Category Archives: Political Theory

Jefferson’s Declaration

Having completed the reading on the origins of World War I for the moment, I’ve turned next to a rather comprehensive collection of Jefferson’s writings. These start with his autobiography, within which is published his original version of the Declaration of Independence, with indications as to what was removed, and what added, by committee prior to its release to the world.

I want to narrow in on two changes that were made, which I believe indicate – even more than the final document – the magnificence of this man. The first is a single word change in what may be the most important line in the document. The edited version reads:

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…

The original version from Jefferson:

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with inherent and unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…

I do not believe these statements are identical. While the published version indicates that the rights of Man may not be separated from Man, and that these rights are not changeable with time or circumstance (my interpretation of the use of the word “certain” to mean absolute, not relative), Jefferson’s use of the word “inherent” suggests something significantly different. In Jefferson’s phrasing, it is in the Nature of Man to have these rights.The veryessential being of Man includes the existence of these rights.It is because he is what he is – a being capable of rationality, a fact from which no man can (or should try to) escape – that he is endowed (not by a creator, but by the way of being) with these moral securities against denial of his fundamental requirements for life by other men. The removal of this word then places the burden on the term “unalienable” to subsume this meaning. I do not believe that this term has the same connotation. By unalienable is suggested that there should be no attempt made to separate Man from these rights, but not that it cannot be done by the very definition of what it means to be Man.

I also notice that the word creator is not capitalized in the text. This could be simply a fault of the printing of the collection of papers that I have, while it is certain that in the final published copy this word is capitalized. (It is also true that several other words are capitalized in the published copy, and only words that we now consider proper nouns and the start of sentences are capitalized in the text I have).

The other significant change I saw was in the final paragraph of the document. The published version reads:

And for the support of this declaration, witha firm reliance on the protection of divine providence we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

Jefferson’s version:

And for the support of this declaration, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

Elsewhere in the document, God is mentioned only once, and this in the opening paragraph – this is the same in Jefferson’s and the published version:

…and to assume among the powers of the Earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them…

Even here, note that the God described is “nature’s God”, not a God associated directly with Man. Of course I am aware of the fact that Jefferson and many of the other founding fathers were Deists – and this fits the description of a Deist quite well. What I had not realized was the fact that the plea for divine intervention (such as it is) is not from Jefferson, but from the committee.

Report This Post

Causes of World War I – Part 2

Shortly after the turn of the century, however, the situation begins to change. Germany, now secure in its alliance with Austria-Hungary, begins a massive expansion of its navy. Britain cannot tolerate a second strong European navy, and the English and Germans start an arms race, each increasing its expenditure on naval forces in a spiraling crescendo. The British launch the first “dreadnought” battleship in 1906 – the first ship equipped with large caliber (12 inch) guns exclusively. Germany (and the US, and Japan) rapidlylaunch theirown dreadnought, and the race accelerates. A series of attempts at “arms control” over the dreadnought between Germany and Englandare repeatedly violated by the Germans in secret.

Meanwhile, Russia is showing signs of weakness. After her defeat against Japan in 1905, social revolution threatens to take down the Tsar, and the Russian army is ill-prepared to face external conflicts. In the Balkans, the Ottoman Empire faces repeated uprisings against a variety of Turkish atrocities, and shows itself to be increasingly unable to maintain control. Both Austria-Hungary and Russia look on with concern over the stability and ultimate fate of these neighbors.

All this forms the background for the final events – the immediate cause – of the war. On June 28, 1914, archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the Austria-Hungarian throne was assassinated by a Bosnian Serb. Austria demanded Serbia cease anti-Austrian propaganda andarrest the parties suspected in the assassination. Meanwhile, Austrian and German diplomats came to an understanding that no serious attempts to negotiate a settlement should be made, and preparations for a large scale war should begin. Serbia received assurances from Russia that Russia would intervene on Serbia’s behalf in the event of hostilities, and Serbia proceeded to mobilize. Within a month of Austria’s ultimatum, the delicate web of treaties and agreements that maintained the Balance of Power were all activated, and France, Russia, England, Germany and Austria-Hungary found themselves at war.

What surprised me most about reading through this history was the use of a relatively minor diplomatic crisis to trigger so massive a response. Clearly the combatants never envisioned a war lasting 4 years and claiming the lives of 8 million people. This war, on the face of it, had no rational immediate cause. Rather, it was the inevitable consequence of a large set of interlocking and growing tensions that were accepted by the European nations as the boundary conditions of diplomacyfor over 60 years. In seeking to identify a major theme in the decades leading to this disaster, two come to mind. First – and potentially the dominant theme – is the rise of German industrial power. A second theme – more apparent in the consequences of the war – is the incomplete social revolution of Europe. The primary political casualties of the war were the Empires – the Ottoman, the Austria-Hungarian, the German, and the Russian. Although not replaced entirely by democracies, the failure of these authoritarian states lead to the rise of more localized nations whose borders were based on nationality (common customs). Poland, Lithuania, Finland, Estonia and Latvia became independent nations based on nationality. Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia became smaller agglomerations of nationalities.

Report This Post

Causes of World War I – Part 1

After my string of poor reading selections, I gambled once again, and read a rather lengthy history of Europe spanning 1848 through 1918. I’ve been interested in filling in my knowledge of this period, in particular trying to understand the root causes of World War I.

The book in question is “The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 1848-1918” by A.J. Taylor and was published in the 1950s. Although I found the book highly informative, and directly addressing my interests – which were more about the power struggle and diplomacy of the period, and less about the details of battles and the development of weapons – this choice did suffer from a couple shortcomings. Taylor states in the introduction that this is not a textbook. This becomes apparent when he repeatedly assumes knowledge on the part of the reader that is far beyond what the non-historian would know about the time period (at least now, 50 years after publication, and in a time when history is not taught in most American school systems [no, “social studies” do not count!]). For example, near the beginning of the book he doesn’t bother describing the political geography of 1848, and left me trying to grasp the relationship between Prussia, Austria, and the “German Confederation”. Major political events are assumed knowledge – such as the Paris Commune movement by Adoplhe Thiers [haven’t bothered to figure that one out], and various “scandals” in both France and England. Another annoyance is the introduction of individuals by name, without indicating what office or even what country they represent. All of this is not really a fault of the book – which as Taylor says is not a textbook – but does mean that this should not be the first (or second, or even third) book one reads on late 19th century Europe. A final indicator of this is Taylor’s various corrections to established history. Without knowing the context, and therefore not being able to judge the accuracy of Taylor’s assertions these are not very helpful to the novice reader.

Now all that being said, I should mention that I have been looking for a good text covering this period for about a year (in used book sales, not anywhere else), and have found only this book. Again, this is a testimony to the public’s disinterest in history – and my disinterest in paying for a new book…

Ok, so it wasn’t a perfect choice, but what did I get out reading it? Actually, this was a very engaging subject and held my interest continually. Without trying to educate my reader on this period of history, let me sketch an outline. After the Napoleanic wars, Europe is dominated by four “great powers” – France, Russia, Prussia and Austria. England plays the role of a very interested, but outside, observer. All of these powers have interests of expansion involving conflicts with the interests of the others, as well as with the various lesser European powers (Denmark, Belgium, Poland [controlled by Prussia], and most significantly the Balkan states under the rule of the weakening Ottoman Empire). Peace is maintained through a delicate “Balance of Power” consisting of interlocking treaties between the four major powers. Envision a huge Cross, with Russia and France forming the East-West alliance, and Prussia and Austria forming the North-South (or Central) powers. In the late 19th century, Germany unifies under Bismark – essentially Prussia expands to subsume the German Confederacy – Austria expands into Austria-Hungary, while France and Russia remain stagnant.

Russia continually worries over who controls the Bosporus straits, which from the Black Sea form a major trade route into the Mediterranean. Constantinople (not yet Istanbul) is the key to the Straits, and the Ottoman Empire nominally owns Constantinople. Austria-Hungary eyes the territory to its southeast – the Balkan states – that remain under Ottoman control and are periodically subjected to atrocities, and threaten revolution. Russia also eyes this territory as a belle-weather on who may eventually wrest control of Constantinople from the Turks. We in the 21st century know the names of these states well – Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia, Hercegovina, Albania – and the underlying problems have not changed in 100 years.

Meanwhile, Germany experiences industrialization and rapid demographic expansion. France remains stagnant (which is also familiar in the 21st century), while England and Russia seek expansion of their overseas empires. Although there is friction in some areas of the world between the Powers – in the Far East between Russia and England, with France and Germany there for the ride – in Africa between France and England, with Germany playing on the sidelines – these frictions are not essential in the struggle to master Europe.

More to come.

Report This Post

The Confederate Constitution

In my continuing review of Constitutional law, I have been reading through an assortment of documents and Supreme Court decisions dealing with slavery, and leading to the secession of the South. The most startling of these has been the Confederate Constitution, as adopted by the first seven seceding states (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas). This document very closely follows the structure and content of the United States Constitution, but with some immensely significant alterations.

Of course, historically the most important of these is the guarantee of the right to own slaves against Congressional laws, and it is this provision that reduces the entire Constitution to a massive contradiction with the principles of human rights, and the destruction of the very freedoms it purports to ensure. Due to this provision (and similar statements regarding slavery and negroes throughout the document), what follows should in no way be construed as support for the Confederacy.

It is in the non-slavery differences between the USA and CSA Constitutions that we find some extraordinarily interesting improvements:

Article I, Section 7, Paragraph 2: … The President may approve any appropriation and disapprove any other appropriation in the same bill.

Here we have the line-item veto. In addition, we have:

Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 20: Every law, or resolution having the force of law, shall relate to but one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title.

Between these two provisions, “pork” would have been eliminated before it began to infuse appropriations bills, and the mass of contradictory, self-defeating and insanely twisted Acts of Congress would have been avoided by eliminating the mechanism of irrelevant amendment.

And there’s more:

Article I, Section 8: The Congress shall have power –
(1) To lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, for revenue necessary to pay the debts, provide for the common defense, and carry on the Government of the Confederate States; but no bounties shall be granted from the treasury; nor shall any duties or taxes on importations from foreign nations be laid to promote or foster any branch of industry…

(3) To regulate commerce with foreign nations … but neither this, nor any other clause contained in the Constitution shall be construed to delegate the power to Congress to appropriate money for any internal improvement intended to facilitate commerce…

These provisions, added to the appropriations line item veto, suggest that as early as the 1860s, there were high concerns over the magnitude and nature of government spending. I find it particularly interesting that Government support for industry is the subject of attack, and very disappointing that in the resolution of the conflict the USA did not pass a few amendments to its Constitution along these lines.

In addition to the slavery provisions, there are at least two others that I find disagreeable. The President is limited to a single 6 year term. I disagree with all forms of “term limitation” legislation, and that is a topic for another day. There is also this rather strange statement:

Article IV, Section 3, Paragraph 2:
The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations concerning the property of the Confederate States, including the lands thereof.

I read this as the ultimate eminent domain law. On the other hand, it may be possible to read this (assuming a reduce amount of clarity in the statement) to apply only to national government property, which mirrors our US law (though not from within the Constitution, if I am not mistaken).

Report This Post

Constitutional History: Necessary and Proper

I have now turned my attention to the evolution of the US Constitution into the modern American political system. Of interest to me in this research is the identification of key phrases and clauses in the Constitution which have lead to the statist elements of our modern government. I am concerned both with the original intent of the Constitution framers, as well as the earliest interpretations of those clauses that began to inject statist controls and undermine the freedoms which existed at the beginning of the American Republic.

I am far from naieve in thinking that the Constitution has ever been a perfect document creating a political system in line with Objectivist principles. Unlike the Declaration of Independence, this foundational legal document was written by a committee upon the completion of lengthy, arduous and contentious negotiation among 13 sovereignties. Hence, it contains contradictions inevitably formed in compromise. That being said, the clauses which have been found to be the weak links in the armor of our freedom were very carefully written, and can usually be interpreted in ways that alternately support freedom, or indicate its limitation.

I hope to discuss several of the particular clauses here as I move through the legal history. One in particular is so-called “Necessary and Proper” clause:

The Congress shall have Power To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

Differing interpretations of the meaning of “necessary and proper” formed the fault line between Jefferson and Hamilton in the debate over the creation of the first Bank of the United States, an early predecessor of our current Federal Reserve system. Jefferson pointed out that the argument that such a bank would be greatly helpful in management of the American debt and the collection of taxes did not make it necessary, and that it clearly was not necessary given the existence and functioning of the American economy using private banks. Jefferson went on to indicate various other clauses from which the propriety of the Government’s creation of a bank had been claimed to be derived, and clarified the reasons why these clauses did not apply. In answer, Hamilton insisted that the power of incorporation must be held by any proper Government (hence, that creation of a corporate entity such as a bank, need not be questioned on that ground). But his most questionable answer dealt with the meaning of the word “necessary”:

It is certain, that neither the grammatical nor popular sense of the term requires that construction. According to both, necessary often means no more than needful, requisite, incidental, useful, or conducive to. It is a common mode of expression to say, that it is necessary for a government or a person to do this or that thing, when nothing more is intended or understood, than that the interests of the government or person require, or will be promoted by, the doing of this or that thing.

I can’t say I can understand this interpretation of the word “necessary” at all. Perhaps it is my mathematics training, but I view “necessary” as a very clear logical relationship between two entities. A is necessary to B only if B cannot exist without A.

Report This Post

I listened yesterday to the Audible program “Library of Congress Series on Digital Future: Lecture 2”, given by Brewster Kahle. This was a talk promoting the idea of making all of the contents of the Library of Congress available to the world through digitization. As a “starter project” of sorts, the author referred to, which is an amazing treasure trove of material, including text, audio and video – all freely available.

My favorite section at the moment is the presidential recordings, which include a moderate set of audio files, mostly speeches, but also secret tapes of the Oval Office (not Nixon’s, however). Last night I listened to a conversation between JFK and MacArthur – quite interesting, somewhat surprising that MacArthur appeared to be generally Democratic, at least in that conversation. MacArthur was clearly indicating that the US needed to regain the initiative in the Cold War; Kennedy was giving excuses for why some of what the General proposed had been rejected.

Report This Post