That Bloke Montesquieu
By cam (Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 10:36:45 AM EST) (all tags)

One of the enlightenment thinkers which heavily influenced the American Republic was a French bloke with a big nose by the name of Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu. He came up with this technology called Separation of Powers. This is where you divide government into three distinct and independent areas; making laws, implementing laws and interpreting laws. We know these as Legislative, Executive and Judicial.

The US has one of the purest systems of separation of powers, as well as one of the strongest systems of checks and balances. This is where each arm monitors the operations of the arms. I will discuss this in terms of the American Washington system. Westminster systems need not apply.

Back before liberal democracy they had a problem where kings, despots, tyrants etc used to make laws up on the spot, enforce those laws on the spot, hand down sentences on the spot and tax people on the spot. It represents arbitrary government and got a bit of a bad name.

The American founding fathers looked to all the present systems of government, looked to the enlightenment philosophers and decided to come up with something better - that was resilient to the negative and selfish passions of politicians. One that would make America free forever from the tyranny and despotism of being subject to a King.

They put down all this thinking into the US Constitution and Hamilton, Madison and Jay explained it in great detail in the Federalist Papers. A must read for anyone interested in the philosophical basis of the American republic.

• Executive: In the US system this is the Administration headed by the elected President. The executive cannot make laws, nor interpret them or pass sentence on them. The President can only execute the laws that the legislative branch of government has made.

• Legislative: This can be bicameral or unicameral. In the US it is bicameral with a Senate and a House of Representatives. These two houses make the laws and money bills. These are the laws that the Executive must execute. It also provides the funding to execute those laws.

• Judicial: This branch interprets laws that are made by the legislative.

The separation of powers doctrine also contains counterbalance. For instance the legislative must approve the executive's appointments to the judicial. The executive can veto a legislative bill. The judicial can determine a law made by the legislative unconstitutional.

These stop the branches acting in a tyrannical manner in their own little fiefdoms of distinct power.

This is all tied together with a constitution. A single document that describes in detail the powers of each branches and the checks and balances on each branch. The constitution defines the limits of executive, legislative and judicial authority. As a consequence, when interpreting government action, it is an absolute.

Through the factional system, politicians have impugned themselves to varying degrees from the limits written into constitutions. The next iteration or innovation for liberal democracy will probably be having a democratically elected magistrate who's sole concern and authority, is to ensure that the constitution is not being broken and tyranny being committed.

That Bloke Montesquieu | 15 comments (15 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
The American government by ad hoc (4.00 / 1) #1 Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 11:07:17 AM EST
is definitely a product of its time. I doubt it could have happened earlier or later.

Plus, one of the things that makes it unique is the 10th Amendment:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

I'm not award of the concept being put forward before then. In every system up to that point the power was reserved to the government/authority and "given" to the people. This specifically says unless a power is specified, it's reserved to the people. This, combined with the 9th Amemendment:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

makes things pretty watertight.

Then again, 9/11 changed everything[tm].
--
Close friendships and a private room can offer most of the things love does.

the or later bit by cam (2.00 / 0) #2 Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 11:17:01 AM EST
Australia federalised 125 years later, and other than the innovation of a democratically elected senate, it failed every other test and innovation that America had instituted.
[ Parent ]
I really think it's the result of by ad hoc (4.00 / 2) #5 Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 11:51:21 AM EST
the Age of Enlightenment on British Common Law. I mean, France came about at about the same time, but wasn't based on British Common Law, so the effect was strange. (The precident of the Magna Carta v. King Louis' absolute power.) AU had British Common Law, but was too late for the Age of Enlightenment.

I mean, the people who came up with the Constitution (and the Declaration) were brilliant people. Absolutely brilliant. But they were also working on a foundation of ideas laid down by Locke and others.

I mean, I seriously doubt it could happen now. In the first place, I don't see all that many brilliant people at the head of government. And where Madison et al could develop ideas in, literally, volumes of papers, now you have to sum it up in a 20 second sound bite or, if you're lucky, 10 minutes on the New Hour. Then you're ridiculed by talking head pundits with unprecidented resources and influence who didn't get their payoff.

People always say that old timey journalism was way more vicious than now, and they have a point. Newpapers in Jefferson's time were something to behold. But it's my contention that voters then were smarter. There wasn't anything approaching universal sufferage for many many years. It wasn't until Jackson that non-landed people could vote. Blacks 100 years later, and women 60 years after that. So in Jefferson's time, in order to vote, you had to be a reasonably well educated critical thinker who could see the so-called journalism for what it was. Now, Madison Avenue has pretty well proved they can convince the average consumer to buy and use things that will kill them and be happy about it. (When was it, exactly, that citizens became consumers?) How hard is it, then, for those with a big enough soapbox (tv network, radio show, &c) to be able to convince simple minded consumers to ditto whatever they're told?
--
Close friendships and a private room can offer most of the things love does.

[ Parent ]
Au's elite wasnt up to snuff by cam (2.00 / 0) #7 Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 03:45:06 PM EST
The American elite at the time were *the* global elite. Franklin was already of world reknown, Jefferson sort of was; Madison, Hamilton and Washington left their mark before and after.

Australia has spent the last 80 years trying to eradicate the "Deakinist" and "Bearded Men" legacy from its political system, while the US pretty much got set up for a golden age by the Madisonian Republic.

When Australia federated there wasnt universal suffrage either. About 20% of the population voted on the referendum with just over 10% of the Australian population passing it. So it was a pretty piss-poor effort.

The French Revolution was more social than political, whereas the American Revolution was purely political.

[ Parent ]
And Yet . . . by Christopher Robin was Murdered (4.00 / 1) #3 Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 11:34:06 AM EST
The two president's that regularly top the list of the highest ranking presidents, Lincoln and FDR, regularly flaunted the Constitutional limitations on their powers and rolled over the supposedly Constitutionally "protected" rights of Americans.

I submit that the historical trend of American democracy since the Civil War has been to streamline the workings of power to concentrate it into a central authority, not disperse it. And, moreover, the vast majority of Americans are perfectly happy with this.

Google fight! by lm (4.00 / 1) #4 Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 11:50:54 AM EST
best president lincoln: 30,000,000 hits
best president fdr: 18,000,000 hits

compare to:

best president washington: 197,000,000
best president grant: 87,300,000
best president johnson: 65,300,000
best president clinton: 49,600,000
best president kennedy: 45,900,000
best president ford: 41,800,000
best president reagan: 33,000,000
best president carter: 26,800,000
best president jefferson: 20,600,000
best president cleveland: 19,900,000

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
Those Hit Numbers Aren't What I'm Getting by Christopher Robin was Murdered (4.00 / 2) #6 Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 12:06:51 PM EST
Lincoln 30,000,000
FDR 14,600,000

best president washington: 166,000,000
best president reagan: 26,800,000

And so on . . .

This confused me until I looked up "lm lies."

2,410,000 hits.

Google has spoken. You're a liar.

[ Parent ]
I think you misunderstand by lm (4.00 / 1) #10 Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 05:20:27 PM EST
the truth

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
dude by cam (4.00 / 1) #11 Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 06:28:02 PM EST
Hail to the cam, baby! by Christopher Robin was Murdered (4.00 / 1) #15 Sat Apr 08, 2006 at 05:46:31 PM EST
That settles it as far as I'm concerned.

You know, how did anybody ever settle on anything before Google?

[ Parent ]
I recently read by cam (4.00 / 1) #8 Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 05:02:24 PM EST
State of Exception by Girogio Agamben. Interesting book. He argues that the state of emergency has become the norm in government. He traces it back to the Roman Republic and argues that it has become a meme of government in liberal democracy. The Weimar Republic is one modern liberal democracy that went from liberal democracy to tyranny via this mechanism.
[ Parent ]
There are lots of details that could be improved by edward (4.00 / 1) #9 Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 05:18:34 PM EST
For example the judicial branch is made weaker by the role that the executive and legislative branch have in determing who is part of the judiciary. That selection should come from somewhere else or at least must have other restrictions placed upon it.

The fact that you mention the next innovation would be a position whose sole job is to intrepret the constitution (which is the highest law in the land) means that the judiciary is failing its job. As well the judiciary does not just interpret the constitution as it applies to a specific law, but also interprets laws to ensure that they are consistent with other laws and alerts the legislative branch that it should change the offending laws. This usually takes the form of striking down laws, but these days the judiciary is wimpy and lame so it's scared to do so (or it's been staffed by incompetents who improperly defer to the other branches).

One of the causes of this deferential attitude is that somehow the judiciary seems to have been convinced, especially at the Supreme Court level, that it is somehow subservient or not as important as the other branches. I might put it that there seems to be some belief that the judiciary serves at the request of, or in the service of the other branches. But in fact no branch should be thought of as lower or higher or more correct than any other.

Fuck I'm sort of bored.

next innovation by martingale (4.00 / 2) #12 Sat Apr 08, 2006 at 12:47:44 AM EST
I don't think the next innovation should be some sort of interpretation of the constitution. The most important next innovation, to me, has to be putting some serious downside to being a member of government.

The old Greeks had it right, give a man power and then exile him after his term expires. There are many possibilities. A former president could be formally dispossessed of all his assets. If a person serves in one of the branches, all his relatives to within 3 generations should be formally barred from working in that same branch, and maybe the other two as well. People in the legislative branch who vote for war should pay for it with 50% of all their own possessions and current income.

I'm sure you can come up with others. The only democracy that works is a democracy where the government is afraid of the people.
--
$E(X_t|F_s) = X_s,\quad t > s$

A 4 and a reply: by edward (4.00 / 1) #13 Sat Apr 08, 2006 at 01:10:53 AM EST
I second that idea. The system needs to be set up in such a way that it actually becomes something of a disincentive to become part of government, and that decisions taken by the government, even if they are the right decisions, should still have difficult consequences.

People should be in politics because they want to represent the interests of their ordinary constituents, and for no other reason. Taking away incentive to power and limiting, in a fundamental way, what political power actually means is a good idea.

[ Parent ]
you could say by martingale (4.00 / 2) #14 Sat Apr 08, 2006 at 01:22:37 AM EST
Entering government should have the elements of a sacrifice.
--
$E(X_t|F_s) = X_s,\quad t > s$
[ Parent ]
That Bloke Montesquieu | 15 comments (15 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback