Half Past the Month: Souder Saves Us from Authoritarianism

June 17, 2014

For the use of the membership only (549 words)

SOME OF US used to complain that our politicians rarely returned to Indiana after leaving office. There will be fewer such complaints now that former Rep. Mark Souder has so firmly replanted himself here.

Suffering only from obsessive political personality disorder, Souder returns undaunted by scandal, fully pensioned and comfortably ensconced in academia. And although forced to forgo his Washington staff and trappings, he seems generously supplied with platforms from which to lecture us on how the world could be if only everyone were as insightful as he.

Most recently, Mr. Souder stuck a knife in the back of a fellow Republican, Richard Mourdock, for voicing the concern that America is tempting authoritarianism. Souder, the college professor now, listed eight touchstones of authoritarianism and pronounced Mourdock’s concerns ignorant. And as is his wont, he went further:

“Some extremists who have bought into this sloppy thinking that we are soon to be Nazi Germany are now panicked and bullying politicians to meet in a new Constitutional Convention. Ignorance piled upon ignorance.”

You can try to read through Souder’s justifications for such harsh judgment — but you also might save the time; they are the disjointed spouting-offs of the boor at morning coffee. (Reason No. 1 that authoritarianism isn’t at our door: “We did not lose a World War. A significant percentage of our young, productive men are not dead.”)

It is wiser to concentrate on what politicians today, retired or not, don’t seem to understand: What makes America work. Dr. Tyler Watts, an economist and someone Souder might dismiss as a sloppy thinker, has a more useful list* of touchstones:

1. Primacy of the Individual — Are individual citizens ultimately sovereign over themselves and their justly acquired property, and may they employ (or not employ) their persons and estates in any manner they wish, so long as they do not interfere with like rights of all others?

2. Representative Government — Are the people, individually, ultimately sovereign, with legitimacy in government arising from them and only delegated to the state apparatus (courts, police, etc.) by a representative process? And does the individual citizen retain ultimate control of the governing bodies this process may establish?

3. Common Law — Is the law seen as ancient and universal, given by nature or God? Does it pre-exist the state and thus the judiciary’s job is not to create law but merely to discover and apply this pre-existing law? Is the role of the legislature, then, a modest one of affirming settled legal principles and establishing rules for hard and novel cases by statute?

4. Rule of Law — Is the law supreme, as reflected in the ancient dictum “no man is above the law”? Does it treat all citizens equally, i.e., are they entitled to the same legal procedures, such as trial by jury for capital offenses, and for privileges such as habeas corpus and the right to remain silent?

Each of us would score our local government differently on such profound questions. Few, though, would trust an out-of-office politician to score it for us. And, by the way, would it be authoritarian to suggest that politicians, if they insist on retiring here, stand mute, restricted to club or garden?

— Craig Ladwig

* Adapted from Dr. Watt’s unpublished review of “Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World” by Daniel Hannan.

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