Losing Republicanism, Inheriting Leviathan

By Peter Daniel Haworth for FRONT PORCH REPUBLIC

In “The Hollow Men,” T.S. Eliot famously predicts that Doom will come subtly, rather than dramatically: “This is the way the world ends[,] This is the way the world ends[,] This is the way the world ends[,] Not with a bang but a whimper.” Maybe this wisdom also holds true for political systems within the City of Man. Recent Congressional action might entail such a “whimper.”

As many readers know, a new “Super Congress” is being created via the agreement to raise the debt ceiling. This consists of a special committee that will recommend fast-track legislation to the Congress for a vote. Individual members will be unable to add amendments, filibuster, or otherwise employ their traditional practices aimed at improving the legislation. Moreover, given the adverse consequences entailed in not approving the Super Congress’ proposals, members will likely rubber-stamp its actions. Ron Paul has wisely protested this new usurpation of members’ legislative authority in his recent statement:

“Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this deal is the ‘Super Congress’ provision.  This is nothing more than a way to disenfranchise the majority of Congress by denying them the chance for meaningful participation in the crucial areas of entitlement and tax reform.  It cedes power to draft legislation to a special commission, hand-picked by the House and Senate leadership.  The legislation produced by this commission will be fast-tracked, and Members will not have the opportunity to offer amendments. Approval of the recommendations of the “Super Congress” is tied to yet another debt ceiling increase. This guarantees that Members will face tremendous pressure to vote for whatever comes out of this commission– even if it includes tax increases.  This provision is an excellent way to keep spending decisions out of the reach of members who are not on board with the leadership’s agenda.”

Sadly, this new strategy by the “leadership” in Congress entails more rending of the republican principles of limited government. Willmoore Kendall and George Carey have argued that Publius’ Federalist teaches a Constitutional morality that aims at realizing a consensus–in the Congress and among the three branches–before major policy changes can realized (Kendall and Carey, “How to Read ‘The Federalist’,” in Contra Mundum, 415). The so-called “Super Congress” is a significant violation of such teaching. Indeed, this special committee clearly violates the very logic of Federalist #10, which recognizes the function of multiple and diverse interests in checking factions. Since less members will participate in the formation of legislation, less interests will be represented in the process. Thus, according to the logic of #10, there will be less interests serving as barriers to faction-promoting legislation.

The Federalist Papers are not perfect, and I take issue with them on a number of points. Nevertheless, to the degree that they defend true republicanism, citizens should cherish their arguments. What the coming Super Congress entails, however, is utter abandonment of the kernels of Federalist wisdom. In short, we are losing the slivers of republicanism that have been left to us in the wake of already foregone losses from the 19th and 20th centuries. We are losing republicanism, and we are inheriting a leviathan.

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