“Rule over naturally free men is different from rule over natural slaves; rule in a household is monarchical, since very house has one ruler; the rule of statesmen is rule over free and equal persons.”
Aristotle, Politics, 1255b18-20
When the framers of the 1787 US Constitution met in Philadelphia, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was there; Donald Trump was not. Mr Sessions was there in the person of southern slave-holders, who, like Aristotle, understood that the privileges enjoyed by citizens rest upon the labor of other members of their household (their oikonomike [οἰκονομική]), the slaves or workers (doulon [δούλων]). Only because others worked did southern gentlemen farmers enjoy the wealth, leisure, education, security and good health to spend their summer among their equals (ison [ἴσων]) writing a constitution. Their aim in Philadelphia was to keep it that way. And, there, in a nutshell, is Jeff Sessions, who has spent much of his adult, law-making life making sure that workers in general, and African American workers in particular, did not enjoy equal status with free and equal white men.
Donald Trump was not in Philadelphia in 1787. That is because the 45th President (and those like him) were on the record opposed to republican values and institutions. In their view, the public sphere (politike [πολιτική]) was entirely illegitimate: a boondoggle. For the public sphere entailed the seizure of private wealth for the sake of institutions legally bound to serve the public good. It is illegitimate because only the monarchical rule of private enterprise is wholly legitimate — i.e., legal because based on private property. Because the 45th President is fundamentally opposed to public authority, he — along with Tom Paine, Sam Adams, Patrick Henry, and others — were locked out of the Philadelphia convention. For, as Aristotle noted, “rule in a household” — in a private enterprise — is monarchical, since every “household” — every business — “has only one ruler.” Thus the 45th’s anger. He is the boss. He is the “monarch” of this private enterprise. And one of his doulon, one of his slaves, has gone rogue on him.
But, what is worse is that the 45th President cannot understand how his own Attorney General gained admission into the Convention while he, the President, was left outside. How could this be?
To be sure, the Attorney General is a slave owner. With Aristotle, he believes that only those who enjoy wealth, education, health, security, and leisure should be allowed, with their equals, to rule. And with Aristotle, he believes that those who are “natural slaves” — those who, for whatever reason, do not enjoy these qualities — should be relegated to work on behalf of those who do. Fair is fair. Where he differs from his President is that, for whatever reason, the Attorney General believes in a public sphere governed by the rule of law — racist law, misogynist law, plutocratic law, but law nonetheless. His President, by contrast, knows only the law of the private household, the oikonomia, private enterprise, where the manager (the despotes or despot) rules monarchically.
This conflict between the 45th and the AG cannot end well; not because Jeff Sessions is a fine upstanding slaveholder and the 45th a pitiful anti-Federalist. It cannot end well because the AG and all of his well-intentioned slave-owning allies created their own nemesis: the 45th.
Rule of law? You must be joking! “L’Etat? L’Etat, c’est moi.” Very few in 1787 fully appreciated the full nature of this aggressive cancer. Among those who did was Gouverneur Morris, delegate from New York, who on August 8 intoned:
I never would concur in upholding domestic slavery. It is a nefarious institution. It is the curse of heaven on the states where it prevails. . . . Upon what principle is it that the slaves shall be computed in the representation? Are they men? Then make them citizens, and had them vote. Are they property? Why, then, is no other property included? . . . The admission of slaves into the representation, when fairly explained, comes to this, — that the inhabitant of Georgia and South Carolina, who goes to the coast of Africa, and, in defiance of the most sacred laws of humanity, tears away his fellow-creatures from their dearest connections, and damns them to the most cruel bondage, shall have more votes, in a government instituted for the protection of the rights of mankind, than the citizen of Pennsylvania or New Jersey, who views, with a laudable horror, so nefarious a practice. Domestic slavery is the most prominent feature in the aristocratic countenance of the proposed Constitution. The vassalage of the poor has ever been the favorite offspring of aristocracy. And what is the proposed compensation to the Northern States, for a sacrifice of every principle of right, of every impulse of humanity? They are to bind themselves to march their militia for the defence of the Southern States, for their defence against those very slaves of whom they complain. They must supply vessels and seamen, in case of foreign attack. The legislature will have indefinite power to tax them by excises, and duties on imports, both of which will fall heavier on them than on the southern inhabitants; for the bohea tea used by a northern freeman will pay more tax than the whole consumption of the miserable slave, which consists of nothing more than his physical subsistence and the rag that covers his nakedness. On the other side, the Southern States are not to be restrained from importing fresh supplies of wretched Africans, at once to increase the danger of attack and the difficulty of defence; nay, they are to be encouraged to it, by an assurance of having their votes in the national government increased in proportion; and are, at the same time, to have their exports and their slaves exempt from all contributions for the public service. Let it not be said that direct taxation is to be proportioned to representation. It is idle to suppose that the general government can stretch its hand directly into the pockets of the people, scattered over so vast a country. They can only do it through the medium of exports, imports, and excises. For what, then, are all the sacrifices to be made? I would sooner submit myself to a tax for paying for all the negroes in the United States, than saddle posterity with such a Constitution (Elliott’s Debates, Volume 5, Wednesday, August 8, 1787).
In the end, the Attorney General won. He got his slavery, according to law.
The irony is that Jeff Sessions is now in battle against those excluded from the floor of the Philadelphia convention. Those who reject republicanism entirely are now in power. Ironically, the slave-owning AG is the mud sill for the rule of law.
He will lose. The anti-federalists and anti-republicans are now in power. They hate the 1787 Constitution. It is their nemesis. But, the even greater irony is that Jeff and his good-old-boys — McConnell and Ryan — did not know (did they?) that this 45th would be their undoing.