if that happened, it would be extremely easy to come up with phantom threats that we need to defend against. The Native-American tribes (incited by Britain or Spain) will be a ready scapegoat. Such a diabolical government may even nudge those foreign powers into making the first attack.

We could restrict the Federal government from raising an army during peacetime, but then, we’d just be creating a country that can’t even prepare to defend itself against an imminent invasion. Formal declarations of war aren’t always issued. We may not know that we’re at war until we’re invaded, and we may not legally be able to even prepare to act until it’s too late. All the preventative and preparatory measures that other countries use would be illegal for ours. Our homes and freedoms would be at the mercy of any foreign nation – and all because we don’t trust the people we chose to run our own country!

People might counter that the militia should be the rightful, able, and ready defenders of the country. But we know from our experience in the Revolution that this isn’t true – we needed an army for our defense then, and we’d be stupid to give credence to that argument now. A militia is no match against a well-trained and well-equipped army. An army would be cheaper, too. During the Revolution, the militia performed great service, but they know that they couldn’t have done it alone. War can best be won by veteran soldiers who know what they’re doing.

Any policy of violence (because they just don’t work) will ultimately fail. Think of Pennsylvania – its constitution prevents it from having standing armies in peacetime, but it has raised one anyway because of small rebellions in a few of its counties. Or what about Massachusetts? it raised a force (that it has kept around to date) in order to deal with a similar insurrection without getting Congressional approval first like the Articles of Confederation require. This just goes to show, we may actually need a military force during peacetime – we shouldn’t absolutely prevent the legislature from having that option. And think of the lesson here – a weak Federal government isn’t going to be respected, and rules on paper aren’t going to mean anything if the people think they need something else.

Returning to history, it was an important aspect of the Lacedaemonian commonwealth that no one could be Admiral twice. But when the Peloponnesians had been beaten by the Athenians in a naval battle, they called for Lysander (who had led them to victory years before) to be given that title a second time. In order to get around the restriction, he was given the Admiral’s powers, but under the title Vice Admiral. This perfectly illustrates the point above – the rules will be broken if society thinks it should break them. If we’re smart, we won’t make rules that we know will be broken, because it will only lead to further infringements on the other laws whenever a politician claims that it is “necessary”.