America's Third Republic?

Theodore Lowi, a political science eminence at Cornell University, years ago drew a bead on what was wrong with the American polity. In his The End of Liberalism: The Second Republic of the United States,  he claimed that the Founder's constitution of 1787 had been surreptitiously replaced with a new one by the FDR administration, and no one had actually noticed it for seventy-plus years. 

In current argot, we have been operating under US Constitution, 2.0 since the Roosevelt era.  The contours of the constitution of this "Second Republic" as he deemed it, bears some scrutiny, as the Obama Administration and the 112th Congress go to work bringing even more change--possibly US Constitution 3.0.  The preamble and first article of the actual constitution we have been living under, which Lowi acutely discerned, suffice to show where an Obama constitution will be taking off from.  (See the whole thing

Lowi's Constitution of the Second Republic

PREAMBLE.  There ought to be a national presence in every aspect of the lives of American citizens.  National power is no longer a necessary evil; it is a positive virtue.

Article I.  It is the primary purpose of this national government to provide domestic tranquility by reducing risk.  This risk may be physical or it may be fiscal.  In order to fulfill this sacred obligation, the national government shall be deemed to have sufficient power to eliminate threats from the environment through regulation, and to eliminate threats from economic uncertainty through insurance.

Nancy Pelosi has already announced that the "greening of the economy" is a top priority of the new Congress, and the statements by these leading Democrats about the coal industry prior to the election telegraphed the draconian lengths to which they are committed to go in this new era of Democrat dominance under the rubric of "reducing risk."  The socialistic mentality behind the bailout moves of the Treasury and the knee-jerk and automatic reach for a deficit spending solution for the banking industry presage more of the same for other preferred economic sectors and actors.  The mindset of the Second Republic is so engrained in American thinking and policy making, it is no wonder that when conservatives complain about our straying from the constitution, most people don't know what they are complaining about.

When I was teaching, ninety-nine percent of my beginning political science students would answer the question, "What is the purpose of government?" with "To take care of the people".  They cannot be faulted for this answer--it is one that comports with everything they have seen and have been taught.  "The law is a teacher" goes the old liberal saw; and so it is, and even more is the constitution a teacher. Though lying deep in the background for most people, it is formative of every important aspect of the unique American way of life.  "Helicopter government" that hovers over its citizens, intervening and intruding for their own good, working to reduce risk of any sort, bleeds off self-reliance and the preference for self-rule and freedom which are the primary teachings of the Founder's constitution.  As Mark Levin asks, when was the last time you heard a liberal talk about liberty? 

The liberties of the original constitution were negative liberties--freedom from, as it were; primarily, freedom from government oppression.  FDR's "Four Freedoms" include two from the original constitution, which are freedom from government intrusion-freedom of speech and freedom of religion.   But he added two that are prime exhibits in the conception of liberty as freedom for, or positive liberty: freedom from fear, and freedom from want.  Even though these last two were cleverly phrased in a way that makes it seem like there is a continuity with the other two and with the original understanding of American government, they line up under the declaration of Lowi's Article I that  "In order to fulfill this sacred obligation, the national government shall be deemed to have sufficient power to eliminate threats from the environment through regulation, and to eliminate threats from economic uncertainty through insurance."  In other words, government is to provide freedom from fear and want as the minimum it must provide for the people.

It is important to see that these are not the natural rights the Founder's Constitution is designed to protect--the ones that men have irrespective of, and prior to, any government whatsoever.  In contrast to the invented and wished for rights of men to be free from want and fear, which no government can actually provide even if they were rights, the natural rights which underlie our republic, and that the original form of the constitution protects from government, are summed up in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  The Bill of Rights specifically name the rights that logically follow from the naturally inherent rights of human beings as self-owning moral equals who authorized through their consent the formation of the government.  The negative freedom of the Constitution of 1787 forms the protection against the government it empowers and in which our liberty inheres, liberty which involves risk.  The risks of challenge and opportunity grow character, and equally important, wealth.  Government proposals to insure against not only risk in general, but  every specific discoverable risk, saps both character and wealth, and teaches the citizenry dependence on government to "take care of them."  My entering freshmen students learned their lessons well from the constitution of the Second Republic we have been living in since long before they were born. 

And I'm sure they all went out and voted for Barack Obama and his siren call for even more protection from even more forms of risk.  This is the "living constitution" we are going to see grow to accommodate the metastasizing socialist vision of unconstrained Democratic government under what may become the Third Republic.  

Harold Kildow blogs at He has taught courses at Fordham University, Westchester Community College, and The Kings College in Manhattan.
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