Magazine article Insight on the News

Republicans, like Founders, Distrust Power

Magazine article Insight on the News

Republicans, like Founders, Distrust Power

Article excerpt

Philosopher Thomas Hobbes believed that man had an irrepressible instinct to accumulate power, "a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death." In his monumental treatise, Leviathan, he gave as one of the reasons for instability in society man's desire for "glory," which he defined as "enjoyment of power"; therefore, he said, glory must be restrained.

Would Hobbes hold to these perceptions were he watching the Republican Party at work in the 104th Congress dismantling the federal power structure built up during the last six decades, surrendering with enthusiasm privileges amassed over the protests of the citizenry, enjoying the glory of devolving rather than accumulating power?

For what we are witnessing this winter in Washington is something quite unprecedented in modern times. The Republican Congress is seeking to restore the genuine federalism -- a national government of delegated, limited and enumerated powers - envisioned by the Founders, a vision perverted in the 20th century by spurious cries of emergency and crisis. Not even Thatcherist conservatism during its long reign divested itself of centralized power.

What distinguishes the Republican from the Democratic view of politics, and which is closer to the view of the Founders? The authors of the Federalist Papers had a discomforting view of human nature: "Men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious." Such unfortunate attributes, they wrote, "are apt to operate ... upon those who support as those who oppose the right side of a question." They warned that even the chief executive might "sacrifice his duty to his interest" because of ambition, avarice or worse.

By and large, this bleak view of human nature and man's inherent imperfections was shared by the writers of the Constitution. The Gingrich Republicans accept that view of human nature: People cannot be trusted with monopoly power over the political process; a government that allows such power is well on the road to a bureaucratic dictatorship. …

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