This Morning on KWMR

In case you missed it, I was interviewed by Paul Fenn and Charles Schultz on the KWMR morning show in a segment devoted to the way the election looks from the vantage point of the local power movement – a movement that Paul Fenn founded a little more than twelve years ago. I first met Paul while both of us were studying at the University of Chicago. We have stayed in touch over the years, provoking, cajoling, and encouraging one another in our sustained, overlapping project to pry open the realm of freedom, Paul through the local power movement, I through my teaching and writing.

As soon as the KWMR segment is archived, I’ll publish a link. In the meantime, I will continue to search for as many ways as I can think of to nudge our way of doing politics and economics in the U.S. away from what might be called a transcendental, supra-historical vantage-point, toward an immanent, historically embedded approach. The transcendental, supra-historical vantage-point is what Aristotle twenty-four centuries ago correctly called “perverse.” It is perverse because it takes what everyone readily agrees is a contained, finite, delimited cosmos and behaves as though it can be subjected to an infinite regression of production and consumption. And it behaves as though this finite cosmos is infinite because it has confused abstract, mathematical value with the kind of value that all peoples, everywhere, throughout all times have found and shared through their common lives together.

One way to nudge our way of doing politics and economics toward immanent, historically embedded ways of thinking and doing is to highlight how and why the republican ideal embraced by the framers of the U.S. Constitution is very nearly the exact opposite of the ideal embraced by the leaders of today’s Republican Party. This is more than a mere debate over words. When the framers guaranteed a republican form of government to each and all of the United States, they meant quite literally that we, collectively, would protect the wealth we hold in common from depredations and seizures launched by private wealth (oikonomia) upon public wealth (politeia). The leadership of today’s Republican Party, by contrast, have become champions precisely of private wealth’s depredation and seizure of public wealth on behalf of private self-interest.

But lest we get too cocky, this plundering of public wealth by no means bears a uniquely Republican signature. For well over half our nation’s history, from 1791 to 1932, it was the Democratic Party, not the Republican, that championed the anti-federalist and anti-republican cause. I have published the map below several times on these pages to illustrate this very point. All of the red on the bottom map, the map from 1860? Well, that was as solidly Democratic in 1860 as it is solidly Republican in 2012 (the top map).

1860 and 2012 Electoral Map

More ominously, for each map, it was the wealthiest members of society who brought its poorest citizens to vote against their political as well as against their economic self-interests. In the Democratic, pre-voting rights south, wealthy land owners convinced their poor, white countrymen that a politically and economically emancipated south meant a south ruled from Washington, DC.

They were right. A politically and economically emancipated south would be ruled, not from Washington, DC, but from a republican and federalist government, the kind of government enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, where the wealth we hold in common preempts private wealth. And the wealthiest southerners knew this and used this knowledge to turn their countrymen against the Constitution. And, yes. The Civil War was a movement to overturn the Constitution.

In the post-voting rights United States – roughly 1965 to the present – once again the wealthiest Americans have spent huge sums of their own resources convincing their poorest fellow countrymen that a politically and economically emancipated United States would mean that federal law would preempt local custom and tradition.

And, once again, they are right. A politically and economically emancipated United States would protect the wealth we hold in common from depredations and seizures by purely local, private enterprise – what the classical Greeks termed oikonomia, but what we call economy. When Republicans place private enterprise over public wealth, they are in fact unfurling one of the oldest anti-republican and anti-federalist banners. They will pit the household, the private oikos, or economy, against the commonwealth, the politeia, the Republic. They will set what we do not and cannot share over against what we do and must share together.

But, in fact, there is no conflict here. Because the only way our households, our oikos, and economy can collectively prosper and flourish is when we share our wealth to create a shared world, a shared legal and a shared economic and political system in which alone the preamble to the Constitution makes any sense at all:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

It was against this notion of “common defence” and “general Welfare” that the anti-federalists and anti-republicans most loudly railed in 1787; and against these that they continue to rail today.

Today’s Republicans do not simply hold an alternative view of the same Constitution. They are opposed to our Constitution. They are opposed to the Republic. They were opposed to it in 1787, when they were called the anti-Federalists. They were opposed to it in 1820 when they were called Democrats. They were opposed to it in 1860, when they were called Confederates. And they are opposed to it today when they call themselves Republicans.

I wrote my book, Commonwealth, so that those of us who believe in the Republic, who believe in the wealth we hold in common, might have a clear narrative of U.S. political history around which to organize their message of liberty.

Tomorrow, November 6, there are a whole range of propositions and candidates that will test our desire to share our private wealth with one another in a Republic. If we still believe in republican self-government, we will vote for these candidates and propositions.



1860 and 2012? Now That’s Frightening!

1860 and 2012 Electoral Map

Quick. Take a look at these two maps. Prior to 1932, all of that red was just as solidly Democratic as it now is Republican. And all of that blue? Prior to 1932, that was all Republican. Now, go to and download my book, Commonwealth: or Why Democrats are Republicans and Why Republicans are Neither. (Now, you can also purchase the paper edition.)

But this story is older, much older, than 1860. The truth is, in 1787 the vast majority of Americans did not like what was going on in Philadelphia. Because in 1787 most Americans were anti-federalists. In their minds federalism was the simply the American version of British monarchy: a central governing authority taxing their wealth and spending it on pet projects that benefit the few and stick it to the many. Patrick Henry? Anti-federalist. Samuel Adams? Anti-federalist. Neither were invited to the Convention in Philadelphia.

And, as a result, the document that took shape there – the U.S. Constitution – was as thoroughly federalist and republican as any document in history, to the great horror of many patriots and most Americans.

But that’s not the end of the story. Southerners hated the fact that federal courts held jurisdiction over local southern courts. They hated the fact that federal law held precedence over state laws. They hated the fact that the federal government had won the authority to tax the states. They hated the fact that only the federal government could issue and regulate currency, that only the federal government could sign and enforce international treaties, and that only the federal government could regulate interstate commerce. And they hated the fact that the Constitution had granted federal troops not simply the right, but the responsibility of marching into any state that sought to abridge the republican institutions and values of its citizens.

That is because the south was fiercely, militantly, anti-federalist. And they were fiercely, militantly, anti-federalist because they were pro-slavery. So that, between 1787 and 1860, the southern states did everything in their power to twist and distort the U.S. Constitution to make it fit into their anti-federalist image of the United States. They failed. And their failure led to a brutal civil war.

But that’s not the end of the story. After the war and after Reconstruction, the south went right on back to being the south. And, between 1871 and 1964, the southern states continued to do all in their power to undermine federalism and undermine our nation’s republican values and institutions. But, by 1964 the Democratic Party was no longer on their side, and the Republican Party was not yet on their side.

Commonwealth tells the compelling story about how Democrats came to embrace a vision of America that champions res publica, the wealth we hold in common, or simply our commonwealth, and how the Republicans came to adopt the anti-federalism and anti-republicanism once championed by the Democrats.

If you have any Republican friends (we all do) who are on the fence, send them a link to my book. And post a link to my book on your website.

Or, if you are at all curious about how and why the Republican Party came to represent the anti-republican and anti-federalist (and, therefore, anti-Constitutional) position in American politics, or how the Democratic Party came to be the only true republican party in the U.S., you need to read my book.

And don’t forget to vote on Tuesday: Yes on 30! No on 32!

The Anti-Republican Republican Party

Commonwealth (paper); Commonwealth (Kindle)

This morning on Morning Edition, Ina Jaffe interviewed two very different registered republican voters, both elderly. In a report titled “Older Voters Could Decide Outcome in Volatile Wisc.” one elderly registered republican voter says that she has had enough. Without ever saying so directly, she said, in effect, that the Republican Party is no longer republican. It is anti-republican. And so she is voting Democratic, both in the presidential and in the senate race. Another elderly registered republican voter is sticking with Mitt Romney. Without ever saying so, he is the reason why the first voter is voting for President Obama. He is what I call an “anti-republican Republican.”

I mention these two Wisconsin voters and Ina Jaffe’s report because some readers of my book (Commonwealth (paper); Commonwealth (Kindle)) have cynically suggested that the first kind of republican simply doesn’t exist. And, yet, in my experience the voter in Ina Jaffe’s report is far from the exception. Many republicans – particularly elderly republicans – remember a party that still supported public parks, public transportation, public education, public libraries, police, fire, and emergency rescue, public utilities, and even (in 1968, 1972, and 1976) public health care. They remember a Republican Party that still embraced the values and institutions from which their party took its name: res publica, the wealth we hold in common, or simply “commonwealth.” These republicans have sat quietly, watching in disbelief as their party leaders pursued what used to be an almost exclusively democratic strategy: a self-serving, cynical appeal to private self-interest over public values and institutions. But, as the republican woman interviewed in Ina Jaffe’s report put it, “no more.” She recognizes that there is but one republican presidential candidate, only one candidate that believes in res publica, in the wealth we hold in common, in commonwealth.

The other registered republican, the one who is voting a straight Republican ticket? Let’s just say, prior to 1932, that “republican” would have voted a straight Democratic ticket. That’s because, prior to 1932 it was the Democrats who were the outspoken opponents of the centralized federal government, the enemies of federal taxation and regulation, and the champions of local government, states rights, and, oh yes, racial segregation and Jim Crow. But, then, something happened called the Great Crash and the subsequent Great Depression. And the Democratic leadership began to reconsider its historical opposition to republican values and institutions. To be sure, still in 1932 most African Americans still voted a straight Republican ticket. And, in 1932 most Republican leaders still feared that Keynesian-style deficit spending was a sure recipe for German-style economic disaster. Yet, by 1960, the Democratic Party had done a complete about-face, showing ironically that it was better able than its Republican rival to build and safe-guard republican values and institutions.

So, what happened to the Republicans? Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the Republican leadership was actually fighting a two-front conflict. On the one hand they were battling Democrats who had stolen their thunder. On the other hand, however, they were also battling an influx of anti-republican Republican ideologues – folks like Leo Strauss, Milton Friedman, and Friedrich von Hayek who had absolutely no knowledge and even less interest in traditional American republicanism. Instead, this radical fringe viewed American politics through a lens cut by their recent experience of Europe, seeing just beneath the skin of every federalist and true republican a not too thinly disguised Nazi and Bolshevik clamoring for centralized state control and the elimination of liberty. Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower knew well how to put such outliers in their place, writing to his brother in 1954:

To attain any success it is quite clear that the Federal government cannot avoid or escape responsibilities which the mass of the people firmly believe should be undertaken by it. The political processes of our country are such that if a rule of reason is not applied in this effort, we will lose everything – even to a possible and drastic change in the Constitution. This is what I mean by my constant insistence upon ‘moderation’ in government. Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business an from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.[i]

Yes, in 1954 their number was negligible. And, yet, as every Republican knew, their party was losing ground daily to a Democratic Party that was increasingly viewed as the champion of public institutions and public values. It was therefore perhaps inevitable that one party or the other lift the banner of anti-republicanism and anti-federalism; the banner of the traditional enemies of the 1787 U.S. Constitution and its unlimited federalism. The great irony is that the party that lustily embraced and lifted this banner with the candidacy of the anti-republican, anti-federalist Ronald Reagan in 1980 was the Republican Party.

Thereafter, with increasing reckless fiscal abandon and disregard for its own traditions, the Republican Party became the anti-republican, anti-federalist party.

All of this may seem like nothing more than a boring history lesson. Who cares? Well, for one, there is an elderly registered Republican in Wisconsin who cares. She is voting for Obama. And my guess is that there are many, many more just like her who know that the Republican Party is no longer republican, but who cannot believe or who do not yet understand that it is the Democratic Party that is now the sole advocate of the wealth we hold in common.

If this description fits anyone you know, or if you are simply curious about how the Republican Party became its opposite or how the Democratic Party came to embrace republican values and institutions, I urge you to send them a copy of my book: “Commonwealth: or Why Democrats are Republicans and Republicans are Neither,” available in both Kindle and paper editions.

[i] Eisenhower, Dwight D. Personal and confidential To Edgar Newton Eisenhower, 8 November 1954. In The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower, ed. L. Galambos and D. van Ee, doc. 1147. World Wide Web facsimile by The Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission of the print edition; Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996,