American Federalism Must Devolve Into Athenian Democracies

PolitiChicks.comToday, the American Dream is unfortunately only guaranteed to those born into primogeniture and entail. Man is never biologically born entitled to prosperity, and if we were, we should not like it, for it would eradicate the individual’s humanity, yielding a state of entropy. As man is innately corrupt, the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are only assured by the impartial mediation of a mutually-legitimized third party. If happiness entails owning property or shares, liberty must not be constrained by a prohibitive caste system. Men are born free of preconceptions (“tabula rasa”), yet spectacularly possess the natural instinct ubi terra patria est (“where there is bread, there is my country”). Therefore America, sired by yeoman farmers, poets and sailors, was a New World settled by refugees where only God’s westerly winds permitted they may sail. America, then, was Liberty’s door to opportunity upon which her once-wayward sons could freely knock.

The rise of large cities yielded corrupt harvests under socialism’s permafrost, killing the seeds of virtue from which talent naturally germinates. All this transpired through unnatural political coercion — and by taxation, which defined, is legalized theft.

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“I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries; as long as they are chiefly agricultural; and this will be as long as there shall be vacant lands in any part of America. When they get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe.”― Jefferson to James Madison, December 20, 1787, in PTJ, 12:442.

In an October 28, 1813 reply to John Adams, Thomas Jefferson extolled a natural aristocracy over an artificial nobility, the conscientious arbiter balancing justice with liberty. A virtuous people, armed and educated, would best preserve the rule of law as the popularly-equipped check against their own government:

I think that to give [citizens] power in order to prevent them from doing mischief, is arming them for it, and increasing instead of remedying the evil. For if the coordinate branches can arrest their action, so may they that of the coordinates. Mischief may be done negatively as well as positively.

Jeffersonian too advocated federalism under a democratized republican form of governance.

It was a Bill… to divide every county into wards of 5 or 6 miles square, like your townships; to establish in each ward a free school for reading, writing and common arithmetic; to provide for the annual selection of the best subjects from these schools who might recieve at the public expence a higher degree of education at a district school; and from these district schools to select a certain number of the most promising subjects to be completed at an University, where all the useful sciences should be taught. Worth and genius would thus have been sought out from every condition of life… My proposition had for a further object to impart to these wards those portions of self-government for which they are best qualified, by confiding to them the care of their poor, their roads, police, elections, the nomination of jurors, administration of justice in small cases, elementary exercises of militia… with a Warden at the head of each.

We may attribute American liberty to Jefferson’s greatest influence, John Locke. As no two people are equal aside their eyes watching God, a social contract must devolve federal America into the smallest possible culturally-homogenous polis’ akin to what pervaded in ancient Greece.

The law for religious freedom, which made a part of this system, having put down the aristocracy of the clergy, and restored to the citizen the freedom of the mind, and those of entails and descents nurturing an equality of condition among them, this on Education would have raised the mass of the people to the high ground of moral respectability necessary to their own safety, and to orderly government.

America was established by settlers who constructed small townships, with town halls and churches in line with the archetypical Athenian polis. What we understand is unique about New York City would not apply for the Iowa farmer, so different are both states, respective cities, economies of scale and cultural dynamics. And conservatism places its highest premium upon the cultural narrative, avoiding ethical violations of local security leading to public instability.

Russell Kirk defined ten conservative principles what societies must value to maintain cohesion:

  1. First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order.That order is made for man, and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.
  2. Second, the conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity.It is old custom that enables people to live together peaceably; the destroyers of custom demolish more than they know or desire.
  3. Third, conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription. Conservatives sense that modern people are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, able to see farther than their ancestors only because of the great stature of those who have preceded us in time.
  4. Fourth, conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence. Burke agrees with Plato that in the statesman, prudence is chief among virtues.
  5. Fifth, conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety. They feel affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems.
  6. Sixth, conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability.Human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults, the conservatives know. Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created. Because of human restlessness, mankind would grow rebellious under any utopian domination, and would break out once more in violent discontent—or else expire of boredom.
  7. Seventh, conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked. Separate property from private possession, and Leviathan becomes master of all. Upon the foundation of private property, great civilizations are built. The more widespread is the possession of private property, the more stable and productive is a commonwealth.
  8. Eighth, conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism. Although Americans have been attached strongly to privacy and private rights, they also have been a people conspicuous for a successful spirit of community.
  9. Ninth, the conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions. Politically speaking, power is the ability to do as one likes, regardless of the wills of one’s fellows. A state in which an individual or a small group are able to dominate the wills of their fellows without check is a despotism, whether it is called monarchical or aristocratic or democratic.
  10. Tenth, the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society. The conservative is not opposed to social improvement, although he doubts whether there is any such force as a mystical Progress, with a Roman P, at work in the world. When a society is progressing in some respects, usually it is declining in other respects.

Dr. Peter Critchley credited both Pericles — a traditional aristocrat — and the son of a wealthy arms manufacturer named Sophocles with constructing the model for the earliest form of popular democracy. Both understood its virtues and vices — too much popular power will deteriorate into anarchy. Pericles, for example, sought a reconciliation for “the various elements of freedom, public and private, with each other for the greater good.” Thus public and private freedoms still today remain the clashing forces narrating the struggle to balance human behavior with natural law. These are consistent with Isaac Newton’s third law of energy and conservation. (“With every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”) And both define the eternal struggle between the political Left and Right.

Pericles declared as his first element for a free democracy the necessity of a constitution, or social contract, from which a general consensus would agree and abide by:

“Our constitution is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of the minority, but of the whole people. When it is a question of settling private disputes, everyone is equal before the law; when it is a question of putting one person before another in positions of public responsibility, what counts is not a membership of a particular class, but the actual ability of which the man possesses. No one, so long as he has it in him to be of service to the state, is kept in political obscurity because of poverty.”

Thucydides further recorded Pericles on civic freedom in The Peloponnesian War, supplying the fundamental truth still driving disputes over civil freedom:

“And just as our public life is free and open, so is our day-to-day life in our relations with the other. We do not get into a state with our next door neighbour if he enjoys himself in his own way, nor do we give him the kind of black looks which, though they do no real harm, still do hurt people’s feelings.”

The foundation for a civil democracy, claimed Thucydides, was “… each single one of our citizens, in all the manifold aspects, is able to show himself the rightful lord and owner of his own person [e.g. “self-sufficient”]….” A functioning democracy cannot survive by forcing men to be free as Jean-Jacques Rousseau advocated in The Social Contract. Socialism violates this right to self-ownership, regulating the body God provided each individual. However, the individual has no right trespassing on another’s shares or health.

Austrian economist Murray Rothbard, the intellectual giant of libertarianism and its key plank Anarcho-Capitalism, opposed the state “because it has its very being in such aggression, namely, the expropriation of private property through taxation, the coercive exclusion of other providers of defense service from its territory, and all of the other depredations and coercions that are built upon these twin foci of invasions of individual rights.” And while Rothbard rightly asserted “Rights may be universal”, the critical — and correct — connection must ensure“their enforcement must be local.” Hence, Locke’s concept government only exists to settle disputes over private property remain the best hope of a world with the least popular coercion, the most minimalized possible distortion of natural law. Such are the differences between liberty and justice, for according to John Locke, justice must preserve liberty, but never deny it.

Athenian democracies under conservative principles can only manifest if its appointed officials “meet danger ‘voluntarily, with an easy mind, instead of with laborious training, with natural instead of with state-induced courage.” Courage, then, must be restored before the American people may pledge their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to restore the republic.

Jonathan P. Henderson

Jonathan P. Henderson is a resident of Powell, TN, just a few miles to the north of Knoxville and his alma mater, the University of Tennessee. He earned his B.A. in History with a Minor in Political Science and currently operates a political blog aptly titled Conservatively-Speaking: Classically-Liberal Political Blog Opposing Socialism and Anarcho-Capitalism. In his spare time, Jonathan relishes writing poetry and on occasion, an online game of trivia as it is a pleasant reflection of his memories as an academic quiz bowl team member in high school. His ambition is singular, only that he serves the greater good of mankind however that may be. He feels that if he somehow touches the life of even one person or can cure the doldrums of a random individual, friend or family member by achieving the feat of such person smiling, his life's mission will have been accomplished.

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