24 Jan 2012

A Self-Correcting Revolution

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Charles de Secondat, Baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu (1689-1755)

Paul A. Rahe optimistically contends that we are rapidly approaching a revolutionary moment, but the revolution that occurs with be a Montesquiean Counter-Revolution.

In a word,” Montesquieu explained, “a free Government, which is to say, a government always agitated, knows no way in which to sustain itself if it is not by its own Laws capable of self-correction.” In our case, as in the case of the English government, the ultimate guarantee of “self-correction” comes from the separation of powers, from public debate, and from free elections. We have institutionalized revolutions. Ours tend, in consequence, to be peaceful.

But they can also be dramatic. In his Spirit of Laws, with an eye on the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when James II lost the English throne and William of Orange replaced him, Montesquieu observed that if the terrors fanned by the party opposed to the English executive were ever “to appear on the occasion of an overturning of the fundamental laws, they would be muted, lethal, excruciating and produce catastrophes: Before long, one would see a frightful calm, during which the whole would unite itself against the power violating the laws.” Moreover, he added, if such “disputes” were to take “shape on the occasion of a violation of the fundamental laws, and if a foreign power appeared,” as happened with the arrival of the Dutch Stadholder William of Orange in 1688, “there would be a revolution, which would change neither the form of the government nor its constitution: for the revolutions to which liberty gives shape are nothing but a confirmation of liberty.”

We are not in the latter circumstance. No foreign power is about to appear, but we are witnessing an attempt to overturn “the fundamental laws.” We have a President who promised his supporters on the eve of his election that he would “fundamentally transform” America. We have had a series of Presidents who signaled the radicalism of their administrations and their intention to break with the past by calling them The New Freedom, The New Deal, The New Frontier, and The Great Society, and the current incumbent has let the cat fully out of the bag by naming his administration The New Foundation. As John Kass clearly recognizes and Kevin Williamson evidently does not, there is an enormous amount at stake in this election.

The good people of South Carolina recognize as much. They understand the crisis we face. They know that the administrative entitlements state was bankrupt before Barack Obama became President. They recognize that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are already unsustainable in their present form, and they sense that Obamacare will only add to our woes. In consequence, they are not looking for a temporizer. They want a standard-bearer who can reverse the course that we are now on.

Read the whole thing.

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