Saturday, October 24, 2020

 Day 10: Corruption


In the latest Presidential debate, a seemlier affair than the first, allegations of corruption were lodged by each candidate against the other. What is corruption? For those schooled in Classical Liberalism, Aristotelianism provides a framework in considering this question and for helping us understand which candidates may be corrupt.


Of course, there are statutory prohibitions against potentially corrupt behavior, but with your indulgence, kind reader, I suggest we consider this topic on a deeper level.


In his “Nichomachean Ethics,” Aristotle wrote about three types of constitutions and how these are corrupted. He also wrote about the virtues of mankind, with excesses and deficiencies of a given virtue being a corruption of that virtue.


Let us focus today on the constitutions, as they provide a broad view, and how Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden stack up. I encourage you to review Aristotle’s virtues and to think how each candidate measures up in terms of the mean, deficiency or excess.


According to Aristotle, “Constitutions proper are kingly government and aristocracy; and, thirdly, there is a form of government based upon an assessment of property, which should strictly be called timocracy, though most people are wont to speak of it as constitutional government simply.” For our purposes, we may think of our American government as being in the third classification. Instead of property ownership, we use citizenship and age as requisites for engagement in the political process.


Assuming that we are still a constitutional government, Aristotle would say that corruption of such a form results in democracy – a majority rule form of government in which a simple majority decides for all. Take a moment to think of the implications of such a system, and the logical ends to which you will come will surely demonstrate the inherent dangers of pure democracy.


At the extreme, 51 percent of the population could decide to exterminate the other 49 percent. Yes, it is a reductio ad absurdum argument, so let me offer an example closer to home – the selection of a justice for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. As discussed in Week 11, the Democrats in the Senate changed the voting threshold from a supermajority to a simple majority, yet they now bemoan the fact that Judge Coney-Barrett is being added to the Supreme Court without broader support. They made the simple majority bed, now they must sleep in it. Personally, I think a lifetime appointment to any office is significant enough to warrant a supermajority, but that’s just me.


Regrettably, our political history over the course of the past 100 years has been defined by the transfer of power from the people and local governments to the national government. Put another way, the hallmark of the past century is one of abdication of individual sovereignty. In effect, we have moved away from the timocracy or constitutional form of government to one more akin to a kingly form. Instead of one man as king, who so assumed his power by Divine Right, we have a kingly caste made up of lifelong politicians and deep state bureaucrats. Through this lens, there is little wonder that ascension to the presidency is more like a royal line of succession than a process of election by citizen voters. How else could Clinton, Biden or McCain have seriously been possible? They were entitled, and it was their time. Trump has been the anomaly. The only other anomaly in the recent past would be Ross Perot. 


Aristotle describes the corruption of a kingly form of government as one in which the king (or in our case, the state) becomes a tyrant, placing his own interests above those of the people. In this context, we must consider the recent revelations of influence peddling by the Biden family. It is unlikely that we will have the full story of Mr. Biden’s son and brother and their profiting off of Mr. Biden’s name, his former position and the position to which he aspires. Be that as it may, the evidence out there already is damning and may easily be likened to values and practices of a tyrant. Mr. Trump, it is charged, has used his position to aggrandize his real estate fortune. It is certainly reasonable to assume that foreign powers and corporations hope to ingratiate themselves to the Trump family but patronizing Trump properties, but the accusation that seems to remain unanswered is whether or not the President has used his office to effectuate such patronage. 


Which man’s “kingly” action is more corrupt? That is something each of us must decide before casting our ballot.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Countdown to the election

Starting Saturday, the 24th of October, Publius will speak daily as a 10-day countdown to the election. My hope is that the past year and the next 12 days will have helped you contemplate the issues before us, as free men and women. Let us not forget Reagan's admonition that freedom and liberty are never more than a generation away from extinguishment. Until Saturday...

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

 Week 9: The School Board


In his poem of 1634, “Comus: A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle,” John Milton wrote, “Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud turn forth her silver lining on the night? I did not err; there does a sable cloud turn forth her silver lining on the night, and casts a gleam over this tufted grove.”


From Milton, we know today the maxim, “every cloud has a silver lining.”


At the national level, the cloud of extreme partisanship turns forth a silver lining in that it presents a seemingly clear choice between the two major parties’ candidates. People tend to love one candidate and despise the opponent. Interestingly, the policies of both major policies have resulted, over time, in greater intrusion into our lives, exponentially increasing government spending and national debt, and rancorous discord in political debate.


Where clarity becomes translucent at best or opaque at worst is in local elections. I found this to be the case as I reviewed the draft ballot for the upcoming election in my voting district. In researching each candidate for every race, particularly for the county commission and for the local school board, I found a dearth of information about real policy positions, positions that could dictate what a local business can sell (e.g., whether or not a brewery can sell beer if they don’t also sell food), and what and how the children of our community learn (e.g., the lessons of Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples Day).


At least for me, the sable cloud has descended upon and has enveloped me, even in spite of my efforts to learn about these local candidates.


Let us consider the local school board, an often overlooked yet critically important organ of the government. It is a board that interprets national policy and, to a certain extent, sets local policy on the education of future generations. Is there any function of local government with greater consequence than this? And what do we know of our candidates? Practically nothing.


With regard to each and every socio-political ill we face today, the only cure I have heretofore been able to envisage is meaningful education that endeavors to teach not what to think but how to think. This requires effective and transparent education policy and practice, which, in turn, requires a sound and measured guidance of a school board. The antithesis to this cure is an activist school board, which pushes what to think as opposed to fostering learned inquiry. It is, kind reader, my opinion that such activism leads to tyranny.


In “The Gulag Archipelago,” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn exposed the horrors of the Soviet penal system and its collection of prisons and concentration camps. Of particular note in volume one of the three-volume work was the easy purging of anyone in the working class who opposed (and in many cases even those who didn’t oppose) soviet tyranny during the rule of Lenin, Stalin and their successors. He wrote, “But peasants are a silent people, without a literary voice, nor do they write complaints or memoirs.” This was the rationale for 15 million peasants voluntarily, hopelessly and helplessly, showing up to summons by village officials, who summarily sent them off to forced labor camps and to firing squads.


Without doubt, America’s average citizen is clearly better off than the serf or peasant of tsarist and early soviet Russia. After all, de Tocqueville recognized in “Democracy in America,” that, “You cannot doubt that in the United States the instruction of the people serves powerfully to maintain the democratic republic. It will be so, I think, everywhere that the instruction that enlightens the mind is not separated from the education that regulates mores.”


Nevertheless, the restriction and deprivation of information and knowledge is a key requisite for suppression and servitude. I feel like a victim of that deprivation as I try to understand my local candidates and their positions. Were it not for the sample ballot listing party affiliation, I would encounter great difficulty even knowing who was a Democrat, Libertarian or Republican.


Where this lack of information presents a real danger is in the very example we have been considering – the local school board. Parent or not, we are all stakeholders in the edification of today’s youth…tomorrow’s leaders. I, for one, would like to know I’m electing a school board member who will promote critical thinking as opposed to socio-political indoctrination in our taxpayer-funded schools. 


Indoctrination leads to one future and one future only: totalitarianism.


To that point, I have a precisely two weeks to hit the newspapers and internet to discover what else might be out there about my local candidates. I hope, kind reader, you will do the same.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

 Week 10: The Fourth Estate


On Saturday, the tenth of June, 1721, an article entitled, “Reflections upon Libelling,” was published in “The London Journal,” a political periodical of the day. In the article, Thomas Gordon, writing under the nom de plume Cato, opined on a free press. He recognized that, in a free society, there are good and bad actors in the press.


“In countries where there is no liberty,” Cato writes, “there can be no ill effects of it. No body is punished at Constantinople for libelling. Nor is there any distinction there between the liberty of the press, and the licentiousness of the press; a distinction ever to be observed by honest men and freemen.”


Cato was saying that liberty and a free press are symbiotic. For one to exist, the other must, as well. Approximately 66 years later, Edmund Burke would use the term the “Fourth Estate” in Parliament to describe the press. This begs the question: what are the first three estates?


In pre-revolutionary France, the First Estate referred to the clergy, the Second Estate to the nobility, and the Third Estate to the commoners and peasantry. But enough of the history of the French caste system. Let us return to American and to the Fourth Estate.


In ratifying the Constitution, delegates to the convention had to make certain concessions to gain the necessary votes for passage, namely agreeing to a Bill of Rights. Framers of the Constitution had not considered such an enumeration of rights necessary, as the very structure of the Constitution and its inherent limitations on government implied the preservation of citizens’ rights and the protection of those rights from government. Nevertheless, the memories of trampled rights were still fresh for the delegates to the convention and to many citizens in their respective states. The adoption of a Bill of Rights secured the ratification of the Constitution. The first among the amendments that constituted the Bill of Rights reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This being the First Amendment is not accidental. As it is the bedrock upon which the other amendments are built, its primacy among the amendments is intentional. 


Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act reads, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” As part of the act, providers (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) are immune from prosecution for libel. In other words, in exchange for such immunity, online providers essentially function as a public forum.


A violation of this arrangement occurred with Facebook and Twitter censoring of Washington Post reporting about shady deals among former Vice President Biden, his son, and oligarchs in foreign countries, including countries hostile to the United States of America. Because of the quid pro quo arrangements between online providers and the government, as described in the Week 26 posting on censorship, moves like those from Facebook and Twitter are tantamount to violations of the First Amendment.


The three estates of clergy, nobility and commoners have a very different meaning in American than in the rest of the world. Clergy are not established functionaries of the state in America. Nobility is anathema to the American psyche. Commoners describes each and every citizen. Regrettably, our unique view of these estates is imperiled. Clergy, or more broadly religion, is under attack. Nobility has been, for many years, establishing itself in the sense of a political aristocracy, which has as its serfs the “average American,” a term countenanced by the political class, but a term that should be repugnant to every citizen.


This leaves us with the Fourth Estate, a free press. As a result of Section 230, this freedom was to be protected. The actions of Facebook and Twitter, vis-à-vis the Washington Post articles, are bastardizing the Fourth Estate, just as the first three estates have been in recent years.


With a mere 16 days until the election, we must be vigilant in seeking out information and the truth, a chore made more difficult by those who control some much of the information we consume. Let us devote the next two weeks to digging for the truth – about all candidates – no matter how difficult the technocrats make it. 

  Day 1: Vote your conscience   Over the past month, social media posts, tweets, chats, etc. have been replete with “vote as if…” admonition...