Madisonian politics

George Will has found something that President Obama and the Tea Party have in common:  Both disdain Madisonian politics; that is, the checks and balances that require the different factions to compromise with each other, as built into the very structure of Constitutional governance. [Read more...]

Limited vs. Unlimited government

George Will reviews a book that seems to go to the heart of the difference between conservatism and progressivism: Never Enough: America’s Limitless Welfare State

Today, as it has been for a century, American politics is an argument between two Princetonians — James Madison, Class of 1771, and Woodrow Wilson, Class of 1879. Madison was the most profound thinker among the Founders. Wilson, avatar of “progressivism,” was the first president critical of the nation’s founding. Barack Obama’s Wilsonian agenda reflects its namesake’s rejection of limited government.

Lack of “a limiting principle” is the essence of progressivism, according to William Voegeli, contributing editor of the Claremont Review of Books, in his new book “Never Enough: America’s Limitless Welfare State.” The Founders, he writes, believed that free government’s purpose, and the threats to it, are found in nature. The threats are desires for untrammeled power, desires which, Madison said, are “sown in the nature of man.” Government’s limited purpose is to protect the exercise of natural rights that pre-exist government, rights that human reason can ascertain in unchanging principles of conduct and that are essential to the pursuit of happiness.

Wilsonian progressives believe that History is a proper noun, an autonomous thing. It, rather than nature, defines government’s ever-evolving and unlimited purposes. Government exists to dispense an ever-expanding menu of rights — entitlements that serve an open-ended understanding of material and even spiritual well-being.

The name “progressivism” implies criticism of the Founding, which we leave behind as we make progress. And the name is tautological: History is progressive because progress is defined as whatever History produces. History guarantees what the Supreme Court has called “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

The cheerful assumption is that “evolving” must mean “improving.” Progressivism’s promise is a program for every problem, and progressivism’s premise is that every unfulfilled desire is a problem.

via George F. Will – The danger of a government with unlimited power.

Read the whole column, which shows how this plays out in the stated  political theory of FDR, LBJ, and others.  To you progressives in the audience:  Do you accept this characterization?  If not, what limits would you place on the role and power of the government?  Are there some desires that do not constitute “rights”?

Martin Luther and James Madison

I came across this recently, a Letter from James Madison to F.L. Schaeffer, dated 1821, in which the Father of the Constitution and the author of the Bill of Rights credits Luther with his doctrine of the Two Kingdoms for the American handling of church and state:

Revd Sir,

–I have received, with your letter of November 19th, the copy of your address at the ceremonial of laying the corner-stone of St Matthew's Church in New York.

It is a pleasing and persuasive example of pious zeal, united with pure benevolence and of a cordial attachment to a particular creed, untinctured with sectarian illiberality. It illustrates the excellence of a system which, by a due distinction, to which the genius and courage of Luther led the way, between what is due to Caesar and what is due God, best promotes the discharge of both obligations. The experience of the United States is a happy disproof of the error so long rooted in the unenlightened minds of well-meaning Christians, as well as in the corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers, that without a legal incorporation of religious and civil polity, neither could be supported. A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical Religion, to social harmony, and to political prosperity.

In return for your kind sentiments, I tender assurances of my estaeem and my best wishes.

Notice that this is not the “wall of separation” advocated by Jefferson, but a distinction in which both realms flourish as individual Christian citizens fulfill “both obligations” to both church and state.


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