Humiliated Jeffersonians, or, Constitutional Sentimentalism

Claremontista “Lincoln Fellow” Timothy Sandefur–with whom I’ve tangled previously on various issues related to federalism (see Sandefur and Washington and DiLorenzo’s followup; and Sandefur on slavery and the civil war; man, gotta love the treasure trove that the LRC blog has become)–has a short piece in the July 2006 Liberty in which he recommends the book America’s Constitution: A Biography, by the admittedly brilliant but mainstream law professor Akhil Reed Amar. Writes Sandefur:

I know of no writer who understands the Constitution–including such subtle matters as divided sovereignty and the legal significance of the preamble–better than Akhil Amar. Given the alarming number of libertarians willing to humiliate themselves with such concoctions as the “right to secede,” it would be a real relief to see more of them sober themselves with this brilliant book.

Funny, in the same issue, Sheldon Richman recommends Our Enemy, The State, by Albert Jay Nock, writing:

Nock has no time for the “Founding Fathers,” who were intent on leaving the British Empire so they could start their own exploitative “Merchant-State.” The Constitution was the result of a “coup d’etat” in Philadelphia, where men who wer supposed to make only marginal adjustments to the Articles of Confederation opted for a whole new system features a strong tax-collecting central government. thus was born America’s Corporate State. Yet, for reasons that escape Nock, constitutional sentimentalism lives–even among libertarians. Go figure.

I like that term–“constitutional sentimentalism.” Good one on ya’, Sheldon. Why I brought up Richman’s comments immediately after mentioning those of Sandefur, I have no idea. Total coincidence. Poor Nock humiliated himself by not getting with the program. He’s so dated.

A gentle suggestion to Mr. Sandefur: perhaps a Lincoln Fellow ought to “sober” up with a taste of Nock, a Spooner full of Berger, and with some helpings of William Rawle, A View of the Constitution, published in Philadelphia in 1825. “Rawle’s book is now principally remembered because he expressed in it the view that any state of the Union could constitutionally secede if the unequivocal voices of the state’s people so determined. Rawle’s text was used for instruction at West Point when the men who came to lead the Confederate armies in 1861-1865 were cadets.”

Also “sobering” to those with constitutional sentimentalism under King Lincoln’s spell would be Rothbard’s “Just War” essay, Tom DiLorenzo’s superb and instructive piece “Constitutional Futility“. Also, William Watkins’s Reclaiming the American Revolution, totally debunks the Jaffa/Straussian lies about constitutionalism so in vogue among some of our activist-centralist libertarians. And Mr. Sandefur might want to add to his reading list James J. Kilpatrick’s seminal 1957 book, The Sovereign States: Notes of a Citizen of Virginia (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1957). And let’s not forget Walter Williams. That is, if Sandefur can bear to read all these humiliated scholars.


1:03 am on June 23, 2006