In the 51st paper of The Federalist, James Madison noted:
What is government but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed, and then oblige it to control itself.
Madison went on to explain that experience and common sense has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions in designing a government--separation of powers, federalism, bicameralism, and the many other devices of prudence implemented in the American Constitution of 1787.
But in the end, writes Madison, it is "a dependence on the people [that] is no doubt the primary control on the government."
No constitution can restrain forever the evil or unjust appetites of men, especially where a majority of them have the resolve to satisfy those appetites. The American people must understand their rights and duties as citizens. They must also know something of the limited purposes and powers of their government, and the constitutional framework designed to keep government within those limits—and they must be willing to defend those constitutional limits.
This means in America, more so than in any other nation on earth, pubic opinion is critically important. Indeed, every important political fight is a fight for the American mind. The grand American experiment in freedom stands of falls by the opinions of American citizens.
For the past century there has been a powerful and sustained effort to shake loose the American attachment to constitutional government and the principles upon which it was built. Perhaps the most organized and visible part of that assault was the New Deal, the legacy of which continues to dominate our politics today.
Contrary to Madison and the other founders, the New Dealers' strategy was to argue that the principles of limited government are no longer relevant. Franklin Delano Roosevelt would declare in the 1936 that "political tyranny was wiped out at Philadelphia on July 4, 1776." According to FDR, we no longer need to worry about the growth or exercise of government power, because governmental tyranny is impossible.
As FDR said on many occasions, the problem was no longer political royalists but "economic royalists." The threat of tyranny will come not from those who would use political power to elevate themselves and oppress others; it will come from those who possess and seek economic power. Borrowing a page from Karl Marx, the new tyranny will be the tyranny of the rich over the poor.
During his 1932 campaign, FDR announced that "a mere builder of industrial plants, a mere creator of more railroad systems"—in short any American who exercises industry and entrepreneurship—"is likely to be a danger as a help." The energetic and ambitious qualities that propelled America from a nation of poor farmers to the freest and most prosperous nation on Earth, are now a threat to that freedom and prosperity.
According to FDR, the new task of government will be "the soberer less dramatic business of administering resources and plants already on hand—of meeting the problem of under consumption—of adjusting production to consumption—of distributing wealth and products more equitably."
Of course, if government is now to "administer" your resources and plants, if government is to "adjust" how much your business produces, if it is to take money from some of you and redistribute it to others according to what it thinks fair, there can be no limits on the scope and power of government.
In particular, it means that we must pay little attention to the old constitutional limits on government power. It might be best, from this point of view, if we forget or simply abolish those old constitutional limits, and think of government as a beneficent body of bureaucratic administrators. This, I believe, is what FDR meant when he announced that "the day of enlightened administration has come." The replacement of limited constitutional government with unlimited bureaucracy and administration is what the New Deal meant.
That New deal premise remains the premise of government today. In corrupting the American mind, in leading Americans to forget or abandon their constitutional tradition, it has been very successful. But its victory is not complete.
There remain those who love liberty and are willing to defend the principles and practices of free government. There are those today who agree with the Founders that human nature never changes, and that it is both unwise and unjust to offer those in government unlimited political power. You, the citizen-supporters of the Claremont Institute, and the fine patriots and scholars I am blessed to work with at the Claremont Institute, are leading that charge. And so is our guest speaker.
I met Michael a couple of months ago. I have enjoyed getting to know him better, and I am honored for the opportunity. It is my hope that this is the beginning of a long and productive relationship between us. He has a rare gift of genius, and he uses that genius every week in the pages of the Orange County Register—no, wait, it's that other paper, the liberal oneâ€¦the "Times" I believe they call it —to remind his fellow citizens of the importance of the politics of freedom, and the constitutional government upon which that politics rests. I also hear that when there is a karaoke machine in the room, he can carry quite a tune.
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Pulitzer Prize winning political cartoonist for the Los Angeles Times, Michael Ramirez.