Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Twenty-First Century Anti-Federalist

The recent Tea Party movement in the US has drawn both the ire and acclamation of many Americans. I think it was a stroke of genius to link the contemporary movement with the American revolutionaries because philosophically there is a logical connection between these partisans, even though they are separated in time by more than two hundred and thirty years. The bond that unites these two parties across time is Anti-Federalist sentiment.

The American revolutionaries revolted against the colonial mother country because they felt that the English government unjustly oppressed them without any significant political representation to advocate their collective self-interest. The Tea Party supporters view the current federal government in a similar way. They assert that the American national government has grown so bloated in its size that it has become oppressive and so byzantine and corrupt in its workings that it no longer affords regular Americans any genuine representation.

Another reason that the Tea Party is an apt name is that it taps into a general disgust, bordering on insurrection in some cases, with what its exponents perceive to be the national government and judiciary’s transgressions against subsidiarity, the touchstone of an authentic federal system. The basic thrust of subsidiarity is this: Any issue that can be resolved at the local level should be resolved at the local level. The U.S. Constitution explicitly recognized this principle when it delegated those powers not expressly identified with one the three branches of the national government to the states. This was an olive branch to the defunct Articles of Confederation and its supporters for whom subsidiarity was a very dear principle. The Articles of Confederation did not work because the central government was too weak. The U.S. Constitution was an attempt to rectify that situation, but without going to the other extreme of diminishing local authority to the point of obscurity and inconsequentiality.

The American people are beginning to wake up to the fact that the national government no longer respects subsidiarity, the bedrock of the American federal system. It intends to dictate policy and law for every aspect of society. At it was originally intended and envisioned by the Founding Fathers, federalism subsists upon a delicate and fragile sharing of power between a central government and local governments. Recent Republican AND Democratic administrations, Congresses, and the Supreme Court have made considerable in-roads against local and state power by validating the national government’s increasing hegemony over every facet of life in the republic. This is not the scourge of one party but both parties, which explains why the members of the Tea Party hail from both parties with many independents also amongst its ranks.

We now live in a political climate where the old Constitutional debates have gained new traction and resonance. Few hold the extreme Anti-Federalist position that the Constitution should not have been ratified, but many have very real concerns about the historic anxieties that the first Anti-Federalists voiced. Will America continue to be America if we abandon a meaningful federal model as was originally intended? The very fact that from the start the term ‘federal’ was co-opted to designate merely the national government rather than the federacy of states governments forming a more perfect Union overseen by the national government was an ill omen for the future.

It was not that the Anti-Federalist arguments were wrong, so much as it took a long time for their truth to manifest in American political life. The evolution of the central government’s increasing stranglehold on power took place under the radar of the American people who possess a native suspicion of an excessively strong central government dating back to the revolutionary days under an oppressive English regime. Gradually, these prejudices were forgotten in the dustbin of history and the oblivion of the American consciousness that does not remember or know its true self.

Think of this sea change in the American republic’s soul as an ever so subtle, ever so gradual tipping of the balance away from a tenuous equilibrium to a weighted imbalance in favor of the national government. I do believe we have now reached the tipping point where the national government is actively working against state and local governments and the principle of subsidiarity, which the Anti-Federalists warned us would occur.

In summary, the Tea Party movement is a resurgence of Anti-Federalist sentiment from the deepest waters of the American soul. True Americans cannot abide a national system that would seek to eclipse the local communities that form the Union because to do so would be to acquiesce to the death knell of the American experiment in favor of something wholly alien to our history and identity. The partisans of the Tea Party are not revolutionaries that want to bring down the national government, so much as they are American citizens who want to reclaim their political patrimony from a government and their fellow citizens who suffer from historical amnesia or ignorance about the importance of subsidiarity in sustaining the republic.

The national government cannot do everything nor should it attempt to do so, as it does not have the authorization or support of the American people in usurping their rightful power, which they vest in the local and state governments. It is for local communities to solve local problems. The national government should abide by the just limitations of the U.S. Constitution and the genius of our Founding Fathers rather than succumbing to the siren song of hubris and egotism. This wisdom applies to both parties and all factions!

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