Friday, April 12, 2013

James Madison vs. Frank Nitti

Daniel Greenfield, in his Sultan Knish column, "The Chicagoization of America" (April 11th), remarked about the workings of urban machine politics:

In 2012, tribal politics became national politics. The country was divided and conquered. A campaign run on convincing a dozen separate groups to be afraid of each other and of the majority made all the difference, not in some urban slum, but from sea to shining sea. The country had at last become the city. And considering the state of the city... the state of the union does not look good.

His column featured a photograph of Saul Alinsky, author of Rules for Radicals and other Democracy for Dummies and Democrats tracts that serve as hands-on instruction manuals for liberals, leftists, and out-and-out communists and socialists in how to acquire power and disenfranchise everyone but their patrons. In other words, elective gangsters. Such as Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton, who admired Alinsky and his "community organizing" philosophy so much she wrote her Wellesley senior thesis on them and even interviewed Alinsky.

Greenfield does not mention Alinsky in the column, which is about how "democracy" has become a game and tactic of criminal politicians who manipulate contentious voting blocs and vested interests. He did not need to. Alinsky's face and that photograph in particular are too familiar. Alinsky boasted that he befriended and fraternized with Chicago gangsters. That is entirely appropriate, given the state of Chicago and American politics as described by Greenfield.

Here is an anecdote in Alinsky's own words about how cozy he was with Frank Nitti, Al Capone's "enforcer." Nitti liked Alinsky and allowed him to look over the criminal's books:

Once, when I was looking over their records, I noticed an item listing a $7500 payment for an out-of-town killer. I called Nitti over and I said, "Look, Mr. Nitti, I don't understand this. You've got at least 20 killers on your payroll. Why waste that much money to bring somebody in from St. Louis?" Frank was really shocked at my ignorance.

"Look, kid," he said patiently, "sometimes our guys might know the guy they're hitting, they may have been to his house for dinner, taken his kids to the ball game, been the best man at his wedding, gotten drunk together. But you call in a guy from out of town, all you've got to do is tell him, 'Look, there's this guy in a dark coat on State and Randolph; our boy in the car will point him out; just go up and give him three in the belly and fade into the crowd.' So that's a job and he's a professional, he does it. But one of our boys goes up, the guy turns to face him and it's a friend, right away he knows that when he pulls that trigger there's gonna be a widow, kids without a father, funerals, weeping -- Christ, it'd be murder."

Such was the wisdom imbibed by Saul Alinsky, amoral and pragmatist tactician and organizer of other criminal mobs, otherwise known as the Left. For what is the Left but a loose alliance of ideological gangsters who rationalize and sanction force, but who pose as "humanitarians" sensitive to the feelings of others? Gangster government, indeed.

But, in this column we will not be "going there." I don’t think it's necessary to compare Alinsky's foul character with that of James Madison. That would be an insult to Madison. This column will dwell on a species of wisdom not possible to Alinsky, Frank Nitti, or even to any contemporary politician. Here, in speeches, separate correspondence and in his Federalist Papers, are some excerpted thoughts and cogitations of Madison, one of our Founders, defending and explaining the workings of the federal Constitution after it had been framed in 1787 Philadelphia. The document had been sent out to all the states for debate and ratification. A multitude of objections to it, some valid, some specious, were cropping up and distracting everyone's attention. Madison felt obliged to defend the document and to refute all the criticisms of it that came his way. Originally, he questioned the wisdom of including a "bill of rights" that would specifically obstruct federal incursions on specific realms of individual liberty.
But in June of 1789, he submitted a bill of rights to a Congress embroiled in other issues. He became known as the "father" of the Bill of Rights – rights which Congress today is contemplating their suspension or nullification.

All quotations are from James Madison: Writings 1, and are followed by the referenced page numbers. Quotations have been edited for archaic spelling, punctuation and formatting. Notes in square brackets are my own interjections on meaning and context for clarity's sake.

In a letter to William Bradford in January 1774, before the Revolution began, Madison remarked:

…Political contests are necessary sometimes as well as military to afford exercise and practice and to instruct in the Art of defending Liberty and property….If the Church of England had been established and general Religion in all the Northern Colonies as it has been among us here and uninterrupted tranquility had prevailed throughout the Continent, it is clear to me that slavery and subjection [subjugation or submission] might and would have been gradually insinuated among us. (p. 5)

Here Madison was exhibiting prescience, not only about his later task of construing the Constitution for his readers, but was commenting on how a state religion can suppress liberty. He would later call for the separation of church and state. We now have two state "religions" that perform that role: environmentalism, and "gay marriage," and the state has been empowered to enforce obeisance to both.

In a speech before the Convention in June, 1787, Madison inveighed against "pure" democracy, and warned how religion and combative blocs in a population would lead to anarchy and tyranny.

In all cases where a majority are united by a common interest or passion, the rights of the minority are in danger.…Religion itself may become a motive to persecution and oppression. These observations are verified by the Histories of every Country ancient and modern. In Greece and Rome, the rich and poor, the creditors and debtors, as well as the patricians and plebians alternately oppressed each other with equal unmercifulness.  (pp. 92-93)

In this same speech, Madison endorsed the idea of dividing the federal government into three branches – the executive, the legislative, and a senate – and prohibiting the branches from developing overlapping authorities. We don’t see much of that separation today. The only branch that has retained some independence from the other branches is the Supreme Court, but that separation can be nullified by an executive or president who seeks to pack the Court with justices friendly to his agenda. Senate confirmation hearings on Court nominees are supposed to weed out those who are hostile or ambivalent to a strict reading of the Constitution. That has not happened.

On the role of the Senate, Madison had this to say at the Convention, in answer to another delegate's proposal to make the Senate as large as the House of Representatives:

The use of the Senate is to consist in its proceeding with more coolness, with more system, and with more wisdom, than the popular branch. Enlarge their number and you communicate to them the vices which they are meant to correct. (p. 98)

The function of the Senate, to act as a check on populist legislation and causes with its "coolness and wisdom," was annulled by the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913 which allowed the direct or popular election of U.S. senators, instead of by state legislatures. Nineteen-thirteen was a banner year for Progressive statism. The Sixteenth Amendment or the Income Tax Amendment was ratified in February, and the Federal Reserve Act was enacted in December.

On July 20th, 1787, Madison addressed the Convention on the subject of executive powers and the impeachment of the president.

Mr. Madison thought it indispensable that some provision should be made for defending the Community against the incapacity, negligence or perfidy of the chief Magistrate. The limitation of the period of his service was not sufficient security….He might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation or oppression. He might betray his trust to foreign powers. (p. 128)

This projection of the executive branch's potential depredations can be applied to any number of administrations since, say, President Grant's term, but it certainly describes that of Barack Obama. Anyone remember Solyndra, or Obama's assurances to dictator Vladimir Putin that, once he was reelected, he would have "more flexibility" in compromising this country's ability to defend itself?

But Madison could not imagine that the whole of Congress could become so corrupted as to pose just as perilous a danger to the country as would a president wielding dictatorial powers.

The case of the Executive Magistracy was very distinguishable from that of the Legislature.…It could not be presumed that all or even a majority of the members of an Assembly would either lose their capacity for discharging, or be bribed to betray their trust. Besides the restraints of their personal integrity and honor, the difficulty of acting in concert for purposes of corruption was a security to the public. And if one or a few members only should be seduced, the soundness of the remaining members would maintain the integrity and fidelity of the body….(p. 128)

Do we laugh now, or later? There are only a handful of Senators and Representatives who are "restrained" by their personal integrity and honor from feeding with the rest of Congress at the spend-and-tax-and-regulate trough. Madison can be forgiven for his naïveté. He lived in an era of intellectual giants, and presumed the swine of his time would be kept in their pigpens.

Madison forecast the problems with universal suffrage and recommended that the power to vote for any candidates in national and state elections be limited to property owners. In a speech to the Convention August 1787, he explained why:

The right of suffrage is certainly one of the fundamental articles of republican Government. A gradual abridgment of this right has been the mode in which Aristocracies have been built on the ruins of popular forms….In several of the States a freehold was now the qualification. Viewing the subject in its merits alone, the freeholders of the Country would be the safest depositories of Republican liberty. In future times a great majority of the people will not only be without landed but without any other sort of property. These will either combine under the influence of their common situation, in which case the rights and public liberty will not be secure in their hands; or which is more probable, they will become the tools of opulence and ambition, in which case there will be equal danger on another side. (pp. 132-133)

In short, Madison was saying that those who owned land would be more likely to defend its sanctity and their individual rights than would a "democratic" mob that wished to expropriate it, and vote for individuals who were pledged to protect it against populist measures and clamors to "narrow the gap" between the rich and the poor. Madison could not have imagined a federal government that had the power to "narrow the gap" with powers not enumerated in the Constitution. Neither he nor even the most ardent Federalist, such as Alexander Hamilton (who also contributed to the Federalist), could have predicted the mammoth, wealth-consuming welfare state that cripples the economy and redirects (or "redistributes") the productive energies of the country to the omnivorous, bottomless pit of the unproductive and anti-productive.

Of course, today, if suffrage was to be based on property ownership, the definition of property would need to be expanded to include other kinds of property as well as land, such as private home ownership and one's estimated worth in the way of stock holdings and derived income. But, this is a technical issue beyond the ken of contemporary theorists and politicians.

In a long letter to Thomas Jefferson in October 1787, Madison remarked on the foolhardiness of democracy and the dangers it posed to an individual rights-protecting republic. Jefferson was in France during the Convention. It would be intriguing to speculate on the character of the Constitution had he attended the Convention.

Those who contend for a simple Democracy, or a pure republic, actuated by the sense of the majority, and operating within narrow limits, assume or suppose a case which is altogether fictitious….A distinction of property results from that very protection which a free Government gives to unequal faculties of acquiring it. There will be rich and poor, creditors and debtors, a landed interest, a monied interest, a mercantile [commercial or business] interest, a manufacturing interest….(p. 150)

But, Madison wrote, these different classes needn't be hostile to each other nor be in political conflict with each other as long as the government did not favor one over the other with special legislation, that is, for example, if neither Congress nor the executive branch were open to subornation by lobbyists and other special interests.

In the same letter to Jefferson, Madison listed three motives which he thought would not protect individuals or a minority against the actions of a democratic mob or act as guarantors of individual rights: "A prudent regard to private or partial good…Respect for character….Religion." Of religion, he said:

When indeed Religion is kindled into enthusiasm, its force like that of other passions is increased by the sympathy of a multitude. But enthusiasm is only a temporary state of Religion, and while it lasts will hardly been seen with pleasure at the helm. Even in its coolest state it has been much oftener a motive to oppression than a restraint from it….(p. 151)

In his Federalist No. 10, Madison noted the dangers and impracticality of democracies, big and small. In a "pure" democracy

A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert results from the form of government itself, and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party, or the obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention, have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property, and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths….

Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, may intrigue by corruption or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests of the people…. (pp. 164-165)

What a fitting description of how Barack Obama has won two presidential elections. He is, after all, a man of "factious temper" with an agenda of "sinister designs."

Finally, Madison had something to say about the differences between a democracy and a constitutional republic, and in Federalist No. 14 wrote in answer to critics of the Constitution who alleged that a constitutional republic was as dangerous as a pure democracy:

….A republic may be extended over a large region [i.e., continental North America]. To this accidental source of the error may be added the artifice of some celebrated authors whose writings have had a great share in forming the modern standard of political opinions. Being subjects either of an absolute or limited monarchy, they have endeavored to heighten the advantages or palliate the evils of those forms by placing in comparison with them the vices and defects of the republican, and by citing as specimens of the latter, the turbulent democracies of ancient Greece and modern Italy. Under the confusion of names, it has been an easy task to transfer to a republic observations applicable to a democracy only….(pp. 168-169)

It is a confusion which persists to this day, when even advocates of limited government, such as the Tea Party, persistently refer to our republic as a "democracy," unable or unwilling to distinguish between the two systems, thinking that no distinction exists or is necessary.

Madison penned twenty-six more Federalist numbers, the last in March 1788. But you cannot help but scream to the ceiling when comparing his grasp of political principles and folly with the unadulterated folly, ignorance, and indifference paraded by contemporary politicians and even theorists. Today's politicians are not Madison's intellectual heirs; they are Alinsky's, and Frank Nitti's, with numerous political go-betweens on the descent to legislative thuggery and imbecility:  the prim and proper Progressive Woodrow Wilson; the disgraceful Warren G. Harding; the socialist opportunist Franklin D. Roosevelt; the pouting thug Harry S. Truman (the model for Ayn Rand's "chief of state" villain, Mr. Thompson, in Atlas Shrugged); the bland nonentity Dwight D. Eisenhower; the fascist John F. Kennedy. And all of those who followed, including Ronald Reagan.

The collectivist pot has boiled away, and what is left in it is the heir and essence of collectivism: Barack Hussein Obama, the mean, small, malevolent, arrogant graduate of the Alinsky-Nitti School of Practical Statism, who has succeeded in "Chicagoizing" the American Republic.

1.  James Madison: Writings. New York: The Library of America, 1999. Ed. Jack N. Rakove. 


Teresa said...

Thanks, Ed for another informative article. I have just ordered the Federalist Papers for my Kindle.

Edward Cline said...

Teresa: I took copious notes in preparation for this article on all of Madison's Federalist papers, and may write another column on the ones I haven't used.

Anonymous said...

How little we remember of our own history... How Madison foresaw, what we cannot look back to recognize.