Patrick Henry: The Constitution Allows the U.S. to ‘Squint Towards Monarchy’ – Time for a New Constitution?
Do you think the Constitution needs a reboot?
by If You Can Keep It | 2.14.20
Ben Franklin famously said America is “a republic, if you can keep it.” Can we keep America a republic? Should we? This is the Part 3 of "American Monarchy," the first entry in our ongoing series asking significant, but controversial, questions about our system of governance.
What you're saying
Before we get into the potential drawbacks of a monarchy, here are some of your thoughts from our previous piece, on the benefits of a monarchy:
The Cure for Ailing Nations?
- In January 2018, Count Nikolai Tolstoy, a distant relative of the bane to high school students everywhere, told the New York Times he had the solution for what ails America: A monarchy.
- “I love the monarchy,” Count Tolstoy said. “Most people think the monarchy is just decorative and filled with splendor and personalities. They do not appreciate the important ideological reasons for a monarchy.”
- In our previous installment, we cited a study that examined the economic performance of monarchies versus republics, which found “robust and quantitatively meaningful evidence” that monarchies outperform other forms of government.
- “Most people think monarchies are something anachronistic,” said Mauro F. Guillén, the Wharton professor who led the study. “They think that modern forms of government are superior and have trouble accepting that monarchies have advantages.”
- Sean Yom, an associate professor of political science at Temple University, told The Guardian that those advocating for a return of the king are suffering from “historical amnesia.”
“There’s a collective amnesia about how bad certain kinds of political systems really were.”
- Yom cited contemporary, human-right abusing monarchies in the Middle East, including Brunei, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.
- He added that the pro-monarchy participants on reddit’s r/monarchy thread, quoted in our previous piece, seem to be “from fairly developed western countries where the notion of monarchism wrapped largely in warm historical overtones.”
- Nathan J. Robinson was even blunter in his piece in Current Affairs:
“Monarchies are such absurd institutions that it feels unnecessary to even mount a case against them. Should there be a small ruling family that passes down their power through the bloodline, irrespective of merit or competence, whom the nation venerates for no reason other than the fact of their existence?”
And it's too easy...
“The best reason why Monarchy is a strong government is that it is an intelligible government. The mass of mankind understand it, and they hardly anywhere in the world understand any other.” - Walter Bagehot, The English Constitution (1867)
- What Bagehot is saying is this: a monarchy appeals to the masses because it’s the easiest to understand. No checks and balances and quorums and debates—just a king (or queen) with absolute authority.
- President Donald Trump’s acquittal by the Senate had many politicians and journalists – from both sides of the aisle – worrying that this was the final gem in the crown of King Donald.
- Commentator Will Brunch wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer:
“Remember that the American Experiment has been powered for 244 years by this one initial spark: Our hatred of monarchy. On Friday night, 51 senators all but voted to crown King Donald I, and with that vote a flame of democracy was effectively snuffed out.”
- But, he added, another revolution was brewing, one that would commence on November 3rd, 2020:
“The second American revolution begins today. Join us.”
- But what if what we need isn't a second American Revolution, but a second American Constitution?
Is The Constitution the problem?
- In Unmaking the Presidency: Donald Trump’s War on the World’s Most Powerful Office, Susan Hennessy and Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare argue that Trump has only “abused the power that the presidency clearly possesses.”
- Said another way: The Constitution gives the president massive, expansive powers. This may have been what Trump was referring to when he tweeted:
“Article II (of the U.S. Constitution) gives me the right to do whatever I want.”
- Alan Dershowitz echoed this sentiment during his impeachment arguments:
“[T]he president’s far more powerful than the king. The president has the power that kings have never had… He has a very, very powerful office, and the framers wanted it that way.”
'Squinting towards monarchy'
In our last piece, we quoted Thomas Jefferson:
"Where a constitution, like ours, wears a mixed aspect of monarchy and republicanism, its citizens will naturally divide into two classes of sentiment, according as their tone of body or mind, their habits, connections and callings, induce them to wish to strengthen either the monarchical or the republican features of the constitution."
- The Washington Post summarized this quote in a 2015 article:
“Our Constitution establishes a republican monarchy. We should belatedly, if grudgingly, come to recognize that fact.”
- They added:
“The Founders had forged a powerful executive, vesting it with extensive powers over law execution, foreign affairs, military affairs, and civilian officers. Indeed, the original presidency was more powerful than many 18th century European monarchs, or so John Adams insisted...And Patrick Henry, the Virginian, said the Constitution 'squints toward monarchy.’"
The Constitution is dead – Long live The Constitution
“Not enough people connect the dots between our political dysfunctions and the sacred Constitution of 1787.”
So writes Sanford V. Levinson, a professor of law at the University of Texas Law School, in a 2018 Politico article titled “The Constitution Needs a Reboot”.
Some of Levinson’s issues with our sacred text:
- The Electoral College, which allows a minority of voters the ability to choose a president.
- Article V, which “makes ours probably the hardest constitution in the world to amend.”
- The impeachment process: “In modern parliamentary systems, an unfit or failing prime minister can be removed once clear problems emerge, but according to the Constitution, it takes first impeachment by the House and then a two-thirds vote of an already undemocratic Senate.”
- Veto power: “Of the approximately 2,500 veto contests over our history, presidents have won about 95 percent of them. As written, the Constitution is essentially rigged in the president’s favor.”
What do you think?
Many countries have had multiple constitutions (the Dominican Republic has had 32). Many more have uncodified constitutions (Canada, the UK, Israel). Are you tired of congressional gridlock? Do you think the American system of government is broken? Would a monarchy – or monarchic principles – be the fix? Or do we need a new Constitution? Join the conversation.
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