Friday, February 12, 2010

Interposition is Cool Again

Here are a couple of well-done articles showing the revival of interest in a concept that was largely pronounced dead in 1865 - "Interposition" - (which is often described in a negative way by the term "Nullification").

The idea that the states have the power to overrule the federal government within their own boundaries (an idea that most people are shocked to find imbedded within the Constitution as well as in the writings of the founders themselves) has been revived by both the left (e.g. medical marijuana) and the right (e.g. gun rights).

States rights is not a "conservative" or "liberal" issue, but rather an issue of liberty, of keeping the federal government within the parameters of its Constitutional box.

These two articles, one by Clyde Wilson, and the other by Patrick Buchanan, both demonstrate the historical "Americanness" of interposition, as well as its importance in political thought today. It is an exciting and hopeful thing to see the dust blown off of the Tenth Amendment, and even hear the word "secession" spoken of once more in polite society, and not just in America, but also around the world.

Interposition is largely confused with secession, when in fact, interposition is a way for dissenting states to exercise their internal sovereignty within the union without having to resort to secession. Far from breaking up the United States, a revival of interposition would make the union stronger and more vibrant, while serving to shrink the gargantuan scope and stifling centralization of the federal government (which ultimately threatens the survival of our republic).

If the union is ultimately saved, it will be thanks to John C. Calhoun (1782-1850) - whose papers Dr. Wilson edited).


Phil said...

"States rights is not a 'conservative' or 'liberal' issue..."

This is only true in the sense that "conservative" and "liberal" denote competing present-day ideologies. If States' Rights is in fact part of the Constitution, then it is an intrinsic part of American conservatism, and true conservatism is not an ideology (Russell Kirk).

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Phil:

I agree with you. The problem is that to most people, "conservative" no longer means what it did to Russell Kirk.

I think there is nothing more conservative (in the real sense) than the idea that California can legalize marijuana within its borders. I think the vast majority of self-identified "conservatives" would disagree.

But once again, I'm with you here!

Phil said...

Hmm. I wonder:

Do you think there is any moral significance, positive or negative, to smoking marijuana? (Stated another way, is it an adiaphoron?)

Do you think there is any connection between public morality and just legislation?

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Phil:

I've never smoked pot, but I just don't see how this is a moral issue any more than the prohibition of alcohol was.

I don't know if "adiaphoron" is the right word for it, but I don't think Scripture says anything specific about cannabis at all.

The point is this: the federal government has no right to govern the internal affairs of the states (be it about pot or guns) - at least if they are going to obey the law.

Ideologues on both sides of the aisle seek to circumvent the Constitution. Left-wingers want to regulate the manufacture and sale of weapons within the states, and right-wingers want to regulate the possession of a natural weed. Neither of them have Constitutional grounds to involve the feds at all.

The issue isn't morality, but who should be calling the shots. The government of Tehran has no right to tell us what to do in Louisiana, and ditto for Washington unless it involves interstate commerce or some other specific enumeration of powers. Abortion is immoral, but the government of Saudi Arabia has no authority to enforce pro-life legislation here.

Phil said...

I haven't smoked weed either, so as far as you and I are concerned, this is strictly theoretical. It's only the other readers of your blog who might be more personally invested...

It seems to me that alcohol and cannabis could both be characterized as things which, when used, cause pleasure but eventual self-harm. Tobacco, cocaine, speed, heroin, and other drugs could also be characterized likewise; the question is one of degree.

What seems to make the difference, Biblically, is that alcohol (specifically, wine; is any other alcoholic beverage mentioned in the Bible? try as I might, I can't seem to find Scotch in there...) enjoys Biblical sanction not only in general but especially as part of one of Christ's Sacraments. Pagan rites have included other things on the list above (peyote, for example).

The reason why I get prickly over issues like drug use is that our postmodern society seems to be incapable of condemning any form of self-abuse, whether it be drugs, suicide, pornography, prostitution, sinful cultural traditions, or any other self-harming act. Postmodernism appears to be wired to reject each and every form of paternalism.

Sovereignty (and, consequently, the question of who is the one appointed by God to bear the sword) is a very interesting question.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Of course, if States Rights are part of the US Constitution, they are are also part of the most truly liberal document ever devised - for nothing ever written was designed to safeguard liberty like the Constitution.

Today we don't really have liberal or conservative in the classic sense -- we have big government interests vs. big business interests both vying for the right to impose their will upon the people. Neither liberty nor the historic status quo are valued anymore.

Rev. Jack A. Kozak said...

The 10th Amendment has some historical and practical problems with it's application today. (1) The assertion of States Rights created, and then undermined the unity of, the CSA. (2) Interposition and nullification were used by southern states to deny blacks their basic civil rights. (3) But on a practical level, the states may grumble about unfunded mandates, but get more than enough in local pork barrel spending to compensate.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Jack:

You're actually making a good argument *for* the tenth amendment.

If one state is abusive to its citizens, people can move. If the entire union is abusive, it is much harder to leave the USA.

States rights provides competition, whereas a monolithic empire leaves one with no alternative. When free blacks were being discriminated against in, say 1850s Illinois (where it was illegal for them to emigrate to), they could move to a friendlier environment, like Louisiana or Maryland. And later when they were being mistreated in the South, they could freely move to the North.

Second, the CSA's problem was that it was attacked and conquered by an aggressor with overwhelming arms and numbers. Its ludicrous to blame their loss in the war on decentralization.

Decentralization can, and does, work all around the world. The American secession from the British Empire was proof that bigger is not always better. The individual nations that were once in the USSR are far better off today. Switzerland is another example of a peaceful republic that is economically prosperous and heavily decentralized.

Finally, nobody gets "more than enough" back from the feds. It's a shell game. They steal from us, hold our money hostage, take a cut, spend money that doesn't exist, run up debts, and then redistribute the funds politically to their friends and co-partisans. And then if our states want any of the money (*our* money) back, we must dance to Washington's tune - all the while the feds tell us how good they are to us.

It's like people being grateful for a "tax refund" - forgetting all about the confiscatory withholding that goes on all year. It's like thanking the bully for letting us keep our lunch money one day of the week.

If the Tenth Amendment, in fact, has problems today - then we need to repeal it by amendment. Ignoring it or blatantly violating it (which is the norm) is simply breaking the law. The federal government needs to obey its own laws - which was the very point of the tenth amendment in the first place!

Rev. Jack A. Kozak said...

Hi Larry,

I should have edited my remarks on pork barrel spending to say that the states and cities don't *object* to getting such money, even though we all know where it comes from.

The states are today little more than wards of the federal government. Given the choice of nullification or $$$ for "shovel ready projects" borrowed from the Chi-Comms, what will your mayor or governor decide?

The 10th Amendment struggles under unfortunate past history, to be sure - and that is a subject ripe for endless debate. The courts appear rarely to visit the amendment, other for interstate commerce or to overturn the actions of the Berkeley, CA City Council. That's all the mileage you'll ever get out of the 10th Amendment.

The 10th Amendment will always be with us. It will be visited sparingly, and treated as a quaint throwback to the 1790s. But to repeal the 10th Amendment opens the door to repealing the 2nd. That is not going to happen.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Jack:

I think the Tenth Amendment has made a remarkable comeback, as evidenced by its being discussed again in all fifty states (see the Tenth Amendment Center for current updates).

I also believe that the United States is doomed to a Soviet-style breakdown unless the federal government either rolls back voluntarily (unlikely) or the states start pushing back (more likely).

And I disagree that the Tenth Amendment's history is "unfortunate." I think what is unfortunate is the federal government's arrogance in ignoring it. As a result, the feds have lowered our standard of living and compromised our liberty.

And I think your instincts are right. As goes the Tenth Amendment, so goes the Second. In fact, firearm manufacturers are beating back unconstitutional federal regulations by appealing to the state sovereignty as enshrined in the Tenth Amendment.

The entire world has discovered the value of smaller, leaner, more local, and decentralized government. Given the size of the U.S. federal government, it should be no surprise that the feds are not too eager to relinquish power. But at some point, they will not have a choice - and I think the Tenth Amendment is going to have a big part in assuring a peaceful devolution that will defend republican liberty instead of a violent revolution that would see us descend into imperial fascism.