Saturday, June 13, 2009

Centralization Begets Disharmony

One of the themes that runs through the writings of most of the Founding Fathers is opposition to political party. The opposition is found not only among the Federalists, who were the majority, centralizing party of the 1790s, but also among the Democratic Republicans, who were the opposition party in the 1790s and became the one dominant party in the "era of good feelings" after 1800. Both Hamilton and Jefferson disliked parties. In the Federalist Madison argued that faction posed a threat to liberty. Part of the opposition to political parties was the interest in harmony. References to classical history, such as the overthrow of the Roman republic by the centralizing Julius Caesar, who established an empire in place of the Roman republic, and to Athens. As well, more recent sources such as Bolingbroke and Trenchard and Gordon's Cato's Letters, were influential. According to Richard Hofstadter in Idea of a Party System (University of California Press, 1972, p. 14) Trenchard and Gordon were quoted more frequently than Locke in the Founding Fathers' writings. As well, Hofstadter argues that Washington may have seen himself as a non-monarchical realization of Bolingbroke's "Patriot King". Bolingbroke was a Tory, not a Whig, yet the Founding Fathers valued his ideas. In America, the Federalists were the equivalent of the court or Tory Party and the Democratic Republicans of Jefferson were the equivalent of the country or Whigs. Note that in the Federalist 10 Madison attacks "faction", a term which in those days referred to parties, or a more intensive, self-interested form of party. It did not exactly mean special interest group as it might today, although the meaning was close.

In part to understand the context of Bolingbroke and anti-faction libertarians like Trenchard and Gordon it is necessary to refer to de Juvenal's 1945 On Power, about which I have just been blogging. Understanding of medieval history was not so strong in the 18th century. Although Montesquieu's Spirit of Laws was a path breaking source on the subject, the Founding Fathers, like most Europeans, had a better understanding of classical (Greek and Roman) history than of the Middle Ages. Europeans did not have a firm understanding of their more recent tribal history or of the relations among the three estates, clergy, nobility and commoners. The concept of the great chain of being that dominated medieval thought was still smoldering--witness the property requirements for voting that were adopted in America. Nevertheless, the historical context preceding the 15th century was not utmost in their minds. But that history, as de Juvenal points out, were critical to understanding the more recent past, especially the English Civil War, a major factor in the 18th century's dread of party and faction.

Prior to the Tudor Kings in, the 15th century and earlier, Europe was considerably more decentralized than it is now. The barons, dukes and lords who were tenants of the king, had considerable power. In many cases their ancestors had been soldiers and officers in the invading barbarian armies, and their inherited rule originated in conquest. Much of medieval history involved the kings' wresting of power from these local rulers. The decentralization was overlaid not only by the king, who frequently had very limited resources, but also by the Church. Thus, the king's power was considerably restricted not only by decentralization and the nobility, but also by the Church. Moreover, there were considerable customs inherited from the barbarian codes, Roman law, local custom and Church law that limited the kings' power. The Hapsburg's' Holy Roman Empire, for instance, was dotted with various local duchies and dukedoms that had widely varying rules for how kings might comport themselves. Although the Hapsburg's were the most powerful family in Europe, they had limited power in their various holdings. The fact that they held a multiplicity of titles is evidence of the various restrictions on their power.

Henry VII and Henry VIII took a variety of centralizing steps in England. Among the most important was that they abolished the affinities of the English nobility, that is, the nobility's armies with which they could threaten the king. As well, Henry VIII took control of church lands, abolished monasteries which were a source of independent local power and granted considerable power to court officials like Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Moore. He brutally suppressed Protestants as well as taking control of the Church. The court officials like Wolsey and Moore, early versions of state bureaucrats, could give out offices and favors. This included employing commoners as court officials. De Jouvenal emphasizes that the European kings in general, not just Henry VIII, gained considerable power between the 12th and 17th centuries by playing the commoners against the nobility. This meant establishing bureaucracies that gave employment to commoners, who in turn fought the nobility for power. This was accelerated in England during Henry VIII's reign.

Attendant upon Henry VIII's centralization of power was the move from Catholicism to Protestantism. Henry VIII assumed the mantle of the Pope, accruing additional power to himself and removing the historical limits that the Church set on kingly power. However, not everyone agreed on religious questions, and there ensued more than a century of bitter violence, strife, warfare and murder concerning religion, culminating in the English Civil War of the 1640s.

Viewed in large perspective, Henry VIII's centralizing steps contributed to the way the religious disagreements were mishandled. The Founding Fathers recognized this in separating Church and state. However, the Constitution was in the centralizing tradition, uniting the 13 colonies under a federal government that had more power than it had under the Articles of Confederation. The fear of faction had the same source as the interest in separation of church and state, but the Founding Fathers took a somewhat more particularistic approach in that they allowed private decision making with respect to religion but not with respect to other issues that might create factions such as the establishment of a central bank and tariffs. How far should unification go? The history of centralization was largely the development of totalitarianism. The first modern mass murders occurred under Cromwell's treatment of the Old English Irish Catholics and in the following century 16,000 Frenchmen were killed in the French Revolution.

Centralization begets conflict because if the nation is to function in harmony there must be agreement, and by uniting disparate localities and cultures into a single nation the kings and then the centralizing republicans were bound to create disagreement.

To the extent that the central government aims to manage conflict, it has to take one of four conflict resolution steps:

-Ignore the conflict by downloading decision making to the or localities. This was the basic federalist approach, which permitted a new way to look at decentralization. The medieval approach was tenancy and feudalism overlaid on manorial farming and often serfdom. The American approach, which reflected a centralizing move from 13 more independent states under the Articles of Confederation to 13 states under a stronger federal government under the Constitution with a free citizenry with inalienable rights largely composed of freemen farmers
-Compromise. By compromise I mean split the difference. This was the approach taken with respect to slavery. Limits were put on the slave trade (abolished in 1808, I believe) and over time the spread of slavery through the various compromises you study in high school, the Missouri Compromise, etc.
-Forcing, i.e., warfare or the threat of warfare. This was the outcome of the failure of the compromises concerning slavery
-Collaboration, finding creative solutions to apparent disagreements.

The point is, to the extent that the centralizing theme of Federalism was to take hold, the amount of conflict was bound to increase, and conflict was bound to become more prevalent, subverting the aim of harmony. If disagreement was to be suppressed, as it was during the Civil War, then freedom (at least for the non-slaves) was to be restricted. Compromise also led to a restriction on freedom because compromise amounts to splitting the difference. Collaboration is always the best way to solve problems, but how could the nation have found a collaborative solution concerning slavery? One idea that has been suggested would have been for the North to buy out the slaves. The combined cost of the Civil War for both sides might have covered a large share of the cost of buying out the southern slave holders. As well, it would have probably limited the bitter racism and resentment against the freed slaves.

Thus, the reason the founding fathers feared factions was the English Civil War, which in turn was the product of several centuries of medieval centralizing by the English (and European) kings. The opponents of faction and party, such as Bolingbroke and Trenchard and Gordon, were reacting to the recent history of the English Civil War, which had been preceded by religious discord, which in turn was the product of the kings' eagerness to centralize power.

Friday, June 12, 2009

De Jouvenal on the Investment Banker Bailout-Socialism of Bush and Obama

"It is far from being the case that these new aristocrats show all the characteristics of the old, or even of those who have climbed the rungs of society's ladder by their own unaided efforts. It is one thing to rise at the riser's own risks, another to owe promotion to a master's favor. A pirate like Drake, enriched by his voyages, the importance of which his ennoblement if nothing else, attests, owes everything to himself and makes a very different sort of aristocrat from a public administrator grown great in public offices often by qualities of flexibility rather than of energy.

"No absolute rule can be laid down, and there have been public functionaries who have displayed the most virile qualities. But often also, as was seen in the late Roman Empire, the functionary is only a freedman who has never shaken off the characteristics of a slave. Recruited from those freedmen, the ruling class of the late Empire became tame and spiritless.

"Towards the end of the ancient regime the French aristocracy, too, felt the effect of the ways in which most of its members had obtained their elevation in the astonishing picture of Pontchartrain given us by Saint-Simon (Pontchartrain [1674-1747]--His administration of his office was deplorable and Saint-Simon's memoirs are studded with unflattering references to him. He obtained his elevation through the influence of his father, who was Chancellor.)

"The tone of an aristocracy gets transformed by the process of internal decay, along with its restocking by elements with little in them of the libertarian spirit: securitarian elements come to predominate in it.

"It is the most pitiable spectacle to be found in social history. Instead of maintaining their position by their own energy and prestige, as men who are always ready to take the initiatives, responsibilities and risks which are too formidable for the other members of society, the privileged, whose role it is to protect others, aim at being protected. Who alone is placed high enough to protect them? The state. They ask it to defend for them the positions which they are no longer capable of defending for themselves and are therefore unfit to occupy.

"When the French nobility, recruited as it then was by the purchase of public offices, was no longer capable of excellence in war, then was the time that it got reserved to it by law the officers' berths. When to the merchants, who, like Sindbad, embarked in a voyage their entire capital there had succeeded a prudent generation of traders, the latter sought to have the king's navy secure to their travellers exclusive rights to some distant coast--from which their ancestors would have kept all intruders away themselves by their own artillery.

"...The essential psychological characteristic of our age is the predominance of fear over self-confidence. The worker is afraid of unemployment and of having nothing saved for old age. His demand is for what is nowadays called 'social security.'

"But the banker is just as timorous; fearing for his investments, he places the capital monies at his disposal in government issues, and is content to credit effortlessly the difference between the interest earned by these securities and the interest which he pays out to his depositors. Everyone of every class tries to rest his individual existence on the bosom of the state and tends to regard the state as the universal provider. And President Franklin Roosevelt cam out as the perfect psychologist when he laid down as 'the new rights of men' the right of the worker to be regularly employed at a regular salary, the right of the producer to sell stable quantities of goods at a stable price, and so on. Such are, in substance, the securitarian aspirations of our time.

"The new rights of man are given out as coming to complete those already proclaimed in the eighteenth century. But the least reflection is sufficient to show that in fact they contradict and abrogate them..."

Bertrand de Jouvenal, On Power, pp. 383-8. 1945.

Monday, June 8, 2009

De Jouvenal on State Sovereignty

Decentralization is a managerial tool that has proven to be essential to conglomerates and other large organizations. With respect to political entities, it is essential. The managerial state, by which I mean the state that has committed to managing the delivery of services, is governed by the same principles that govern any other organization. The reason for decentralization is the difficulty in understanding problems. The large size of the federal government renders decision making difficult. Smaller size better reflects preferences and tastes. Finding a set of policies that matches people's preferences is exponentially more difficult when larger numbers of people are involved.

De Jouvenal notes that leaders of democratic-authoritarian states, like the United States, dread decentralization. Note that he argues that democracies are by their own nature authoritarian because the unfettered "national will" dispenses with law and views any intermediary unit--the family, firms, unions, hospitals, churches--as subject to its control. The transition from monarchy to democracy changes the historic role of law from that of guide to action and protector of rights to that of expression of the will of power as reflected in the sovereign will of the monarch-turned-legislature. In the United States that transition occurred from 1860 to 1935 and may be called Progressivism.

De Jouvenal writes (p. 286, On Power):

"Every Power is sure to attack centrifugal tendencies. But the behaviour of democratic Power offers in this respect some peculiar features of a striking kind. It claims its mission to be that of liberating men from the constraints put on him by the old Power, which was the more or less direct descendant of conquest. But that did not stop the Convention from guillotining the Federalists, the English Parliament from wiping out, in some of the bloodiest repressions of history, the separatist nationalism in Ireland, or the government in Washington from launching a war such as Europe had never seen to crush the attempt of the Southern States to form themselves into a separate unity. Another instance would be the action of the Spanish Republic in 1934 in opposing by force the movement to Catalan independence.

"This hostility to the formation of smaller communities is inconsistent with the claim to have inaugurated government of the people by itself, for clearly a government answers more closely to that description in smaller communities than in large. Only in smaller communities can the citizens chose their rulers directly from men whom they know personally. Only in them can justification be found for the encomium pronounced by Montesquieu:

"'The people is well fitted to choose...The people knows well whether a man has often seen active service and what successes he has won: therefore it is well equipped to choose a general. It knows whether a judge attends to his duties; whether most people leave his court satisfied; whether or not he is corrupt; therein is knowledge sufficient for it to elect a praetor. It has been impressed by the magnificence or wealth of a certain citizen; this qualifies it to choose an aedile. These are all facts which make a public square a better informed place than the palace of a king.'

"A further requirement is that there should be a public square or its equivalent, and that the choice of administrators should take place at the municipal level.

"The desire to secure the fullest measure of popular sovereignty possible should logically lead to the same principles being followed in the formation of the higher authorities. At the provincial level the population is already too large and too scattered to be effectively assembled, so that each candidate for a place may be known personally to everyone. For that reason the choice and control of regional administrators should be the work of the representatives of the municipalities. And, for the same reason, the choice and control of national administrators should be the work of representatives of the region.

"A system of this kind would assuredly be best fitted to embody popular sovereignty, especially if the representatives were held in check by imperative mandates, and were liable at any moment to be recalled by their constituents, even as the representatives attending at the Dutch States-General could be recalled by their provinces and the representatives at the States-Regional by their townships.

"But the new men whom the popular voice has made masters of the imperium have never shown any inclination to a regime of that kind. It was distasteful to them, as the heirs of the monarchical authority, to fritter away their estate on subordinating themselves. On the contrary, strong in strength of a new legitimacy, their one aim was to increase it. Against the federalist conception Sieyes was their mouthpiece:

"'A general administration which, starting from a common centre, will reach uniformly to the remotest parts of the Empire--a body of laws which, though its elements are provided by the body of citizens, takes bodily form at as distant a level as that of the National Assembly, to whom alone it belongs to interpret the general wish, that wish which thereafter falls with all the weight of an irresistible force on those very wills which have joined in the formation of it.'"

Sunday, June 7, 2009

De Jouvenal on the French and English Revolutions -- And Progressivism

De Juvenal uses the word "Power" to refer to centralized authority. In the Middle Ages it was the king. From On Power, p. 267:

"What the old constitution had guaranteed was that no proposition made by Power in the name of he public interest could become law without having obtained the assent of the various interests included in the nation. It would have been illogical for these various interests as such to have proposed laws since the purpose of laws was to serve the public interest. The assembly could become, as it did, the propounder of laws only in virtue of the quite novel idea that it was representative of the nation, considered as a whole and in its general interest; this was the role that had formerly belonged to the king. The change, which affected the very essence of the assembly's nature, was marked by a new-found freedom of action on the part of the representatives in regard to their constituents, a freedom which the doctrinaires of the new system especially emphasized. They were careless of the fact that Parliament, once it had been unified, emancipated, and made supreme as being the main, and tending to be the sole author of law, could not possibly maintain the same dispositions as had characterized it when it was disparate, bound down and without authority proper to itself.

"Parliament was now the king's successor as the representative of the whole: it had taken over his mission and his requirements. Unlike him, however, it no longer had representatives of diversity to deal with, mandatories of particular interests, which it must take into account.

"In the ancient constitution the interest of the nation was represented in two ways, as a whole and as a collection of parts, the former disposed to ask and the latter to refuse. One of them now disappeared. It was not as might have been expected, the king, for the legislative Power representing the public interest is merely his successor. No, what has disappeared has been the representation of various interests included in the nation. What had been a body for the protection of private citizens is now one for the advancement of the public interest, and has been clothed with the formidable power of legislation.

"In its new form Power had a much wider scope than its old. The sovereign, when he was king, was tied down by a higher code, which religion validated and of which the Church stood guardian; he was restrained as well by the various customary rules which being rooted in popular sentiment acted as makeweights to himself. But this code and those rules are of no avail against Power turned lawgiver, whose recognized right and duty it is now to be itself the source of codes and rules. 'The English Parliament,' it has been said by some wit 'can do anything except change a man into a woman.

"It is quite certain that nothing of this sort entered philosophical heads. All of them were deeply convinced of the existence of a natural and necessary order, and the function of the lawgiver as they saw it, was to disentangle the outlines of this order..."

Robespierre on Progressivism and the Living Constitution

"what do we care for devices devised to balance the authority of tyrants? It is tyranny that must be extirpated: the aim of the people should be, not to find in the quarrels of their masters short breathing spaces for themselves, but to make their own right arms the guarantee of their rights."*

De Jouvenal adds:

"In other words, when the Power was held by others, we favoured limiting it; now that we hold it ourselves, it cannot be too big."

*Robespierre's speech at the sitting of May 10, 1793. Quoted in de Jouvenal, On Power, p. 250.