April 17, 2014

Political Divisions, Explained

Will on the Left’s reversal of the Founders’ premise.

George Will: “In a 2006 interview, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said the Constitution is ‘basically about’ one word – ‘democracy’ – that appears in neither that document nor the Declaration of Independence. Democracy is America’s way of allocating political power. The Constitution, however, was adopted to confine that power in order to ‘secure the blessings of’ that which simultaneously justifies and limits democratic government – natural liberty. The fundamental division in American politics is between those who take their bearings from the individual’s right to a capacious, indeed indefinite, realm of freedom, and those whose fundamental value is the right of the majority to have its way in making rules about which specified liberties shall be respected. … The argument is between conservatives who say American politics is basically about a condition, liberty, and progressives who say it is about a process, democracy. Progressives, who consider democracy the source of liberty, reverse the Founders’ premise, which was: Liberty pre-exists governments, which, the Declaration says, are legitimate when ‘instituted’ to ‘secure’ natural rights. … With the Declaration, Americans ceased claiming the rights of aggrieved Englishmen and began asserting rights that are universal because they are natural, meaning necessary for the flourishing of human nature. ‘In Europe,’ wrote James Madison, ‘charters of liberty have been granted by power,’ but America has ‘charters of power granted by liberty.’”

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