Monday, September 19, 2005

Changing gears - my first question

Wow, I got off track....

One of the problems with writing a left-y political blog is the redundancy throughout the blogosphere. I concur that it's heartening to hear all these voices raised to reiterate that "Bush sucks" but that's hardly interesting or groundbreaking. Thus, my reluctance to post, not just in the last 11 days but in the past few months.

I want to find a niche as well as honor the intent of this blog which was not really to be a left-wing echo chamber but to ask questions of the right and the left, to gainsay the conventional wisdom, to examine what works and what is sheer idiocy. When I was getting my Philosophy degree (yes, many of you know me as a therapist but I also got a degree in Philosophy in order to secure my future as a well-paid waiter), I was known within the the Philosophy department at my school as a bit of a maverick. A "soft-Marxist" certainly but also a bit of an iconoclast and I tended to step on more leftist toes than conservative toes.

My intention here, on a daily basis, will be to examine where the US has come from and where it should head. I'm hoping for an honest dialogue from all sides of the political wading pool. I'm asking for people to enlighten me.

I start today (I'm hoping this will be an ongoing series) by critiquing the notion of a "strict constructionist" approach to the Constitution. As I see it, the intellectual underpinnings of my political opposition is founded on republicanism (small 'r') functioning within an iteration of federalism (also defined here).

Lakoff's metaphors aside, I believe that liberals and conservatives in the US mostly diverge with Constitutional interpretation, narrow versus broad interpretations of what the framers meant when drafting the Constitution.

Obviously, we can't divine the intent of dead men. Those of you on the right will certainly accuse me of deconstructionism with this (and further) arguments but I don't think it's unfair to place this first question in the context of the times with which the US Constitution was written.

At the time of its inception, the Constitution was the guideline for a country that was about a tenth of the size it is now (geographically) with little intent of grabbing much more territory. Indeed, had fortunes changed slightly it's not difficult to imagine that much of the continental US would be either French or Spanish (and even Russian), if not Native American. There is nothing to indicate that the framers held any pretense for empire much less exporting The Grand Experiment on a global scale.

Furthermore, in the late Eighteenth-century, the US was a largely agrarian society that had no notion of its industrial potential. Considering that provisions were made for slave-owners, it could be argued that the framers envisioned a country with an economy driven largely by "gentleman farmers" (and a few "hard-scrabble" farmers) with a some urban bourgeoise tradesman, a system that reflected most progressive European economies - with the exception that government would be democratically elected.

Considering those humble expectations of the country, the framers believed that government would serve minimal administrative functions in order to facilitate inter-state commerce (i.e. an objective judiciary to decide crimes or disputes of rights, the institution and maintenance of urban and rural infrastructure, a standing army to secure borders, and a minute legislative/administrative tier to oversee all these functions) but not much else. Although such a view, in this day and age, is considered a kind of fundamentalist libertarian utopian dream, it nonetheless provides the philosophical foundation for modern conservative thought.

So here is my first question: is the historical milieu of the framers relevant to a country that was far more complex than anything they could have conceived?

That's my question. I hope we'll proceed from here and it should be obvious that my agenda will be to undermine the foundational philosophy of the conservative argument (I make no pretense of being purely objective in this). However, I am setting aside shrill indictments in the interest of inviting an open, informed dialogue. I'm not certain that we'll solve anything and, frankly, I propose to shatter conservative contra propositions.

I will provide guidelines in another post. I'd like an answer to this first question and I'll live with deviations from the rules until those guidelines are posted. You can think of this as a bridge game: I know what cards I hold and what cards I will show but you can also play your cards as you see fit. However, your best play will be to answer my bid - as you see fit.

The game is on.


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