July 31st, 2012 // 9:15 am @ Oliver DeMille
John Adams on How to Fix Washington D.C. in 1791 and 2012
“Odd, that so many should favor frames that seemed to be trying to outdo the art they held.”
~Brandon Sanderson, The Alloy of Law
In the old American West, a façade town featured two- and sometimes three-story buildings lining Main Street, so visitors to the town would be impressed with how up-and-coming the community must be.
But when a person walked around to the side and back of the buildings, it turns out they’d find mostly one-story structures—sometimes little better than shacks or huts.
Some were respectable buildings, but they were usually made of adobe or pine rather than the fine hardwood edifices promised by their Main Street facades.
And, as I mentioned, they were only one story tall despite their appearance from the front.
Indeed, the only purpose of the two- or three-story façade was to impress.
In modern times, the idea that perception is reality has reached the level of myth.
It is taught in various circles as unquestioned truth, parroted in movies and television programs as a lasting principle, and often used to scold would-be individualists into working harder to conform and fit in.
“We must impress others to get ahead in the world,” the common wisdom seems to assure us.
If you spend your life trying to impress and fit in, as almost everyone does, he warned, you’ll waste a lot of time and energy and miss many of the important things that really matter in life.
Moreover, he predicted, you’ll fail to appeal to the only real society of substance, the other people who ignore trying to impress and fit in and instead set about doing good things in the world without worrying what others think.
He called this group the true inner ring, whose motto was something along the lines of “perception is merely perception—truth, reality, integrity and quality are what matter.”
John Adams wrote about this topic in his little-known and seldom-read classic, Discourses on Davila, which may be his best book next to Defence of the Constitutions of the United States (in fact, he referred to Davila as the fourth volume of Defence).
He said that nearly every person is plagued by a debilitating desire to be esteemed by others, to impress and fit in, to be admired, and that this is the basis of many human flaws including jealousy, envy, ambition, vanity, hatred, revenge, pride, and most human pain.
These are Adams’ specific words.
Adams said this desire for admiration is as real as hunger, and the cause of more suffering, anxiety, stress and disappointment than famine.
In contrast, the really good things in life, including virtue, nobility, honor, loyalty, wisdom, service, strength and so on, may or may not increase the admiration of others, but are often valued only to the extent that they do.
Sadly, many people seek these things only if, and the degree that, they increase admiration from others.
Far too many things are sought by mankind only because they attract “attention, consideration, and congratulations…” Adams said.
Likewise, too many good and important things are not pursued by many people because they do nothing to boost one’s status or station.
By the way, the point of Adams’ book on Davila is to show that because of basic human nature—built on this inner drive of nearly all men and women to rise in station, and not just to rise, but to rise above other people—there will always be conflicts in human societies and institutions.
His solution was to create separate branches of power, and to set up the government so these branches could check and balance each other in a way that no one government entity could become too powerful.
The result, he said, would be that the people in the nation would be able to live free of overreaching government.
In the process of making this argument he spends a great deal of time showing that this drive to fit in, impress, and in fact outdo other people (by being more impressive and fitting in better than them), was a serious obstacle to human happiness in families, schools, business and all facets of society.
When people become more knowledgeable and learned, for example, they tend to engage in more, not less, conflict with other learned persons.
He was not talking of debate, but of serious conflict.
Thus our schools and great universities, which could be the salvation of society in many ways, are distracted from their potential because their leading inhabitants are constantly striving for Reputation, Notoriety, and Celebration.
These three words are those used by Adams, which he capitalized for emphasis in his book.
Likewise, Adams laments, our branches of government are unable to truly lead because those who should be our best hope for great progress immediately, upon being elected or appointed to office, set out to compete with all other officials for more Fame, Glory, Reputation and Credit.
Again, these are Adams’ words.
Voters send representatives, presidents and others to do their will, to improve things, but the real work of most man and women lifted to leadership is to win this contest with each other.
“Improve the Nation, or Impress the Nation. That is the question.”
And the drive to impress nearly always wins the day.
Adams wrote of humanity’s so-called honors in withering terms:
“What is it that bewitches mankind to marks and signs? A ribbon? a garter? a star? a golden key? a marshall’s staff? or a white hickory stick?”
He is mocking us now.
“Though there is in such frivolities as these neither profit nor pleasure, nor anything amiable, estimable, or respectable, yet experience teaches us, in every country of the world, they attract the attention of mankind more than…learning, virtue, or religion.”
Furthermore, Adams continues, they are sought by the poor, who believe such honors will lift them to equal status with the rich, and they are sought by the rich, who believe that without these symbols they will be lowered to the status of the poor.
This is the great challenge of human progress—we ignore our great potential to focus on silly attempts to impress.
We do it as children, as youth, as adults, and in old age.
The solution, in the case of academia, is to closely avoid putting scholars or administrators in charge of education, but leave oversight to the parents.
For government, the fix is to allow the people to frequently replace their officials at the election booth—to remove them as soon as they forget to do what the people sent them for.
Adams points out that ribbons, medals, titles, and other symbols of man’s honor, including the white hickory sticks of certain secret societies, aren’t of much use in real life.
Though if you are freezing the hickory stick can at least be ignited and bring some warmth.
But these ornaments are nevertheless widely sought because they are symbols of acceptance, fitting in, and impressing others.
Such symbols show that, in fact, the Status Motive is even stronger in humanity than the Profit Motive.
Indeed, giving war heroes and others who accomplish great acts of heroism large sums of money, cars, vacations or estates would be seen as crass by most modern eyes.
Yet these are exactly what many of the ancients gave their champions and heroes, though chariots and carriages were more in vogue than cars.
We give symbols for the highest achievements, precisely because their lack of monetary value communicates just how highly we esteem them—far above money.
For Adams, the honors and symbols are frivolities only because we seek the honors and symbols rather than the actions for which they are awarded.
This is deep insight into human nature, because for true heroes the ribbons and medals mean much less than simply knowing what they did.
It is wonderful to honor heroic acts that truly merit our admiration and thanks, but too often, as Adams puts it, the “great majority trouble themselves little about merit, but apply themselves to seek for honor…”
This is a serious indictment.
He further says that most people try to gain such honors not by going out and serving in ways that merit them.
Such service would be too difficult, or dangerous, or risky.
Besides, just meriting great honors doesn’t ensure that one will receive them.
After all, perception is reality.
So many people decide that a much better course is to ensure the world’s admiration the old-fashioned way, by directly seeking prestige and hiring publicists, PR firms, and commissioning scholarly studies.
Adams says it this way:
“…by displaying their taste and address, their wealth and magnificence, their ancient parchments, pictures, and statues, and the virtues of their ancestors; and if these fail, as they seldom have done, they have recourse to artifice, dissimulation, hypocrisy, flattery, empiricism…”
But this is more than an interesting philosophical discussion about human nature.
It actually cuts to the very heart of reality.
Because of our thirst for honors, and because façade honors are easier to obtain, all our manmade institutions eventually fail.
Adams mourns that government cannot solve the problems of humanity, nor will institutions of commerce and business.
Families and churches come the closest, but even here we spend the generations warring about whether husband or wife should be the head, how long fathers should maintain dominance over their sons, and whether newly married couples now report to paternal or maternal grandfathers.
Likewise, too many churches in history took up arms against unbelievers, and various religions and secular groups resort to violence when they fail to convince in other ways.
Indeed, as soon as men create institutions of any kind, they usually begin to war—within the institution and/or with other institutions.
The solutions, the real fixes to our challenges, Adams teaches, will not come from manmade institutions.
We should set up the best institutions possible, but we can’t rely on them for everything because man’s hunger for approval and applause is always at work undermining progress.
Adams quotes the English poets to make his point:
“The love of praise, howe’er conceal’d by art,
Reigns, more or less, and glows, in every human heart;”
“All our power is sick.”
All our power is sick. If so, how can mankind progress?
It turns out there is a solution, and Adams is excited to share it.
In the cases of family, church, relationships and business, one should simply dedicate one’s life and efforts to truly serving in genuine, if challenging, ways that really make a positive difference.
This was also recommended by C.S. Lewis, who said to ignore trying to impress and instead set out to genuinely serve.
Both Adams and Lewis note that such service is only authentic when we give up concern about getting the credit.
But Adams wants our political leaders to do the same.
He sees real government leadership as deep, committed service, devoid of seeking credit or reward.
He doubts that many will truly forget their drive to impress and seek only to frankly serve, but he holds out hope that a few will rise to such heights of true leadership.
The best honors for such exceptionally great leaders aren’t the praise or baubles of men but the highest of all tributes—emulation.
And in this Adams gives us mankind’s solution to its biggest challenges.
Specifically, while mankind limits itself from great achievements to fight the petty battles of impressing others, becoming more impressive than others, fitting in, and fitting in better than others, the solution is to emulate those who do it better.
Parents who emulate great parents are the hope of the world, as are great teachers, inventors, artists, statesmen, entrepreneurs and others who emulate the greats.
Emulation includes improving upon the best of the past, and as generations of parents and other leaders emulate the best and improve upon it, the world drastically improves.
This, as Adams puts it, is a desire not to impress and fit in, “but to excel,” and “it is so natural a movement of the human heart that, wherever men are to be found … we see its effects.”
Moreover, Adams assures us, it blesses communities and society as much as it helps individuals succeed.
For those who are religious, nothing is more effective than trying to emulate the Son of God, the great prophets, Buddha, and other examples of charity, service and wisdom.
We fall short in many ways, but in trying to answer the question, “What Would Jesus Do?,” as the modern saying goes, we reach for our very best.
Our greatest heroes, regardless of our views on religion, should be the great men and women of history whose sacrifice and greatness makes them most worthy of emulation.
Emulation is as strong an emotion as seeking admiration, and in fact most children learn emulation first.
Which brings us to the topic of this article—How to fix Washington and put America back on track as a standard for freedom, opportunity and goodness in the world.
According to John Adams (and C.S. Lewis, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and many others), the answer is not to turn to leadership from our big institutions, even if they have as much power as the White House, Congress, Wall Street, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, the Federal Reserve or even the Supreme Court and Madison Avenue.
The solution lies in leadership, but not from the top down.
We will not get back on track as a society until we lead from below, until we become a society of leaders, and the right kind of emulation is our most powerful means of lasting influence and change.
Who you and I choose to emulate—really, truly, deeply, fully—will determine the future.
It is the most powerful symbol, because who we want to be like on the greatest days of our lives will color the rest of time on earth.
But it is much more than a symbol.
Too much of modern life is merely a façade.
Too many of our institutions are hollow shells of what we need them to be—and of what they claim to be.
Too often we choose the path of prestige over the path of quality.
Too frequently we listen to the credible rather than the wise.
Too many of our hours and days are spent on the things that are least important.
It was Nietzsche, I think, who said that modernism began when we started substituting the morning paper for our morning prayers.
Allan Bloom called this the closing of the American mind.
Adams told us that such things are hollow, but in the Information Age the voice of understanding is too frequently drowned out by the roar of the crowd.
In all this, however, there is an anchor.
Who we decide to emulate, and how faithfully we do so, will make the future.
And that goes for Washington as well.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.
July 14th, 2012 // 3:59 pm @ Oliver DeMille
In an earlier post I noted that Americans sense a turning point in our history, that our challenges will get bigger in the years ahead and that we need leaders at the level of FDR or Ronald Reagan.
Yet our candidates for president are playing it smaller, avoiding great risks and trying to keep from making mistakes rather than going “all in” and leading America toward a great vision of America’s future.
This is all in contrast to the way Barack Obama ran for office in 2008, with huge messages of hope, change, a new era of unity, and the promise that “Yes, we can!”
In the 2012 election, neither candidate has yet stepped up with a moving, overarching grand vision of a great American 21st Century.
I also mentioned that if we don’t have a Great-Theme election, Obama will probably win, so the ball is really in Romney’s court.
Few things will signal whether the Romney campaign plans to play it safe or go all in for American greatness more than the selection of a running mate.
As George Will pointed out (This Week, July 8, 2012), there is little evidence that the running mate has an actual significant impact on votes.
But Romney’s selection does indicate whether he’s planning to avoid risks throughout the fall election season or boldly go for it with an all-out campaign for American greatness. Ford or Reagan.
If Romney emulates Ford, we’ll know we’re in for a risk-averse campaign where the big debate will be “no more of Obama’s failed policies” versus “we can’t go back to the failed policies of Bush.”
Such a scenario will be excruciating for the majority of independents, who see both the Bush and Obama eras as serious failures to really address America’s economy and future.
The Ford-style candidates, like Tim Palewnty or Rob Portman, signal more of the same and won’t likely be popular with independents.
The Reaganesque candidates like Chris Christie, Paul Ryan or Condaleezza Rice would signal that Romney is primed for a campaign of American greatness.
Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio are on the bolder side, but not quite as Reaganesque—though either might grow into this role.
Actually, we would really know Romney is “all in” for a great American turnaround if he selected Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, or Sarah Palin. Not likely, but the symbolism would be moving.
Perhaps less publicized potential running mates like Meg Whitman or Kelly Ayote would allow the campaign to write its own story, but that didn’t work so well in the McCain candidacy.
There may be other possible candidates that Romney is considering, and his eventual choice will signal the current direction of his campaign—avoid risk and just keep talking about the economy, or roll out a powerful vision of American greatness.
It is time for Romney, or Obama, to stop playing small ball in order to win one election and instead get serious about putting America on the right track for the rest of the Century.
This will require real leadership, bold risk and greatness of soul.
It is precisely what the American voter is looking for right now, and hopefully we won’t have to wait for 2016 or beyond to get it.
We want a great leader.
Either candidate can still rise to this challenge, and if somebody does this well it will be the most effective political strategy—and tactic—of 2012.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.
July 14th, 2012 // 2:49 pm @ Oliver DeMille
According to the numbers, right now the common wisdom is wrong.
The economy is still sputtering, but 51% of voters in battleground states like President Obama’s handling of the economy while only 42% like Romney’s economic plans (CNN/ORC International Poll, June/July 2012).
Furthermore, 41% of national voters believe Obama has a clear plan for improving the economy while only 27% believe Mitt Romney has one (Fox News Poll, July 2012).
In short, President Obama’s numbers aren’t great, but Governor Romney’s are worse. And 68% of Americans blame George Bush, not Barack Obama, for the poor state of the economy (Gallup Poll, July 2012).
Why is the common wisdom failing?
Analyst Juan Williams had it right on Fox News Sunday when he said that a majority of Americans see Mitt Romney as “a rich guy.”
It’s a rich guy versus a cool guy, and cool will always win in the American electorate.
Many Republicans and conservatives have criticized Mitt Romney for not having an effective plan to fix the economy.
Leaders from the Right—as different as Rush Limbaugh, Bill Crystal, George Will, and The Wall Street Journal—are concerned that Romney is doing little to establish himself as a serious leader on the issues.
They argue that he seems caught up in responding to attacks by Barack Obama and alternatively attacking Obama.
To have any chance in November, Romney needs to make real gains by September.
He may have little chance of being seen as cool, but he has every opportunity to go all in: To use his strengths and provide real leadership and a vision of what America can be and how he’ll lead us in the direction of American greatness over the next four years.
The common wisdom says, “It’s the economy, stupid!”
For the entire post-World War II era the common man has selected the candidate who seemed the most cool, the most likely to lead.
But both of these actually boil down to leadership.
Candidates must have strong, effective plans to take us in a moving and positive direction in the future, and they must be able to articulate this.
In 2008, Barack Obama very effectively presented a vision of a better America, a nation of change, a new era of unified cooperation in Washington, and a citizenry acting on the chant of “Yes, we can!”
Critics say that after inauguration he failed to deliver on these promises, but nevertheless he projected a moving vision and rallied a majority of voters behind it.
So far, neither candidate has done this in 2012.
If neither candidate can effectively articulate a great vision of the future, the incumbent will most likely win the election.
For this reason, the Obama campaign may be waiting to promote any sweeping grand vision of American leadership.
Why risk it if they’re winning anyway?
Thus the ball is in Romney’s court.
If Romney rolls out a great, Reaganesque vision of America, the Obama team will have to do the same and we’ll have a great debate in 2012.
Right now the high vision of the campaigns is, “We can’t go back to the failed policies of Bush,” versus “We must repeal Obamacare and Barack Obama or our economy will fall off a cliff in the next four years.”
Neither of these reach the level of a high debate.
They effectively speak to the base of each party, but the base was always going to vote for its candidate.
The real issue is independents, and neither side has effectively spoken to them.
President Obama is ahead in this battle because he has reached out in petite visions to special interest groups from Latinos to same-sex groups to women.
As Jimmy Fallon said in a late night comedy sketch, “President Obama said Americans need someone who will wake up every single day and fight for their jobs. Then he said, ‘But until we find that guy, I’m still your best choice.’”
We are experiencing a mini-campaign, focused on negative bantering about the small things.
Even the one big topic of debate, health care, is being discussed in micro-terms: about pre-existing conditions, adult children on their parents’ insurance, etc.
No candidate has yet taken bold leadership on the grand scale, to capture the American mind and propel the nation on a powerful, compelling journey toward the future.
The hottest days of summer are still ahead, and the American voters deserve a real debate on the biggest questions.
The opportunity for real leadership is here, and the voters are watching, hoping, for someone to step up and show us what leadership really means in the 21st Century.
Americans sense that our challenges are going to increase, and that it’s time for another great American leader like Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan.
Note that neither FDR nor Reagan were the great leaders they became before they were elected, but they were both openly and clearly committed to a great vision of America’s future.
The election of 2012 will go to whichever candidate stands up and projects the image and agenda of greatness.
If neither candidate does this, voters will probably just stick with the incumbent.
In short, it’s common wisdom against common wisdom: cool versus the economy.
But Americans don’t want to follow the common wisdom, they want to be led by greatness toward a truly great vision of the future.
They want to be touched, moved and impressed.
They want to rally behind a great leader.
They want to believe that their vote will make all the difference, that the president in 2013 will take bold steps that put America on the path to greatness.
The nation is ripe for a candidate who exudes great plans, a great vision, and great leadership.
Right now either candidate could rise to this need, and the best-case scenario would be for both to step it up and embrace American greatness.
Whoever does this most effectively will win the election.
Both candidates are avoiding risk right now, but what we need is a leader who leads, who goes all in and stops thinking about winning the election and invites us to an America that wins the 21st Century.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.
July 10th, 2012 // 10:01 am @ Oliver DeMille
But in 2012, the U.S. election truly may be the most important in our lifetimes.
We are at a crossroads, and November 6 will turn us in one direction or the other.
With the Supreme Court decision upholding Obamacare, the battle lines are clearly drawn.
And while many conservatives don’t want to admit it, President Obama is still the frontrunner.
As I’ve written in the past, most red states will vote for Governor Romney and most blue states for President Obama, but the election will be decided by independent voters in the battleground states.
Right now, Obama is 2-3 percentage points ahead with independents in these swing states.
That’s not a huge lead, and polls will almost certainly shift several times in the months ahead, but Romney isn’t ahead.
Conservatives also struggle with why President Obama is still popular.
But in every election since 1952 the candidate who seemed more like a leader has won.
And Obama is still popular with swing voters in battleground states.
Conservatives tend to determine popularity based on policy, as do liberals, but many independents decide who is popular on the basis of non-political factors.
Moreover, the President’s policies on education have impressed many independents.
He gave more schools increased local controls and took on the teacher’s unions (though not enough).
Where George Bush centralized control of education more to Washington, Obama went the other, better, direction.
Many independents also like President Obama’s belief in more open immigration.
Though critics are quick to point out that we’ve deported more people under Obama than under any other president, Obama’s announcement that we won’t deport those who came as children is very popular among independents—even more in most battleground states.
Because of the high numbers of Hispanics in swing states, this one issue may sway the election.
Typical Republican criticisms that Democratic Presidents are soft on foreign policy won’t sell to independents in the post-bin Laden era, which scores points for the President among swing voters.
With all this, the President’s biggest asset may still be his personality.
Though his opponents scoff at this, he really does come across as a guy everyone wants to like.
He sings well, dances well, plays basketball well—in short, he’s cool.
If you hate his politics, you think being cool is beside the point or even unpresidential, but a majority of independents in the contested states really like having a cool president.
Besides, Obama came across sincere and committed when he went to Washington to change things—like a Jimmy Stewart character.
A lot of people still hope that’s the real Obama, and they’re waiting for him to truly lead.
Unfortunately, they think, the partisan extremes of Washington D.C. don’t allow a president to really lead anymore, but if he doesn’t have to worry about another election he can just lead like he always wanted to.
Most conservatives underestimate how much swing voters really like Barack Obama.
On the other hand, the big challenge for Obama with swing voters is Obamacare, and this hits hard in three ways.
First, is it overwhelmingly unpopular with American voters.
Only 28% of Americans thought the Supreme Court decision to uphold the law was a good ruling.
And swing voters dislike it almost as much as conservatives.
Independents haven’t found the Obama Administration’s explanations of Obamacare credible, and its unpopularity is growing.
Second, Obamacare is the main Obama achievement of the last 4 years, and many independents see it as the only major Obama accomplishment.
The problem is that voters elected Barack Obama to fix the economy, and many feel that he put healthcare (and, as a result, government expansion) ahead of jobs and economic opportunity.
In both the 2008 and 2010 elections, swing voters strongly supported the candidates they perceived as best for job creation.
Now they wonder: Why hasn’t President Obama done anything major about jobs? Why did he put all his capital into Obamacare?
Third, the Supreme Court decision upholding Obamacare puts the debate in stark relief: Big Government vs. Jobs and the Economy.
The Obama Administration has become the poster boy for “Bigger Government, Fewer Jobs.”
The campaign is talking itself blue in the face trying to reverse this view, but swing voters aren’t listening.
Which brings us to the real consequence of the Court’s decision—the Congressional elections of 2012.
Regardless of who occupies the White House for the next four years, the future of the nation will be determined by whether Congress is for More Big Government or Drastically-Increased Economic Opportunity.
The problem, as independents know, is that neither Republicans nor Democrats are proven fiscal leaders.
Democrats spend on domestic programs, and Republicans often outdo them in international spending.
While many Republicans are loudly decrying Obama’s massive domestic spending and increasing debt, few independents have forgotten that Bush tripled spending over the Clinton years and that big-spending Republicanism came when Republicans held the White House and both Houses of Congress before 2006.
Though Obama has overused the point, it remains true that Republicans gave us the Great Recession.
We need to elect Free Enterprise candidates, since big-spending Republicans are as bad for our economic future as big-spending Democrats.
Still, if Congress remains split (Republican House vs. Democratic Senate), or goes all Democrat, we are headed for bigger government with more socialist tendencies.
If Republicans control both houses, there is a chance for our freedoms and economy—and this time the people will send a clear mandate that they want smaller government and a growing free economy.
This really is the most important election yet in modern times.
July 10th, 2012 // 9:45 am @ Oliver DeMille
He said marriage is a sacred, covenant relationship, and as such it is a higher priority than civil government.
I had two responses to this thought: First, I totally agree.
I think our families are a sacred trust and take a higher priority than pretty much anything—except our personal relationship with, and allegiance to, God.
Second, I wonder if our modern understanding of government has devolved so far from the time of the American founding that we don’t consider government a covenant or holding political office a sacred trust.
In fairness to my friend, he is a lover of freedom who cares deeply about our nation and the decline of liberty.
He is among the most dedicated students of freedom I know.
Lecturing him on anything related to freedom would certainly be preaching to the choir, and he certainly sees political leadership as a sacred trust.
But his words made me think.
Ideal government is a covenant, and was understood as such by the Israelites because of the teachings of Moses.
It was passed down over the generations and eventually became known as “The Divine Right of Kings”.
John Locke’s political treatises addressed the reality that such a divine right of any legitimate king was long lost by the time of the British monarchs.
The American founders discussed this concept at length, and the words “covenant,” “sacred,” and “trust” were widely used in connection with government.
A search for “covenant politics” in various founding writings and modern political journals will yield many interesting articles.
The word “covenant” is still used in our time—based on the legal tradition of Blackstone –in nearly every state and province of the United States and Canada in the common CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions).
In Anglo-Franco-American law, a “covenant” was originally a specific kind of contract where both parties promise to do something for the other, and the contract is binding on both parties, even if one of the parties fails to perform or defaults.
Thus, there are fundamentally two kinds of contracts in law: Absolute and Conditional.
Conditional arrangements make up over 99% of contracts, where if the other side defaults the contract is void for both parties.
But the oaths of government officials are of the Absolute variety.
The founders made government service a covenant, rather than a simple contractual, arrangement.
Regardless of whether or not the people fulfill their duties, government officials are expected to do theirs—as expressed in their oaths of office.
The law also differentiates between “express” and “implied” covenants—“express” being those that are clearly written out, and “implied” being those that should be assumed by any reasonable standard of duty.
Jefferson used this concept when he sent American troops to protect U.S. citizens against the Barbary Coast pirates without any Congressional declaration of war.
He openly admitted that he had no “express” constitutional authority to take the action, but that the responsibility of presidency gave him an implied duty to protect those he served.
He followed the same line of reasoning when he signed the Louisiana Purchase.
The difference between him and some modern presidents who have taken seemingly similar actions is that he openly admitted that he had no authority, but had acted solely on his sense of duty, and he would not have blamed Congress for impeaching him as a legitimate response.
He acted according to what he considered his implied covenant duty and was willing to accept the consequences for exceeding his constitutional authority.
This clearly established the importance of covenant in governance.
Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison all followed the same course at different times when the chief executive had a duty to protect the national security of the U.S., and the Doctrine of National Preservation was a duty to which they were willing to sacrifice themselves on behalf of the nation.
In these cases Congress refused to exercise their check, impeachment, because they believed the leader had lived up to his Constitutional Oath to guard and “protect the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.”
The law, again based on Blackstone and English legal tradition, also differentiates between “inherent” and “collateral” covenants.
An “inherent” covenant is the cause of any and all fiduciary responsibilities –meaning, a responsibility that a person takes upon himself automatically by entering into a covenant relationship.
In contrast, “collateral” covenants must be clearly stipulated and understood by all parties involved.
There is a lot more of this, but I won’t bore you with all the details, like: Joint versus Several covenants, Principal versus Auxiliary covenants, Continuing versus Dated covenants, Full versus Partial covenants, Restrictive versus Universal covenants, Usual versus Special covenants, and about 10 others that are foundational in Anglo-Franco-American legal traditions.
One that I should mention is Transitive versus Intransitive covenants.
“Transitive” consists of those which pass the duty on to the covenanter’s agents, successors, and in some cases, posterity.
This is important because it shows why some people might argue that the governance covenant may be as important as the marriage covenant.
Obviously, a covenant is a covenant, a supreme promise, so ranking them by importance is a bit ridiculous.
That said, the marriage covenant is intransitive, meaning that my spouse and I are both bound by it, but when I die, my children don’t become her spouse.
If I held a hereditary government position, such as the anointed kings of old, however, upon my death my oath and covenant of good governance would pass with full responsibilities and duties to my heirs.
Government is a covenant, or at least good, free government is.
Under the U.S. constitutional model, positions requiring an oath are transitive; for example, when a president dies or becomes incapacitated, the responsibilities inherent in the oath of vice-president devolve all presidential duties upon him.
He must receive his full authority by collateral covenant and take an official oath; but if there is a gap between when the president dies and when the oath is taken, he has the full responsibility of the office by covenant.
(Note: Responsibilities, but not authority.)
Again, this is repeated in most military and other government positions that require an oath of office.
There are really only 3 types of government:
1) government by fiat, where the strongest take power by force and rule by might;
2) government by contract, where the government serves as a mercenary, responding to the highest bidder in order to obtain a profit for government officials;
and 3) government by covenant, where the constituents delegate authority tied to responsibility and the leaders put their responsibilities above their authority.
I believe that the marriage covenant is the most important agreement in all of society, second only to our promises to God.
And, in fact, the marriage covenant often included promises to a spouse, society and God.
Marriage has huge ramifications on all facets of society, including law and politics but extending much further.
But let’s not forget that good government is also a covenant.
It isn’t a mere contract, where if the people shirk their duties the officials may simply ignore the Constitution, or where if the officials are corrupt the people can just give up and let freedom wane.
We all have a responsibility to maintain freedom, and this obligation is transitive, meaning that it is our solemn duty to pass on as much, or more, freedom to our posterity as we inherited from our ancestors.
This is, in fact, a sacred trust.
Perhaps Calvin Coolidge said it best when he declared, as the President of the United States, that, “The protection of rights is righteous.”
If this is true, and it is, what would we call the act of destroying rights or of allowing them to be lost through distraction or neglect?
Such questions are extremely relevant right now in modern America.