Ian Millhiser wrote a great take-down of Charles Murray’s new book, By The People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission with the blunt title, Jeb Bush’s Favorite Author Rejects Democracy, Says the Hyper-Rich Should Seize Power. It comes with a great big picture of King George III. Because that is, in effect, what Murray is arguing for. Basically: democracy isn’t going to bring about the great libertarian utopia that Murray wants. (That’s because it is an extremely unpopular ideology.) “Murray, in other words, would rather transfer much of our sovereign nation’s power to govern itself to a single privileged individual than continue to live under the government America’s voters have chosen.” Kind of frightening that this guy is considered one of the great American conservative thinkers.
Millhiser focused a lot of attention on Murray’s misuse of James Madison to make his case. According to Murray, Madison didn’t believe in the expansive interpretation of the Constitution. That’s a questionable statement. Any time people make arguments based upon what various founding fathers did or didn’t think, we are getting into very dangerous territory. For one thing, most of the founding fathers weren’t wonderful people. For another: they lived in a completely different time with radically different needs. But when it comes specifically to Madison, he was a pretty practical guy whose opinions changed over time.
What I’m struck with is that the supposedly learned Charles Murray seems stuck with the Constitution as it existed in 1788 — that’s 227 years ago for those of you following along at home. The Constitution was set up so that it could be changed over time. This is something that people like Murray always seem to forget. They also seem to mistake the Constitution for the Articles of Confederacy. The whole point of the Constitution was to make the United States a practical possibility. The Articles of Confederacy were unworkable. And much of the original Constitution has needed to be shed because it too was unworkable.
And that brings us to the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. That was basically what turned Charles Murray’s beloved “Constitution” in the modern Constitution — greatly expanding the federal government and limiting the rights of the states. That’s because, oh I don’t know, we had just fought the Civil War over the issue of what states seemed to think were their rights. Murray claims that all that is wrong with modern America stems from the 1937 decision finding Social Security constitutional, Helvering v Davis. But what he really wants is a repeal of the Fourteenth Amendment where the federal government is neutered.
Millhiser concluded pretty much what I did a couple of weeks ago, Charles Murray Finally Realizes He Isn’t Winning. He noted the general change in the conservative outlook on politics, “When President Ronald Reagan was in office, he spoke with the confidence of a man who believed that the American people were on his side.” Conservatives sure don’t think that anymore. And here is the great big conservative “thinker” whining about how democracy can’t possibly help them to attain their goals.
Ultimately, Murray is calling for the decimation of the law itself. Of course, he is quick to add that his approach would only be used against laws that are invalid. But invalid according to whom? That’s a question that Murray doesn’t seem to grapple with, but the answer is obvious enough: the billionaires who fund his little project. So he may think that doing this will lead us back to the One True Way of (his version) of James Madison. But it leads further back than that: to King George III. This is the conservative goal. But it has always been — from Edmund Burke to Charles Murray.