There’s a great e book to be written about our present political tradition—which features a rising motion to take down monuments devoted to America’s founders—and the way it could be finest served by a return to the loftiest beliefs of our founding. Such a e book may reexamine the theories guiding the lads who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Structure. It might analyze the Federalist Papers written in protection of the Structure’s delicate construction, making an attempt to grasp the precise issues that yielded its compromises. And, crucially, the e book would grapple with arguments from left, proper, and middle in good religion, teasing out some uncomfortable truths every camp might be taught from those that bequeathed us this republic. It’d conclude that now we have misplaced our appreciation for the finer factors of the Structure, for the rule of regulation, for the civic virtues that make republicanism potential. With our rigorously constructed establishments (and memorials) underneath assault from all sides, we might use such a wake-up name.
Madison’s Sorrow just isn’t that e book. Its promising title, implying veneration for the founding and a nuanced understanding of American liberalism, yields shortly to strained evaluation of how Kevin C. O’Leary’s political rivals function, and a piece of political historical past so riddled with misrepresentations and outright errors that O’Leary’s gesture to readers like this reviewer—that his e book is written partly for “conservatives… uncomfortable with the intolerant flip of the bottom and the elected”—falls flat.
Inasmuch as one can level to a transparent argument, it’s this: Republicans in the present day have moved far to the suitable, past the “classical conservatism” of John McCain, betraying the liberalism of the founding for “a witches’ brew of antigovernment libertarianism, misogyny, and Southern racism,” all of which add as much as “illiberalism.”
There are two main issues with this thesis, one for every of O’Leary’s central conceits. First, all obtainable proof factors to Democrats shifting farther to the left than Republicans have moved to the suitable. A study by Pew, for one, notes that “the long-term shift amongst Democrats stands out as significantly noteworthy… The share who’re persistently liberal has quadrupled from simply 5% to 23% over the previous 20 years.” In the meantime, “the ideological shift amongst Republicans has been extra modest.”
O’Leary outs himself as utterly unaware of Democrats’ leftward lurch when he asks, “How would conservatives really feel if… the Democratic Get together have been taken over by Marxist-Leninists bent on subverting democracy and destroying capitalism?” Nicely, they may simply vote Republican irrespective of how nasty the nominee, for one factor.
The second drawback is barely extra complicated. O’Leary contends that the American founding aimed to enshrine in regulation Lockean liberalism as expressed within the Declaration of Independence, however he adopts a questionable definition of “liberalism.” Readers might be forgiven for assuming that liberalism meant particular person liberty, restricted authorities, and strong property rights. Mockingly for somebody relentlessly deriding the suitable as “reactionary,” O’Leary chooses to slim liberalism’s which means to what it’s in opposition to—European monarchy and feudalism—defining liberalism as “opposing privilege, hierarchy, inequality, and exclusion.” He dismisses Locke’s arguments “concerning individualism, pure rights, restricted authorities, and property” as “not foundational.”
There’s a kernel of fact on this detrimental definition as a result of liberalism does flourish within the absence of blood-and-soil values, however it isn’t exact. O’Leary is speaking about egalitarian democracy, whereby as many individuals as potential are included in collective decision-making, and impediments to majoritarianism must be resisted for subverting the desire of the folks. This isn’t the identical as liberalism. Democracy and liberalism, the latter together with these “not foundational” components of Locke, usually battle. Democratically-enacted legal guidelines to repair costs, seize property, or quash freedom of the press, as an example, run afoul of liberal ideas.
With out this sleight-of-hand, O’Leary would discover himself navigating an apparent contradiction: The framers of our Structure weren’t egalitarian democrats, and the Structure just isn’t a doc advancing egalitarian democracy. It proposes, somewhat, a republican system of oblique rule that protects liberty from probably tyrannical majorities. None aside from James Madison defined that the objective of the Structure was “to safe the general public good and personal rights in opposition to the hazard of such a [majority] faction, and on the identical time to protect the spirit and the type of widespread authorities.” Democracy was a worth, however removed from the central worth of the republic. Our republican Structure due to this fact options countermajoritarian establishments such because the Senate, the Electoral Faculty, and the Supreme Courtroom alongside the majoritarian Home and state legislatures.
Our defender of true Madisonianism thus turns to attacking Constitutional republicanism. “The Structure of 1787 is embedded with provisions that violate the norms of equality,” he writes, referencing “the notorious Connecticut Compromise” that constructed the Legislative Department as we all know it. “A critical effort at making the Structure actually liberal would assault the issue of a U.S. Senate that represents states as a substitute of individuals.” Making no effort to grasp why a tyranny of enormous states over small states was considered one thing to be feared somewhat than inspired, O’Leary argues that essentially the most populous states ought to have 10 occasions the illustration of the least populous states. He doesn’t clarify why California (inhabitants 39.5 million) having 10 senators and Wyoming (inhabitants 578,000) having one would represent a suitable diploma of disproportionality in illustration, or what such a consultant physique would add to a system already that includes the democratic Home. It’s merely justified on grounds of egalitarian democracy: “Solely a constitutional reform comparable to this might remedy the large political inequality on the coronary heart of our political system.” Simply because the 17th Modification, instituting direct election of Senators, doesn’t seem to have glad the progressive thirst for extra democracy, one suspects that this too is obtainable as a mere step on the street to abolishing the Senate completely.
This exceptional about-face is only the start of O’Leary’s sustained betrayal of the founding. He condemns Republicans missing respect for the “delicate checks and balances of the American constitutional system,” and worries about “the complicated system of American authorities—rigorously constructed by James Madison and the framers in 1787,” then calls the Structure “antiquated and balky.” Most galling, he argues that the Structure was “improved… by Andrew Jackson, the Progressives, [and] Franklin Roosevelt.” Three symbols of open antipathy for the Structure (particularly as interpreted by the Supreme Courtroom), united by their needs to democratize political processes—even whereas delegating precise decisionmaking to unelected “consultants”—are O’Leary’s heroes. In his celebration of higher “mass democracy,” instantiated by figures comparable to Jackson, O’Leary’s tried protection of the Structure collapses on itself. He admires not these primarily involved with sustaining checks and balances or zealous within the safety of People’ liberties, however those that sought to subvert the constitutional system so as to place extra energy within the arms of the folks—and even then, usually solely superficially. (The spoils and patronage system of the Jackson administration and the bureaucratization of the Govt underneath the Progressives and FDR are arduous to reconcile with their reputations as democratizers.)
Villainous “illiberals,” in the meantime, “have qualms about democracy and categorical misgivings about majority rule in the event that they lose on the poll field.” They’re distinct from “conservatives,” who don’t. This could shock 20th century arch-conservatives comparable to Frank Meyer and Russell Kirk, who noticed mirrored within the Structure’s construction the Founders’ perception that majority rule is harmful to the rights of minorities and must be regarded with suspicion. Certainly, in line with George H. Nash, “the dominant theme” of the “huge conservative effort” instantly post-World Struggle II, “there might be little doubt… was antimajoritarianism.”
Consistency is nowhere to be discovered. Given his dedication to democratic political processes, as an example, one may anticipate O’Leary to favor a restrained federal judiciary that defers to legislatures in most cases. As a substitute, it seems, he merely has no thought what he desires from courts. Although he admires Abraham Lincoln (and Andrew Jackson), he notes that “granting the courts the ability of judicial evaluation… has helped residents to not lose religion within the nation when the opposite social gathering wins an electoral battle.” The connection between a court docket’s capacity to strike down legal guidelines and nationwide belief in our Structure is tenuous, as President Lincoln reminded us in criticizing the Dred Scott determination: “If the coverage of the Authorities upon important questions affecting the entire folks is to be irrevocably mounted by choices of the Supreme Courtroom… the folks can have ceased to be their very own rulers, having to that extent virtually resigned their Authorities into the arms of that eminent tribunal.” Cautious readers will notice that Lincoln just isn’t criticizing judicial evaluation however judicial supremacy, the view that the courts are “the ultimate arbiter of what’s constitutional and proper in our system of separated powers.” That’s a quote from O’Leary, too. It goes proper within the ellipse above, because the given definition for judicial evaluation and one way or the other the mechanism for courts sustaining legitimacy and public religion. In a single fell swoop, he mischaracterizes judicial evaluation and Lincoln’s constitutionalism whereas glossing over courts’ potential counter-majoritarian problem.
Misunderstandings and misrepresentations abound. O’Leary ignores complicated debates inside the suitable, such because the combat in opposition to libertarian-inflected economics by senators Josh Hawley and Marco Rubio. He writes that the climate-change-denying GOP “now embraces the moniker ‘Flat Earth Cult.’” (A Google search yielded no outcomes.) He mocks “intolerant jurists [who] make a fetish out of ‘unique intent,’” although practically all originalists deal with a textual content’s unique public which means and, moreover, wouldn’t somebody involved about “packing the Supreme Courtroom with ideological copies of Justice Scalia” want judges who really feel sure by legal guidelines somewhat than liberated by them?
However given O’Leary’s said objective, which is to determine, “How did we get right here?”—to intolerant reactionism—it’s becoming to conclude with the conspiracy concept on the coronary heart of O’Leary’s vitriol. He remembers the story of the populist, segregationist Democratic Governor of Alabama, George Wallace, sending a surrogate to satisfy with Barry Goldwater on the 1964 Republican Nationwide Conference. “Mr. Wallace has advised that he wish to be… your vice presidential nominee,” the surrogate advised the firebrand conservative. Goldwater, who would get shellacked within the common election however is usually credited with spearheading the conservative political motion, “thought-about Wallace a racist thug, and thought the request was absurd.” He declined.
What O’Leary concludes merely boggles the thoughts: “In that clandestine rooftop assembly,” between Goldwater and the surrogate, “the Previous South and the antigovernment New Proper made contact… the following electrical shock jolted the world’s oldest steady democracy in methods we’re solely now recognizing.” Although Goldwater repudiated Wallace, O’Leary considers their fictional alliance “the key internal logic of the trendy conservative motion, the Reagan presidency, and in the present day’s ferociously intolerant proper.”
To make certain, that is meant symbolically somewhat than actually. O’Leary desires to argue, with some literary-historical punch, that in the present day’s proper is each hyper-individualistic and deeply racist; conservatives need the state to assist nobody (besides the wealthy) and entrench established hierarchy alongside the standard traces of race and gender. If liberalism is synonymous with egalitarianism and the suitable wing is in any approach hierarchical, O’Leary can conclude that the suitable is intolerant. The issue with that is that Goldwater-style libertarianism just isn’t inherently hierarchical, and Wallace, an unapologetic New Deal supporter, didn’t a lot take care of arguments concerning the correct scope of presidency. Put them collectively, paper over the irreconcilability of their worldviews, and voila! A “witches’ brew” that doesn’t fairly cohere however will certainly please partisan readers searching for affirmation that their political enemies are motivated by animus and greed.
Some good-faith evaluation of intra-right debate would go a good distance. However the view that Republicans are coordinating a thoroughly-planned effort to combine doctrinaire libertarianism with welfare for the wealthy and dhimmi standing for ladies and minorities, there are critical rifts forming on the suitable as motion fusionism yields its political energy to a nebulous type of populist nationalism. O’Leary’s determination to cut back the suitable wing to a caricature of two historic figures who combine like oil and water in concept—their divergent views on democratic majoritarianism stand out particularly (one thing that ought to give O’Leary pause)—and by no means aligned in apply is due to this fact all of the extra unlucky.
Somewhat than reckoning with the complicated demographic and political modifications that shifted our electoral map over the previous century—together with the Republican Get together’s shameful embrace of former Dixiecrats—O’Leary chooses to current his concept as one in every of damning revelation, implicating Republicans for being, concurrently, Wallace-style populists and anti-democratic hardliners. Provided that the thrust of Madison’s Sorrow is solely a reiteration of Louis Hartz’s 1955 e book The Liberal Custom in America, although, it’s arduous to take severely the notion that O’Leary has recognized a significant change in right-wing pondering effected by the Southern Technique.
We’re left with defamatory revisionism that unintentionally sheds gentle on how we acquired right here. Earlier than O’Leary might (rightly) lionize the late John McCain as a principled conservative defiant of illiberalism, McCain was the Republican candidate for President. Amongst his detractors was civil rights icon and Democratic Congressman John Lewis, who accused McCain of “enjoying a really harmful recreation that… cheapens our complete democracy” and of “sowing the seeds of hatred and division.”
Lewis then made a telling comparability. “Throughout one other interval, within the not-too-distant previous,” he added, “there was a governor of the state of Alabama named George Wallace….”