@ strangelet:

I happen to believe in the wisdom of crowds and the genius of the Framers.

Sure you do--because crowds are and the founders were just as obsessed with color as you are, right?

@ Rex Caruthers:
If it's all opinion, what are you holding onto, then, in your insistence on the "tattered document"?

Anyway, for what it's worth, I'm sympathetic to the argument that Congressional authorization for these military adventures is required on Constitutional grounds--indeed, it was sought and granted for the ones you mention. So, is anything short of a Declaration of War (in the case of the WOT, against whom?) unconstitutional?

@ JEM:
I think the stigmatization of the stain of slavery is completely appropriate and does override everything else--the defense of slavery required the use of violence and fraud in the new territories and the encroachment upon a whole series of rights (including the right to criticize slavery) through the entire country.

I hate to mess up the moment of agreement, but what I actually said is that any revolution is illegal from the standpoint of the previous state; but that if the revolution is successful that illegality is beside the point. Whether it is the revolution or counter-revolution that is illegal ultimately depends upon the people.

@ JEM:
I think the language of the Preamble is crucial here--"We the People," rather than "We the States"--the argument (it's been a while but think Lincoln addressed this as well) would be that only a new convocation of "the people of the United States" (i.e., not some part of it) could dissolve the Union. But, of course, a successful revolution could never, in any meaningful sense, be "illegal." Such a move is ultimately extra-constitutional. The question then becomes whether the government resisting the revolution has the arguments against, on the terms of its own constitution, to muster the support to prevent it. A revolution is obviously more likely to succeed, especially in a country like ours, when there has, in fact, been a "long train of abuses," etc.--but leading up to the Civil War, the abuses were almost completely by the South.

@ JEM:
After the war it was all one issue, I think--the most dangerous divisive state right had proven to be the right to suppress the rights of its own people.

Certainly if the South had been more strategic and subtle about their secession--if they had waited for an actual provocation or encroachment upon their rights by Lincoln, rather than initating secession before he was even inaugurated, things might have played out differently. But they were too desperate to be rational--they knew wiithout expansion into the new territories, their system was finished.

@ Rex Caruthers:
Nope. What if there's a series of cross border raids carried out by bandit/terrorists from Mexico, and the Mexican government can't stop it--do we have to declare war (against whom?) of can the President just order the army to go in and take care of it?

@ Rex Caruthers:
It's not unambiguous as to whether all use of armed force must be classified as "war."

@ JEM:
I said the primacy of civil rights over state rights was the result of the Civil War, not its cause.

Everyone knew that the Declaration of Independence was in conflict with slavery and, in essence, silent about it as well--the founders hoped the conflict would disappear as slavery itself disappeared (was brought to its inevitable extinction, or words to that effect). When that didn't happen, the South used the contradiction to discredit the principles, claiming that the founders obviously didn't really mean "all men." Lincoln himself dealt with all these questions.

It's hard to see how the South could have avoided some provocation, and pretty soon at that. You can't establish an independent country without breaking the laws of the country you just unilaterally separated from.

@ JEM:
Point taken--I have no big stake in this.

@ Rex Caruthers:
Well, I also don't agree that, constitutionally, the President can only authorize the use of force pursuant to a Declaration of War.

You're quite a linguistic skeptic, aren't you CK (not that there's anything wrong with that!)? I remember Ungar, probably not as well as you--a kind of leftist, radical pluralist, postmodern pragmatist. And it's possible to make an argument for the incommensurability of "language games." Of course, one obvious question arises: why have a constitution, then? Why do we need to maintain what would be, in essence, a fiction that each of us uses to advance views and interests held for quite other reasons? But if that view of things were true (whatever "true" would mean in that case--although it would at least be true that we need the fiction), it seems to me that things would be a lot more centripetal than they actually are.

But meaning isn't just unproblematically "there" and shared, either--we share meanings, ultimately, because we dread the alternative, which is violence and social chaos. And those individuals and groups who most feel that dread insist the most dogmatically on close attention to founding documents, traditional interpretations, central events, etc.--such attention is economical, because it narrows the meanings we have to share to a few, and more often than not they are the few that really "work," and hold a bunch of other things together as well. That's why there is repetition and ritual in civil life.

Even more, some ways of sharing meaning are demonstrably better at deferring violence and creating a freer playing field for social interaction--believing in an invisible, omnipotent God who can't be bribed by dead animals but judges us based on our behavior and treatment of our fellows is far more effective than believing in ancestral totems. We can make similar judgments in politics. Roe v Wade doesn't really depend upon different views of humanity (your view on abortion does, of course)--it depends upon whether you think there is a right to privacy in the Constitution. But, if there is a right to privacy, and you can do what you like with your body, why isn't the FDA unconstitutional? Here, we clearly have a Supreme Court decision made in the interests of a particular social movement, in disregard of any reasonable interpretation of the Constitution. And so the Court gave up its distance from current politics, weakening its legitimacy and its role within the Constitutional order--and hence that order itself, which requires that complex allocation of powers so that conflicts can be dealt with in different levels, and within different time frames. On the President's war-making powers I would grant a lot more ambiguity, because war is itself such an existentially "limit condition"--but that judgment is itself an anthropological one.

@ CK MacLeod:

I haven't read Goldberg's book, but I've seen a lot of the material recycled through his columns and posts on NRO's The Corner, and this is what has always bothered me about it--as is often the case with Goldberg, he gets a bit tangled up in his own desire to be clever, and he wants to be a partisan journalist and historian at the same time. But, of course, when he's just bringing forth historical connections and building his indictment of the Progressives, it's all very valuable--in the end, though, it's probably not a coherent argument any more than Beck's also very valuable meanderings are.

@ Rex Caruthers:

I don't agree with any of this. Slavery in the states that had it at the time of the founding was constitutional, and Lincoln never said otherwise. Secession was another matter and, in truth, for obvious reasons, the Constitution provides no mechanisms for that, nor does it explicitly forbid it. But Lincoln argued, among many other things, that according to the principles of revolution laid down in the Declaration of Independence, the South had no case--what, after all, was the tyranny they were rebelling against? All that happened was the election of a President determined to block the extension of slavery. And the outcome (correct in my view as well) of the war that civil rights trumped state rights finds plenty of support in the Constitution as well, especially once the 13th and 14th amendments passed (if Judeo-Christian values trumped the Constitution, why were the amendments necessary?). Finally, I don't believe you will find any Progressivist, in the sense we are speaking about (as a historical movement and mode of thought, it's identifiable propagators being Woodrew Wilson, John Dewey, etc.) define it as the "Golden Rule" or have recourse to Biblical principles. Science knows no Golden Rule.

@ Rex Caruthers:

The principles of Judeo-Christianity don't trump the Constitution (I can't tell, are you being ironic here?), but they don't have to because what I have been calling the dogma of human equality is a secularization of those principles and they are therefore embedded in it--my contention is that a free society is impossible if we don't all (or at least most) believe that all of our fellows were created in the image of God; we have to believe that practically, in the way we treat others, at least.

Taking a brief look at it, I'm not sure what I'm remembering here--the argument of the majority distinguished between social and political equality--so, there can't be a law forbidding people of a particular group from voting, but any private individual or group can exclude and include whomever they wish. That would include businesses, and I suppose (perhaps) local accomodations (parks, etc.), as well--it was on these grounds that lot of conservatives opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Once the government starts telling businesses who they have to serve, they will keep finding more and more things to to tell them to do. And there's a point there.

Plessy v Ferguson, though, involved the infamous "separate but equal" clause, and it involved a state law governing how railroads are to treat their customers--which, unless I'm missing something, is objectionable on the same grounds upon which conservatives objected to the Civil Rights Act. So, I'm going to back down on my claim here, because it seems to me that even if you accept the legal fiction of "equal" even though "separate," the case was wrongly decided.

Which, anyway, makes my previous point about the possibility of arriving at a correct interpretation!

@ CK MacLeod:

OK, obviously it's complex, for the reasons you give, but the fact of arguments and disagreements doesn't preclude the possibility of one position being right, and our being able to discern that position--indeed, why would we be arguing otherwise? Why not start with easy cases, like Dred Scott? Can you say that was decided wrongly, against the meaning and principles of the Constitution? Roe v Wade? Plessy v Ferguson? (This last one is actually tougher than many people think, but even then, if we can say it's tougher, despite the obviousness of the moral issue at stake, that would mean we can recognize the Constitution as something independent of our own moral and political preferences, and that we can make reasonable and sometimes successful attempts at figuring out what that something is).

Ultimately, such discussions turn into what we would have to call "anthropological" ones regarding the meaning of human equality and thereore the human. But if we accept Lincoln's notion that, for political purposes, human equality means that regardless of all our differences, no individual is sufficiently superior to another in any sense to justify the former's rule over the latter without the latter's consent, then we can argue coherently over which interpretations preserve this original meaning and purpose of the Constitution and which don't. And we can narrow down the disagreements and set up rules and procedures for settling them. Of course this has always gone on, but if the basic dogma of human equality slips out of those discussions, it's the conservative's job to point out that those discussions will consequentially lose their mooring and become increasingly arbitrary--they will, increasingly overtly, start to depend upon extraneous considerations, like the latest social theory, popular trends, international law, etc.

Do we still share that basic dogma, though? And if we don't, can it be restored? Have a lot of the disagreements come out of a basic human resistance to accepting even the most liberating dogmas?

From nearly the beginning of the country there have been large minorities who have rejected the Declaration of Independence's self-evident (i.e., "dogmatic") insistence on human equality--that was the point of my reference to slavery and the Confederacy yesterday, and that is why I agree with CK that we can never imagine eliminating such minorities. But that doesn't mean that those of us who do believe in the founding dogma should not point out everything that contradicts the founding creed, and remember where such tendencies come from. There are very tempting reasons to abandon that very difficult creed--resentment against real and imagined, present and erstwhile oppressors, fear of external enemies or internal instability, the failure or one or another institution, greed and lust for power, etc. Reagan was right--it would only take one generation for freedom to be lost (and I don't think he said this, but only another one or two for it to be forgotten.) So we need to approach these threats with a sense of their existential urgency.

Ultimately, it seems to me that CK wants to preserve a lot of the Progressive legacy, and Beck wipes out differences between socialized health care and anti-corruption, clean water and child labor laws. I too would like to preserve a lot of those things, but, first, I no longer think the government can be trusted to do so; two, we can achieve a lot of the same things through private means; and, three, philosophical differences are very important--if Americans can't explain why we have a Constitution and why public officials should make a good faith effort to act in accord with it, then we won't have one.

Beyond all this, politically, it might be very helpful to put Progressives on the defensive--they moved from liberal to Progressive because of the opprobrium attached to the previous term, and if we can keep "outing" them and keep them moving from name to name, explanation to explanation, we can keep them exposed and limit the damage they do. So, we need the label, and Beck has performed a service by putting it so widely into play.

I agree that we shouldn't speak about "cancers" (or viruses, bacteria, etc.) and removing or eliminating them. And if listeners and other conservatives Beck respects impress that upon him, he can learn to drop such demagogic rhetoric.

But the question still remains: is there a coherent body of political thought and practice that we could call "progressivism," is it opposed, self-consciously opposed to the principles of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution (are there idenitifable principles informing those documents?), and with subtle strategic instincts regarding how to slip progressivism past Americans likely to oppose it; has this body of political thought and practice already dramatically changed our constitutional republic into something at least partly at odds with those principles; and, is there a real danger that its adherents will finish the job, and are indeed trying to do so now?

If you answer "yes" to those questions, then your disagreement with Beck reduces to two items: one, the rhetorical issue mentioned above; and two, his "Democrats and Republicans are the same" line which is only true from a very, very abstract, distanced perspective, and should certainly not be adopted until all other options for transforming the Republican Party (like making primary challenges a regular feature of Republican politics, as Palin has suggested) have been exhausted.

And there is reason to optimistic about Beck--he seems to be constantly reading, learning and watching, and he may be capable of paying attention to the more valid and consistently advanced criticism.

Finally, this should be used as an opportunity to open up political discussions beyond the grotesqueries of the Obama Administration and Democratic Congress, and this larger debate will open up all kinds of issues we have been avoiding but are now becoming unavoidable--especially those issues pressed by libertarians who, from the perspective of the (in my view rapidly evaporating) "mainstream," are in many ways even more "extreme" (while being much closer in other respects to majority opinion) than the extremists of the Left.