Saturday, June 20, 2009

Septimius Severus, Progressivism and the Banality of Evil

Going through Rostovtzeff's Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire leads to a question: Is the pattern of the rise and fall of Rome similar to the pattern of events that the United States has been and is experiencing? The answer is complicated but I would argue that on a certain level of abstraction the two are parallel. The similarity is most direct in comparing the sequence of events following Progressivism to the decline of Rome, specifically to Americans' adoption of a rigid state strategy, Progressivism, as opposed to flexibility and decentralization characteristic of states' rights and laissez-faire capitalism. The differences between Rome and the American experience were most pronounced in America's 17th through the 19th centuries. The American model of progress differed sharply from Rome's. But the twentieth century might be called America's Roman age, for America adopted not so much the Roman techniques but the formulaic rigidity that characterized the Roman model, although there was greater emphasis on conquest and imperialism beginning with the Progressive era. As well, Progressivism and the New Deal adopted the Antonine and Severine strategy of playing the proletariat against the capitalist in order to concentrate power at the imperial height, i.e., in Washington cum Rome. America's adoption of the philosophy of Progressivism and the New Deal was the Romanization of the United States.

Rome fell because it was inflexible. All civilizations, like most business firms, are to some degree. It was in the adoption of a rigid formula, Progressivism; reform through experts; centralized control of the money supply hence the economy through the Federal Reserve Bank; a large military; and universities to supply advice and provide the experts, that America parallels Rome. Not in these policies themselves, but in the existence of a pre-determined strategy and the creation of an elite that depends on favors from a centralized source. The similarity is this. All strategies and policies reach breaking points. Civilizations fail when they lack the flexibility to redeploy assets in response to strategic failures. The ability to change and to experiment is more important than a specific strategy. Adoption of high fixed cost, large-scale strategies leads to ridigity and the unwillingness to experiment. The emphasis on economies of scale, which was associated with Progressivism, hearkens back to the Roman model of progress which also depended on large, institutionalized state-backed military-industrial complex.

In comparing any two large groupings of humanity there will be differences and similarities. The key difference between Rome and the US is the American concept of liberty, which differs from the ancient concept and which, in turn, led to the idea of spontaneous progress through private enterprise. Spontaneous order rooted in decentralization and liberty of decentralized units versus the Roman vision of centralized control and duplicative decentralization. The American approach led to technological advance that might have been seen 2,000 years ago if the Greek world had predominated over the Roman instead of the other way around.

The Roman concept of progress was based on conquest, political manipulation (co-opting the upper classes of conquered nations) and exploitation. By our standards the Romans were cruel and destructive. This is not just a moral question. The Roman model of progress, because of its rigidity and its assumption of a fixed pie, placed limitations on the Romans' ability to become wealthy. The rigid commitment to the model of conquest, establish cities, establish a dominant local elite, and exploit the majority as tenant farmers, serfs or slaves, what might be called the Romans' resource-dependent model of expansion (as opposed to the Americans' learning- or technologically based- model) led ultimately to Rome's decline. Sadly, Americans have increasingly adopted the resource-based model at the expense of the learning-based one. Witness the policies surrounding the recent financial and banking failures, which involved subsidies and insistence on control rather than organizational death and renaissance.

However, the Roman model was robust and the ascendancy of Rome lasted seven centuries. Time is not a perfect indicator because the pace of travel and communication were slower. Also, the Romans created intolerable conditions for many inhabitants of the conquered nations. Although the system was stable it was violent, exploitative and cruel.

The Romans did permit considerable latitude to the private sector, and there was a considerable amount of capitalistic agriculture, shipping and manufacturing. But the role these played was to serve the military-industrial complex. Rome's wealth could only increase through new conquest. They did not imagine that technological advance or business innovation could enhance wealth. The Romans did not envision progress through technology, learning, invention or better products. There was learning and advance in areas like law, engineering and construction and, as well, there were sophisticated farming and shipping enterprises. But these largely relied on technologies that the Greeks, especially the Hellenic cities of Asia Minor, had innovated. Rome invented the military-industrial complex. It existed on a smaller scale in medieval and mercantilist Europe and it also existed in Greece, China and elsewhere. Prior to Progressivism America was isolationist and economic activity entrepreneurial. The centralization of industry opened the door to the argument that Progressive government was needed to protect the poor. This was the argument of Hadrian and Septimius Severus. Few would argue that the Roman Emperors were primarily concerned with the poor. We know, historically, that the lot of European peasants did not improve from the Second to th Fourteenth centuries. Yet, many Americans believe Progressives' claims, the claims of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, that they were for the poor. Yet, real wages started declining less than 30 years after FDR's death, and they have not recovered.

Coordination of the massive land area that it had conquered posed important managerial challenges that Rome had to meet through decentralization. But the decentralization it practiced led to reduction in the value of the conquered provinces. It was an imposed decentralization that inhibited spontaneous development. Rome tended to destroy cultural differences and initiative and to aim to homogenize the elites of each conquered province. The provinces were to be clones of Rome. In turn, their provincial agricultural and economic surplus was Rome's.

As the extent of the empire grew, the cost of expanding further increased and the benefit from expanding further decreased. Part of this was simple mechanics. The Empire's circumference became larger; there were more threats; greater distances to travel. As well, as Rome went further from the Mediterranean the level of civilization was lower and the difficulties in establishing footholds greater.

To enable the conquered colonies to turn into decentralized duplicates or mini-Romes, Rome had to build urban centers in each one. It spent huge amounts of money building urban centers in all of the colonies. The purpose of the urban centers was to create an elite who would dominate the colony on behalf of Rome. It encouraged urbanization to create Romanization of the conquered populations. But in order to Romanize, resources had to be diverted to support the urban centers and subsidize "bourgeois" regional elites.

In effect, Rome was involved in a "pyramid scheme" that lasted seven centuries. In order to become wealthy it needed to conquer new provinces that in turn subsidized the mother-city and Italy. In order to control the provinces it needed to create new urban centers that absorbed much of the wealth of the conquered colonies. To pay for the expansion and allow the new elites in the newly conquered provinces to prosper, additional conquest had to be made. Additional gain could only be achieved by new conquest. Over centuries the pyramid scheme became so unwieldy that it could not be continued. Stresses began to be felt in the time of the Flavian and Antonine emperors.

Moreover, decentralization weakened Rome and Italy because Romans had to settle in the provinces in order to accomplish the goal of replication of Roman society. In other words, the provincial urban centers were a combination of Roman expatriates and elite colonial nationals. The result was a hollowing out of Rome as the best and the brightest settled in Gaul, Spain, Britain, upper and lower Germany, Africa, Greece, Asia Minor, Egypt and Arabia.

A comparison of Rome and the United States suggests that decentralization needs to be spontaneous to be productive. Without decentralization Rome could not have functioned, but it lost the ultimate value of decentralization. This was inevitable because spontaneous decentralization is inconsistent with conquest.

The ultimate result of the duplicative decentralization policy was that Rome became ruled by non-Romans from the provinces. The reason was that the praetorian guard, the Roman army unit that protected the Emperor and Rome itself, had selected the Emperor. Historically, the scope of the provinces had become too large for a Roman national-dominated army to protect it. Moreover, the Romans did not trust their own proletariat and were reluctant to permit them to dominate the military. The result was a provincially-dominated military whose soldiers were not completely Romanized. The end result was an Emperor who himself was non-Roman. The pattern had begun with Augustus, but reached a head in the second and third century AD reign of Septimius Severus, the first foreign-born emperor and one who perpetuated Marcus Aurelius's institution of a hereditary monarchy.

Rostovtzeff describes the Antonine Emperors, Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius, as "enlightened". The Antonine pattern was that the Emperor would adopt the ablest Senator as his son, and power would be passed to the adopted son. Unfortunately for Rome, Marcus Aurelius broke this tradition and appointed his natural born son, Commodus, who was a poor ruler and in some ways paralleled Nero:

"He relied too much on the praetorian guard and the police corps of the capital, and neglected personal relations with the provincial armies...The repeated doles and other favors bestowed on the garrison of the capital...aroused their jealousy...The rumors about his dissipated life, his ignominious behaviour, and his liking for charioteers and gladiators, which were spread by the efforts of the officers, made it possible for the commanders of the most important armies, those of Britain, Pannonia and Syria, to take part in a military pronunciamento."

A senator, Pertinax, served briefly as Emperor, but the praetorians did not like him and murdered him. There was a civil war and for the first time the praetorians had become too weak to decide who the emperor would be. The provincial armies fought it out among themselves, and Septimius Severus, the leader of the Pannonian army in Germany and Illyria (what is now eastern Europe) ultimately prevailed after Didius Julianus bought the office from the praetorian guard and was deposed.

The pattern of economic development that Rome followed was that they conquered a nation. They built an urban center. They encouraged the elite of the nation to become educated in Roman culture and customs. The elite then supported Rome and adopted Roman culture. They permitted free enterprise, but the vast majority of the population was forced to work as tenant farmers. Industry became centralized because the largest markets were for state use: the army and Rome itself. Thus, farming had gone in the time of Augustus from peasant and self-owned to capitalistic farming. Ultimately, the state took control of considerable lands. Wealth became increasingly concentrated in the hands of the few who benefited from state contracts and trade. But trade was widespread and private manufacturing existed throughout the provinces, especially Alexandria. Much of the cost of administration was born by wealthy businessmen, in the form of what was called liturgies or duties. Eventually Rome required elite businessmen to collect taxes and perform other services as well.

As a usurper, Septimius Severus depended on the army for support. In response, he introduced military reforms and he dramatically increased the presence of barbarians in the Roman aristocracy and the Senate and made membership in the Roman aristocracy dependent on having a military career. He also increased military pay, exempted veterans from municipal liturgies and recognized marriages by soldiers.

To legitimize himself Septimius calimed to wish to avenge the murder of Pertinax, claimed to be Commodus' brother and forged papers showing that he had been adopted by Marcus Aurelius. Crucially, he adopted a policy of reconciliation with the peasants at the expense of urban centers and the wealthy. Rostovtzeff emphasizes:

"the legislation of the Empire was never more humane than in the age of the Severi. The great jurists of this time, Papinian, Ulpian, and Paulus, were given a free hand to develop their favorite humanitarian ideas of equal law for everybody and of the duty of protecting human life in general and the weak and the poor in particular. On the eve of the great social revolution for which the militarization of the Empire was preparing the way, Roman law displayed for the last time its noblest and most brilliant aspect...It is manifest, however, that the liberal social policy of Septimius was designed first and foremost to consolidate his own power and that of his dynasty. Like Commodus, he determined to base his power on the classes from which his soldiers were drawn: hence his liberal legislation and his measures for the protection of the peasants and the city proletariat against the ruling classes and the imperial administration...Septimius apparently wished to increase the numbers of free landowners on his estates, and he insisted on the strict adherence of the contractors and the procurators to the provisions of his predecessors..."

Like Hadrian and Commodus, Septimius aimed to win over the peasant population in Egypt and Asia Minor (p. 357). Rostovtzeff writes:

"We possess three or four petitions dating from the time of Septimius, all recently found in Lydia. After making complaints to the high officials and suffering disillusionment, the peasants appealed directly to the emperor, using the most devoted and loyal language. In one of the petitions their representative says: 'We beg of you, greatest and most sacred of all emperors, that having regard to your laws and those of your ancestors, and to your peace-making justice to all, and hating those whom you and all your ancestors on the throne have always hated, you will order...

"...Thus the policy of Septimius towards the humble was a policy of protection and concession. Towards the cities his attitude was different...We cannot forget the fate of Lyons in Gaul and of Byzantium. The former never recovered from the ruthless punishment meted out to it. Severe chastisement was also inflicted on Antioch. Scores of cities were obliged to pay enormous contributions because they had been forced to furnish money to ( Septimius's rival) Pescennius Niger. Of the confiscation of the property of of many members of the provincial aristocracy we have already spoken.

"More important than these temporary measures of repression was the general policy of Septimius towards the upper classes of the city population. In speaking of liturgies in the preceding chapter, I laid stress on the fact that Septimius was the first emperor who insisted upon the personal responsibility of the municipal magistrates. He was also the first who, with the help of his jurists, developed the oppressive system of liturgies into a permanent institution legalized, regularized and enforced by the state. The jurists who did most to elaborate the system and theory of munera (duties) were Papinian and Callistratus, the contemporaries of Septimius, and Ulpian, the adviser of Alexander Severus..."

Rostotzveff notes two liturgies, duties or taxes that Septimius reenforced (they had previously existed but he intensified them): decaprotia, or a duty or munera on the top ten citizens of a city; eikosaprotia, or a duty or munera on the top twenty citizens. Rostovtzeff adds:

"It is certain also that more systematic pressure was exercised by Septimius and his successors on the associations and corporations which served the state. The fact that Callistratus, in speaking of the organization of the munera in municipal life, devotes so much attention to the corporations (or trade associations), shows that Septimius, following the lead of his predecessors, particularly Hadrian, M. Aurelius and Commodus, minutely regulated the relations between the corporations and the cities. Specially important were the navicularii (shippers) and the merchants...It is significant of the position of these corporations that Callistratus emphasizes the assistance of the merchants and the service of the shipowners, and that he insists upon the point that both are performing a munus publicum (public duty)."

Thus, as in Progressivism, special interests played a role in the early decline of the Roman Empire. Like Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, Septimius saw an important advantage primarily in support for the poor:

"While helping in this way some members of the privileged classes whose service was needed by the state, or rather while endeavoring to ease somewhat the increasing pressure of the burden which lay on their shoulders, Septimius never forgot the interests of the humbler and poorer classes. It is probable that it was he who extended the privilege of exemption from the municipal liturgies to the tenants of the imperial estates. Very likely he was moved to do so by their repeated complaints about the arbitrary way in which, though not resident in the cities, they were forced by the municipal magistrates and the imperial officers to share the municipal burdens. In the petition of Aga Bey in Lydia the peasants lay great stress on this point and threaten the emperor with a mass strike in the form of an anachorasis

The end result was the squeezing of the well to do in favor of the poor and very wealthy:

"Some of the richest men being thus exempt, the owners of land and shops, belonging chiefly to the middle class, remained the sole bearers of liturgies. It was no wonder that they tried by various ingenious devices to escape these burdens, which undermined their economic prosperity."

Septimius engaged heavily in the redistribution of wealth, which in turn led to widespread criminality during his reign:

"Confiscations of landed property en masse convulsed economic life to an extent which must not be underestimated. Private capital and private initiative were thus removed from large and flourishing concerns and replaced by a new system of management, bureaucratic and lifeless in the extreme. Political persecutions on a large scale scared thousands of people, both guilty and innocent, and forced them to flee from their homes . The chief evil, however, was the enormous number of government agents, mostly soldiers performing the duties of policemen--the frumentarii, stationarii and colletiones--who in their pursuit of political criminals penetrated into all the cities and villages and searched private houses, and who were, of course, accessible to bribes...Still more serious were the exactions of these same agents in connexion with the frequent military expeditions of the emperor. In time of civil war no one cared a straw for the people. New recruits were levied in masses and compulsorily; means of transport and men were requisitioned for armies on the march; foodstuffs and war material also had to be supplied by the people; and quarters provided in their homes for soldiers and officers. The inscriptions mention many prominent men who were in charge of the war chest, that is to say, whose function it was to levy money contributions and war supplies from cities and individuals. These men naturally could not perform their duties without the aid of a mass of minor officials and soldiers, who swooped down like a swarm of locusts on the cities and villages, devouring their substance and scaring and exasperating all class of the population."

Naturally, American society has not reached such extremes. But as Hannah Arendt noted in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem, the modern world is characterized by the "banality of evil". Who needs officials to levy taxes and terrorize the population when this can be accomplished effortlessly through the Federal Reserve Bank?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Rise and Decline of Hellenistic Monarchies

Recently, Newsweak featured a headline claiming that "We Are All Socialists Now." Perhaps it should have featured a picture of Demetrius Poliorcetes on the cover instead. The history of the ancient Hellenistic cities in what is now Arabia and Turkey might provide more useful knowledge about what is happening in the United States now than one can find in newspapers, magazines or on television.

Michael Rostovtzeff was a Ukrainian-born archaeologist and professor of ancient history at Yale beginning in 1925. He died in 1952. He was among the first historians to study the ancient world's economies and to emphasize the role of capitalism in the rise and decline of ancient societies.

I have just started reading Rostovtzeff's monumental Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire*, one of a number of massive books that he authored. The text runs to 488 pages but there are in addition more than 200 pages of footnotes. Friends of liberty will do well to consider Rostovtzeff's work.

He starts the book by discussing the history of Greece and the Hellenistic city states that Greeks founded in what is now Arabia and Turkey. He notes that "class warfare" was common in the Greek city states and in Greece proper. "This class-war made the growth and development of a sound capitalistic system very difficult." There were widespread movements for redistribution of land and abolition of debts. The problem was so widespread that Athens and Itana in Crete required citizens to swear that they would not put redistribution of land and abolition of debts to the vote.

Rosttovtzeff writes:

"Revolution and reaction followed each other with brief delays, and were marked by wholesale slaughter or expulsion of the best citizens...What was lost by the Greek cities of the European mainland and most of the islands was gained by the Hellenistic monarchies and more especially by the Greek cities of the East."

The eastern Hellenistic kings of the fourth and third centuries BC were anti-libertarian capitalists, much like more recent rulers of Chile and post-Mao China. "The result was that every attempt at a social revolution within their gates was stopped by the strong hand of the Hellenistic monarchs, and that the cities were very rarely involved in external warfare."

The kings' suppression of revolution had a libertarian effect, at least temporarily. "The accumulation of capital and the introduction of improved methods in trade and industry proceeded more freely and successfully in the East than in the cities of Greece proper. Hence the commercial capitalism of the Greek cities of the fourth century attained an ever higher development, which brought the Hellenistic states very near to the stage of industrial capitalism that characterizes the economic history of Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries."

That is mind blowing. In the fourth and third centuries BC Greeks in Asia Minor were attaining 19th century levels of industrialization? In other words, from the year 300BC until 1900 virtually no consistent economic progress was made? And how easy might it be to revert to the decline that followed the fall of the Roman Empire roughly 1500 years ago? True, these societies depended on slave labour. But recall that the American economy also so depended until 1862.

Rostovtzeff notes that the Greek cities not only had a large internal market and a large, competitive trade, but also:

"They gradually improved the technique of agricultural and of industrial production with the aid of pure and applied science...and they employed both in agriculture (including cattle-breeding) and in industry the methods of pure capitalistic economy based on slave-labour. They introduced for the first time a mass production of goods for an indefinite market. They developed banking and credit and succeeded in creating not only general rules for maritime commerce...but also a kind of common civil law, which was valid all over the Hellenistic world. The same tendency towards unification may be noticed in attempts to stabilize the currency, or at least to establish stable relations between the coins of the various independent trading states."

These impressive advances, a globalization that occurred nearly 2,500 years ago, very quickly "stunted" and then was "atrophied" by "constant warfare which raged almost without interruption all over the Hellenistic world." "The wars forced the Hellenistic states, both great and small, to concentrate their efforts on military preparations, on building up the largest possible armies and navies, on inventing new devices in military engineering, and thus wasting enormous sums of money as, for instance, in the case of the siege of Rhodes by Demetrius Poliorcetes."

Rostovtzeff notes that this led to:

"Nationalization of both production and exchange, which was carried out in some, at least, of the Hellenistic monarchies, especially Egypt. By nationalization I mean the concentration of the management of the most essential branches of economic activity in the hands of the state, that is to say, of the king and his officials. Profitable at first for the state, this system gradually led to dishonesty and lawlessness on the part of the officials and to the almost complete elimination of competition and of the free play of the individual energy on the part of the population.

"Hand in hand with this tendency towards state control went the minute elaboration of a highly refined system of taxation, which affected every side of economic life. It was based on the experience of the Oriental monarchies, but it went much farther both in inventing new taxable objects and in improving the mode of collecting the taxes. The burden of taxation lay heavily on the population of the Hellenistic world...

"This disastrous economic system of the Hellenistic monarchies produced ever-growing discontent among the masses of the natives. From the end of the third century onwards the native population of Egypt, for example, rose repeatedly against its foreign oppressors..."

Naturally, the warfare and economic dislocations due to taxes and socialism in the Greek world opened the city gates to a rising new imperial power: Rome. Might the United States' ever-expanding government spending; subsidization of corrupt and inefficient financial institutions and corporations; and its military-industrial complex open the door to the ascendancy of a new power, this time from the East?

*All quotes in this blog are taken from chapter 1, "Italy and the Civil War".

Monday, June 15, 2009

Notes on KR Constantine Gutzman's "Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions Reconsidered"

KR Constantine Gutzman, "The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions Reconsidered: 'An Appeal to the Real Laws of Our Country'". Journal of Southern History 66:3, Aug. 2000. 473-96

Professor Gutzman wrote an excellent article in the Journal of Southern History. He shows the development of the Virgina and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, which Jefferson (Kentucky) and Madison (Virginia) authored in light of Virginia's historical and philosophical ideas about states' rights and the compact nature of the Constitution that go back to the Richmond Ratification Convention. John Taylor, who oversaw the adoption of the Virginia Resolution, was a former anti-Federalist and fascinating states' rights advocate who deserves attention.

Gutzman starts out by noting that Edmund Randolph argued in a debate with Patrick Henry in the Richmond Ratification Convention (ratification of the US Constitution) that "the Constitution's 'necessary and proper' and 'general welfare' clauses would not grant new powers to the federal government because 'all rights are therein declared to be completely vested in the people unless expressly given away. Can there be a more pointed or positive reservation?' Randolph's explanation reduced the proposed constitution from a national charter--as it was conceived to be by the most nationalist Federalists--to the latest in a long line of compacts, stretching back to the early seventeenth century between Virginia and what Virginians understood to be 'federal' authority.

"Later on the same day, George Nicholas, one of Randolph's fellow members of the committee to draft the ratification instrument, assured the convention that the Constitution would be a contract and that Virginia was to be one of thirteen parties to it.

"As early as 1789 Richard Henry Lee counseled 'the friends of liberty to guard with perfect vigilance every right that belongs to the states, and to protest against every invasion of them, taking care always to procure as many protesting states as possible...'

In 1790 the Virginia General Assembly passed a resolution calling "Hamilton's act for federal assumption of all state debts 'repugnant to the it goes to the exercise of a power not expressly granted to the General Government.'"

"As in the Imperial Crisis and the Confederation period, Virginians continued to conceive of their interstate union as precisely a federal union, a union among parties that were somehow on equal footing. Virginia, not America, remained the primary unit of government; the United States government a convenience."

"...John Taylor of Caroline. An Anti-Federalist in 1787, Taylor was committed by his reading of history to a posture of hyper-vigilance in the new government's first years. If the fledgling government were allowed to lay down precedents antithetical to the contractual reading of the Constitution that Federalists had promised at Richmond, greater arrogations of the states' power would follow inevitably. If a new government be allowed to stray uninterruptedly, he wrote, 'it will soon become too strong for correction, and instead of being a blessing it will turn out a curse to its parents.'"

"(Taylor's) pamphlets of the 1790s were masterpieces of sometimes inspired, sometimes befuddled opposition to Federalism. In them, he laid out the case for the notion that federal officeholders were using their control of the government to milk other Americans of money."

Taylor argued that the states should have the power to override federal legislation. In his argument for repeal of the carriage tax in 1795 Taylor stated:

"If only 'those designed to be restrained,' for example, federal judges, could enforce the federal Constitution, 'America possess only the effigy of a Constitution.'"

Smart guy.

"In his earlier pamphlet, "An Enquiry into the Principles and Tendency of Certain Public Measures" Taylor claimed that Article V of the federal constitution recognized state legislatures' status as 'state conventions,' because it granted them a share of the amendment power. For state legislatures to protest--'to make known the public will'--could not possibly be unconstitutional. They should protest by expositing 'explanations of the constitution according with its spirit--its construction when adopted--its unstrained construction now--and with republican principles." In short, state legislatures should act as Americans have now come to think it is normal for the United State Supreme Court to act."

"To Taylor's suggestion that Virginia and North Carolina should contemplate a separate existence, Jefferson responded with his famous idea that since human nature insured there must always be parties in any free government, Virginia and North Carolina would soon be fighting each other, and even Virginia would be rent by division if it were independent. Jefferson preferred to retain the tie to New England, thus reserving Virginians' ire for Yankees...

"The flaw in the system flowed, Taylor held, from the Hamiltonian fiscal structure. The bank and the assumption of state debts had generated a large pool of money controlled by only a few--he said 5,000 of the United States' 5,000,000, and those few controlled the federal government via corruption. Political power had been transferred from the nation to a paper fabrick 'yielding a government of paper.' His solution was an amendment banning holders of federal debt and of bank stock from positions in Congress, along with another reducing senators' and presidents terms in office to three years.

"For Taylor, the most perfect embodiment of the people was the state legislature. Unlike the Congress, the Virginia General Assembly was in effect an annual convention of the people, its members chosen from small districts to short terms, thus sharing in their constituents' travails. Constitutional issues were properly decided by the state legislatures, Taylor told Jefferson in the wake of the Virginia Resolutions' adoption...He would prefer that power be left in the people, not offset against other power."

"In 1786 Jefferson had written to Madison that the general government of the United States should have power only 'as to foreign concerns' and should 'keep us distinct in Domestic ones...'...his first inaugural address as president included a call for 'the support of the state governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrators for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies.

Unlike Taylor, Jefferson favored the general government system that the constitution created. Jefferson was not an anti-Federalist.

The Kentucky Resolutions, which were not known to be authored by Jefferson until a decade after the fact, says that "'the States retain as complete authority as possible over their own citizens.'" The Constitution was limited to "special purposes". "When the federal government exceeded its mandate, its acts were 'unauthoritative, void and of no force..."

In the Second Resolution Jefferson argued that the Sedition Act was unconstitutional hence void. The Third Resolution applied the language of the Tenth Amendment and the First Amendment to the Sedition Act.

The Fourth resolution held that the Alien Friends Act was void on Tenth Amendment grounds. The Fifth and Sixth Resolutions applied the tenth amendment and Article V of the Constitution as well as Article III of the federal Constitution to the Alien and Sedition Acts.

In the Seventh Resolution Jefferson wrote that there was a danger of "the general government" construing the "general welfare" and "necessary and proper" clauses in such a way as to bring about the destruction of all limits prescribed to their power by the Constitution."

Gutzman notes that Jefferson argued that "those two clauses were meant to be subsidiary only to the execution of limited powers" and he claimed not to wipe out the balance of the Constitution by themselves granting unlimited powers. Jefferson looked forward to revisal and correction of the General Government's tendency in this regard when the time was propitious."

Interestingly, Jefferson did the reverse by purchasing Louisiana. Perhaps there is something about power that leads to an expansive definition of authority.

The eighth resolution was the longest and most important. A committee should be appointed to correspond with other states and Kentucky viewed union "for specified national purposes and particularly...those specified in the late federal compact, and it would uphold the constitution establishing such a union according to the plain intent and meaning in which it was understood and acceded to by the several parties. "Consolidation of the states' powers in one general government 'is not for the peace, happiness or prosperity of these States and 'therefore this commonwealth is submit to undelegated and consequently unlimited powers in no man or body of men on earth".

"Where delegated powers were abused, he said, elections were the remedy, but where undelegated powers were arrogated, a 'nullification of the act is the rightful remedy' and every state had a right to nullify all such acts."

A comparable resolution wasn't passed in the North because there were fewer Republicans and more Federalists.

The two resolutions were passed in 1798.

States are by definition more democratic than the federal government. Today, many counties have populations equal to or greater than the entire population of the United States in 1787, such as Queens, Los Angeles and Cook counties. Perhaps we should be thinking of county or even township rights. A single neighborhood in New York City might have the population of an entire state in the days of Jefferson and Taylor.

Have Congressmen become so much smarter that the elected representatives are equally capable of representing millions rather than thousands of representatives?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Decentralization as the Remedy for Majority Faction

In the Federalist Number 10 James Madison made his famous argument that the size of the United States would limit the extent to which a majority or large minority could impose its will on a smaller minority. His theory was put to the test in 1798 with the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts at the time of the presidency of John Adams.

The Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, according to Richard Hofstadter, under the assumption that criticism of the administration was criticism of the government and therefore traitorous. The Acts were passed during the XYZ affair, when French diplomats had attempted to extract payments from America and many Federalists thought that a war with France would be necessary. In contrast, the Democratic Republicans were very pro French because of the French Revolution. There had been a long standing debate between the Federalists, who were pro English, and Jefferson's Democratic Republicans, who were pro French. The Federalists hoped to wipe out the Jefferson faction by labeling them treasonous. The public was frenzied by the XYZ affair much as it was by 9/11 eight years ago. The Federalists argued that the Democratic Republicans were a faction and that their criticisms of federal policy was treasonous and against the public interest. In a sense, the Alien and Sedition Act has parallels to the Patriot Act.

The French recanted and a war was avoided, so the Alien and Sedition Acts did not work strategically as what Hofstadter calls the "High Federalists" had hoped. Richard Hofstadter writes (The Idea of a Party System, p. 106):

"Federalist leaders made no secret of their hope of destroying opposition. Hamilton predicted that many Republican leaders would be remembered by the people in the same odious light as the Tories. Robert Goodloe Harper of South Carolina, a leading advocate of the Sedition Act in the House, wanted to be sure that 'no traitors should be left in the country' to jeopardize its defense. He professed his desire to imitate the internal security policies that had been adopted in England, charged the opposition with being a conspiracy, a faction leagued with a foreign power...'

"The language of the Sedition Act was vague enough to make a man criminally liable for almost any criticism of the government or its leading officers or any effort to combine for such a purpose. It made it possible for the courts to punish opinion, arbitrarily defined as seditious or disloyal, even in the absence of any overt act...'By identifying their administration with the government and the government with the Constitution, the Federalists construed criticism of the administration as opposition to the government and an attempt to subvert the Constitution...

"...In all, at least seventeen verifiable indictments were brought in, fourteen under the Sedition Act and three under the common law. Started in the main in 1798 or 1799, most of the cases came to trial in the election year, 1800, when it was hoped to stifle campaign criticism."

The indictments included the major Democratic Republican newspapers in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Richmond as well as four smaller papers.

"But the Sedition Act was not conceived in a spirit of realism and it was not efficacious. The opposition was no small or paltry minority. As measured by representation in Congress, it was already at least equal to the administration in numbers...More importantly perhaps even than this, the country was still thoroughly decentralized, politically and geographically. Government, at the ultimate test, rests on sufficient force, and it was force that would have to be called upon if resistance to the laws became overt. The Virginia and Kentucky resolutions threatened that resistance might indeed reach this point, and at a time when the federal army numbered only about 3,500 men stationed mainly at frontier garrisons as a precaution against Indians, Virginia alone could have easily mustered a militia of twice that number and was indeed planning a force of 5,000. Nothing short of a foreign war would have created the conditions essential to raising a democratic army large enough, as Hamilton put it in one of his brasher moments, to 'put Virginia to the test.'"

"And here the demand for an army ran up against two of the deepest American prejudices: the tight-fisted rural reaction to taxes, and the long-standing suspicion (fully shared at this point by President Adams) against a standing army..."

Presumably, Hofstadter was a loose-fisted urbanite. Note that Madison was right in this case, which under other circumstances could have meant an armed conflict between predominantly Republican states and the Federalist-dominated government. It was decentralized that preserved freedom.