The Neo-Con Assault on the Constitution
WorldNetDaily book editor Joel Miller recently authored one of the best common-sense constitutional arguments against the government's failed “war on drugs” that I've seen (“Alan Keyes is Wrong!”, April 23). It was a response to neo-conservative Alan Keyes, who had written in support of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's use of the federal Controlled Substances Act to exert federal dominion over drug regulation by the states. Keyes was addressing Oregon's “euthanasia laws” that permit the dispensation of lethal drugs, and Miller agreed with him that “killing yourself . . . is not medically legitimate.”
The bigger issue, though, is what constitutional right the federal government has to exert such control over drug regulation — or any kind of regulation for that matter — by the states. As Miller pointed out, Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which delineates the legitimate appropriations of Congress, does not include regulating drugs (or the vast majority of what the federal government does today, for that matter). The Tenth Amendment, moreover, reserves such powers “to the States respectively, or to the people.”
Miller interestingly quotes historian David Musto as having observed that until the late nineteenth century, the federal government laid no claim to such regulatory powers; such things were the responsibilities of the states, or the people. Miller is correct to invoke the Tenth Amendment in his argument, but this Amendment was all but destroyed during the War Between the States, after which federal political hegemony was established. As Dean Sprague wrote in Freedom Under Lincoln, “States Rights, which prior to 1860 had been as important a part of northern political beliefs as southern, were overturned.” This includes, first and foremost, the Tenth Amendment.
Miller also correctly observed that the “progressive era” federal regulatory agencies “were profoundly unconstitutional and un-American” and are “the elder bedmates of the coercive, expansionist politics of modern-day liberalism.” Exactly. This, however, is exactly the position that neo-conservatives like Alan Keyes hold.
There is a method in the neo-con assault on the Constitution: They routinely invoke the part of the Declaration of Independence about “all men are created equal,” but not the rest of the document, as our “national creed,” even if the policies they advance in the name of that creed are in deep conflict with the Constitution itself. For example, in Keyes's article he bases his argument in support of federal drug regulation on the equality principle of the Declaration. He claims that the Constitution supposedly creates a “federal regime of ordered liberty” by which democratic mobs supposedly “govern themselves in dignity and justice” (I'm not making this up, honest).
To neo-cons like Keyes, the Constitution supposedly prohibits the interpretation of federal law by anyone but the federal government itself because the people of individual states are supposedly incapable of doing so; only “the people of the whole nation” are “competent” to perform this task. But his makes no sense, for there is no such thing as “the people as a whole” acting on this or any other issue. The fact that a small percentage of us votes every four years or so does not imply that we are acting with competence as “a whole people” on this or any other issue. A state referendum on a specific issue, on the other hand, is much more meaningful in terms of citizen participation.
Keyes barely ever makes a speech or writes a column anymore where he does not invoke the Declaration and make a not-too-subtle comparison between himself and Abraham Lincoln. Indeed, he frequently states that his main passion, the pro-life movement of today, is the equivalent of the abolition movement of the nineteenth century. (This comparison is not entirely accurate, however, if one acknowledges Pulitzer Prize winning Lincoln biographer David Donald's statement that “Lincoln was not an abolitionist”).
The link between Lincoln and neo-con ideology is clear: Lincoln falsely claimed that the Union preceded the states, and was therefore not subject to their sovereignty. The neo-cons make the exact same argument in advancing whatever policy cause they happen to be involved in, whether it is drug regulation, abortion, censoring of television, waging war, etc. This is why so many neo-cons, such as the ones associated with Keyes and the Claremont Institute, are such slavish idol worshippers when it comes to Lincoln. They use his martyred “sainthood” to promote their political agenda through an ever more powerful federal government. That's why they're described as “neo-cons” and are not a part of the Old Right tradition: They are comfortable with Big Government, as long as it fights their wars and enacts their social and regulatory programs. This is one reason why there is such a large “Lincoln Cult” among conservative (but mostly left/liberal) academics and think tank employees.
But the alleged supremacy of the federal government over the states is a lie. It was established by the most violent means, a war that killed the equivalent of more than 5 million Americans (standardizing for today's population), not logic, argumentation, or even legal precedent. It is a lie because:
- Each American colony declared sovereignty from Great Britain on its own;
- After the Revolution each state was individually recognized as sovereign by the defeated British government;
- The Articles of Confederation said, “each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence”;
- The states then decided to secede from the Articles and dropped the words “Perpetual Union” from the title;
- Virginia's constitutional ratifying convention stated that “the powers granted resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression.” This right was also asserted for all other states;
- In The Federalist #39 James Madison wrote that ratification of the Constitution would be achieved by the people “not as individuals composing one entire nation, but as composing the distinct and independent States to which they respectively belong,” flatly contradicting the contrary assertions of Keyes and other neo-cons;
- The Constitution always speaks of “the United States” in the plural, signifying that the individual states were united in forming the federal government as their agent while maintaining their sovereignty over it;
- The Constitution can only be amended with the authority of the states;
- Until 1914 U.S. Senators were appointed by state legislatures so that the states could retain a degree of sovereignty over federal “officials,” who now have carte blanche to rule over us as they wish.
Only by endlessly repeating what Emory University philosopher Donald Livingston calls Lincoln's “spectacular lie” that the federal government created the states (and not the other way around), and that the nation was supposedly founded by “the whole people” and not the people of the states in political conventions can the neo-cons continue to champion the further centralization of governmental power to serve their own political ends, whatever they may be.
Of course, it's not only the neo-cons who perpetuate this lie. Liberals and other assorted leftists do so as well. The left-wing journalist Garry Wills, for example, praises Lincoln's “open air sleight of hand” in effectively rewriting the true history of the founding (not unlike so many of the former communist governments rewrote their own histories during the twentieth century) because it enabled us to embrace “egalitarianism” and the massive welfare state in whose name it has been advanced (Lincoln at Gettysburg).
Columbia University law professor George P. Fletcher echoes the neo-con mantra in Our Secret Constitution, where he celebrates the fact that the centralized state that was imposed on the nation by the Lincoln administration has led directly to the adoption of myriad “welfare programs,” “affirmative action measures,” the New Deal, modern workplace regulation, etc. He is quite gleeful in his description of the Gettysburg Address as “the preamble of the second American constitution.” This is not necessarily a written constitution, however, but one that has been imposed by federal policy.
This transformation of American government from one in which federalism, states rights, and the rights of nullification and secession allowed the citizens of the states to retain sovereignty over the federal government to a consolidated, monolithic Leviathan, means that Americans now live under what historian Clinton Rossiter called a “constitutional dictatorship.” He used this phrase in a book of the same name which appropriately featured an entire chapter on the “Lincoln Dictatorship.”
April 25, 2002
Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is the author of the LRC #1 bestseller, The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War (Forum/Random House 2002) and professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland.
Copyright 2002 LewRockwell.com