April 05, 2004

The Consent of the Governed

Last week Lord Rees Mogg and I sat down to talk Constitutions. Europe has drafted one. It’s now deciding how to go about ratifying it, which has turned out to be no easy task. Lord Rees Mogg Explains why below. But indulge for a moment and allow me to offer three additional reasons. 1) English Liberalism versus French Liberalism. The English liberal tradition is based on just that…tradition. It’s based on common law…the organic growth of law through centuries of actual experience. French liberalism came from the Revolution, which was based on the conceit that men were smart enough to make the world perfect through reason. It had a profound disrespect for tradition, as evidenced by its abolition of all things traditional (the aristocracy, the Church, even the Calendar.) Today’s Europe is democratic in the French tradition not the English, and so is founded on the belief that the State can solve all problems through democratically elected legislators. 2) The Definition of Democracy. We all use the word, but do we mean the same thing by it? For some, it means the right to vote. For others, it’s a process. And for others, it’s an ideal. For all of us, the word has become dangerously ill defined. Where does political authority come from? The consent of the governed? The fact that those who govern are elected? One man one vote? The barrel of a gun I suspect the answer to where authority comes from is answered very differently all over the world—even if we’re all using the word democracy. 3) Institutional Authority. In Lord Rees Mogg’s piece, he makes reference to the institutions of the EU. What’s notable to me is that neither religion nor the family is among them. Webster’s defines and "institution" as an established custom or practice…something that exists, in my definition, because it’s successful at passing down rules and ethics that help people survive and thrive over time…broad rules which have proven effective and durable in a wide context. Today, nearly all problems in the West are thought of as political problems, requiring political institutions to solve. The Nanny State, Big Mother, Big Brother…take your pick…the idea that strong, small groups of likeminded people can govern themselves effectively is not only dismissed, it’s considered dangerous. Perhaps I’m putting too much thought into it, though. When I asked Bill Bonner what he thought, he said simply, “All countries have to find a way to ruin themselves eventually. That’s nature’s way.” Perhaps. Still, there is something remarkable about the American experiment. It’s institutionalized revolution. And I’d get into THAT even more, but it’s near the end of the day and I have to see what the price of gold is doing. Strategic Insider – William Rees-Mogg – 2 April 2004 To most Americans, the draft European Constitution is a remote and complicated scheme which is Europe’s business rather than America’s. A few foreign policy wonks find it interesting, and some lawyers with constitutional interests, but it is probable that 99 out of 100 American citizens do not even know of its existence, or that the members states of the European Union plan to reach final agreement in June. This compares unfavourably with the intense historic interest in Europe in the constitutional development of the United States. All politically concerned Europeans in 1787 were following the proceedings at Philadelphia, even though they took six weeks or more to cross the Atlantic. It is no coincidence that the signing of the U.S. Constitution was immediately followed by the French Revolution. When the French Revolution started, the French were trying to give themselves a new constitution, on American and British models. Thomas Jefferson was wholly on the side of the French Revolution, as was Tom Paine. Americans only began to feel concern at what was happening in France during the period of Robespierre’s terror, and Jefferson remained supportive even then. It must be important for the United States to see a continental power, in many ways modelled on the United States, emerging in Europe. The scheme may succeed or fail – failure is a distinct possibility – but either way major allies of the United States, and the world’s largest economy will be dramatically changed. It is also important because the European Constitution, as it has been proposed, offers a very different political and economic model from the American. Europe is not America; we have already seen how “old Europe”, particularly France and Germany, have quarrelled with American foreign policy in Iraq. There are cultural differences, and political and economic differences. The American Constitution is based on the principle of democracy. Sovereignty belongs to the people and is given by them to the government. In European thinking, despite some rhetoric about democracy, the state is the authority and the people are its subjects. This is reflected in the bureaucratic nature of the European Constitution, which is widely questioned by those European peoples that feel closest to America, the British, the Irish, the Scandinavians. Power in the European system will rest with three institutions, the Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Court and one Alliance, the Franco-German Alliance. Two of the Institutions are appointed, and the third is indirectly elected. It is not possible, therefore, to change the European Government. In November the American people can re-elect or remove their President. Under this Constitution, the European people can never remove their government, though individual governments can change the Council of Ministers, and the European Parliament can force the resignation of the Commission, without having any power to create the new Commission. The economic difference is particularly significant. Continental Europe sees a clear distinction between the Anglo-Saxon model and the Franco-German model. The Anglo-Saxon model comes from Adam Smith and relies on markets and individual enterprise; the Franco-German model rejects Adam Smith and relies on state regulation and welfare. One is individualist and the other is collectivist. Currently the Franco-German model is working badly. Both countries are in political trouble with weak governments which are being battered in mid-term elections. President Chirac of France recently won only a single regional election, out of 22. In Germany, real GDP growth has been below one per cent for the last three years, and expectations for the current year are falling. Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, is Anglo-Saxon in his own economic principles, but he is taking Britain into the new Constitution against the will of the British people. When the people of American do pay attention to the European Constitution, they may well sympathise with the British people.


Post a Comment

<< Home