Sharp Knife

Founders Talk:

Sharp Knife has one of Noel's always-thoughtful, always-informative comparisons of founding documents with modern, ah, thinking. In this case, he is looking at how Alexander Hamilton would have spoken to the recent acts of Mr. McCain.

Noel does these things regularly, they are always worth reading. This is a rare occasion for me, in that I think I disagree with the results he draws from the comparison.

I find the concept of a deal of this sort less bothersome than Noel does. It has the advantage of being open and transparent. It certainly is antidemocratic, in the sense of being anti-majority.

On the other hand, the entire purpose of the Senate was to provide a brake on majority rule, much as the House of Lords used to do. Hamilton himself would probably not have been seriously bothered by the idea of fourteen or so Senators standing half the nation at bay. If anything, I think this sort of thing is what the Senate was designed to do.

It happens that I disagree with the principles the fourteen are seeking to impose, and would probably prefer that the majority rule in this case. In that sense, Noel and I are surely in agreement.

I don't, however, follow him in asserting that it is improper to do what has here been done. My sense is that our Constitution (and the British one also) was in better shape when the Upper House was more strongly active in this fashion. It does slow what we are pleased to think of as progress; but we of all people should be most suspicious of the concept of "progress" in legal and social matters. In science, yes: progress always. But not so in the law, and not in society.

If it is really a good thing -- if it is really "progress" -- it will come in time. There are benefits to waiting. For one thing, human wisdom is uncertain, and what seems right now may seem wrong with a few years' more learning behind us. We may thus be saved from a mistake, however hard it may be to conceive of it as a mistake at this point in time.

For another, if it proves that we are right, we shall only grow stronger by waiting. The Senate, as the House of Lords, is not impervious to democracy -- it is only somewhat more resistant to democracy. If these principles prove out in time, as I expect them to do, they will be strong enough to remake the Senate in future elections. For the price of waiting, we shall find ourselves in a far stronger position in the future. We shall find ourselves there, that is, if we are right: but I believe that we are, and therefore am pleased to play out the game and collect what I expect to be real rewards.

McCain may be detestable as a Senator -- surely is detestable, if only for McCain-Feingold, which remains a great abomination of the law. On that too, however, we shall prevail in time. When we do, it will not be in a narrow partisan fashion. Because we were patient and let the Republic work according to its intended fashion, our eventual victory will be one to shake the stars.

No comments: