Kevin Williamson has a knack for using current events to illustrate and illuminate the significance of our founding principles and institutions. Free speech, due process, second amendments and other fundamental constitutional sanctities are under attack from the left who talks loosely about packing the Supreme Court, dissolving the electoral college, taxing wealth, and ignoring the Tenth Amendment, eliminating any semblance of state sovereignty.
In Demagoguery Is Not Leadership Kevin illustrates the importance of the recognition of natural law and the commitment to a written constitution. On natural law he writes:
Prohibiting ordinary firearms is not a good policy, but if it were a good one, it would have been a good one a year ago — and it would still be a good one a year from now. Acting with a minimum of debate and reflection in the wake of a convulsive national horror may be the easiest way to enact sweeping legal changes, but it also is the worst way.
This is especially true when the question involves the fundamental rights of citizens. That the government of New Zealand does not recognize the right to keep and bear arms as a civil right — a right that distinguishes citizens from subjects — is no more relevant to the question than the censorship enacted by the junta in Beijing is to the status of free speech as a civil right. Governments do not create human rights — they only recognize them or violate them.
The idea of government as a protector of fundamental rights rather than the grantor of those rights may appear as petty semantics to the unthinking but it is significant. The role of the Supreme Court to uphold these rights as written as opposed to upholding majoritarian democracy is central to our government.
The early progressives including Woodrow Wilson had serious reservations about the concept of natural rights. FDR created a new list of rights than can only be granted by the government. Inevitably these rights to goods and services required securing rights for some at the expense of rights for others. The progressives thought that an elite meritocracy could manage the administrative state without defining limits or acknowledging fundamental economic principles. For a long time the charade was supported in the light of a broad economic depression and two world wars. Our global competitors were devastated while our shores secured our capacities.
Relative peace has exposed the wizard. Our incredible capacities now face global realities.
Gridlock in our system is not a fault but a feature. It is designed for debate, frustrating the demagogues and democratic overreaction. “Crisis is the rallying cry of the tyrant” and a false sense of urgency is often frustrated by adherence to a written code. Illiberal attempt to demonize and marginalize opposition makes urgency a convenient tool for grabbing greater political power.
Democratic governments violate civil rights most often when their citizens are terrified and angry: That kind of fearful stampeding is how you get nice liberals like Franklin Roosevelt building concentration camps and rounding up citizens for detention based on their ancestry.
Nicholas Kristof, writing in the New York Times, considers the headlong rush in New Zealand and concludes: “That’s what effective leadership looks like.” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others say the same thing, in almost the same words. But Ardern et al. are not engaged in leadership at all; they are engaged in followership, trying to appeal to the emotions of people who are traumatized, scared, and angry. Getting out in front of a parade is not leadership. Getting out in front of a parade of people wracked by rage and terror is demagoguery.
Though the Washington Post may lament the fact, the United States is fortunate in that the Constitution provides at least a few guardrails to keep the stampeding herd from going over the edge entirely. The Bill of Rights shelters certain fundamental rights from democratic passion — no matter how terrified, how angry, how sanctimonious, how self-righteous the demos and the demagogues may be.
The people of New Zealand are being stampeded into forfeiting their civil rights with remarkably little discussion or time for contemplation. Demagogues adore the urgency of now, and moral panic has its political uses.
Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldbergs spotlighted the many philosophical parallels between the American progressive movement and the rise of Italian fascism. Our culture and heritage were a critical distinction but our commitment to a written law that dispersed power neutered the power of a demagogue. FDR was brought low quickly by his own party over his attempt to pack the court.
I thought that the election of Donald Trump would serve to bring awareness of the constitutional constraints of central power to the left. Clearly I was naive; they are more interested in sacrificing constitutional principles in a short sighted attempt to further their own power.
Democracy does not die in darkness. It dies by its own hand in broad daylight. Democracies beget demagogues who seek crisis and panics to create a false consensus. The myth of a general will is used to crush the freedom that Democracy claims to champion.