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THE JEFFERSON-MADISON DEBATES: Can the Constitution Survive?

THE JEFFERSON-MADISON DEBATES: Can the Constitution Survive?

July 17th, 2019 // 8:20 am @


European “Conservatism” and American “Conservatism” are not the same thing.[i] It’s important to realize that “conservatism,” in the generic, isn’t defined as a specific platform or set of ideals. It’s simply the posture and priority of “conserving” a certain tradition or form, as opposed to liberally or “progressive-ly” moving away from said tradition or form.

As George Will has pointed out, in Europe “Conservatism” was rooted in protecting monarchy, aristocracy, and the class system (where the many are ruled by the few), while in America “Conservatism” means protecting and maintaining the U.S. Constitution and the principles upon which it was framed, including the key principles articulated in the Declaration of Independence.[ii] Indeed the Declaration itself initiated the end of European Conservatism in America.[iii]

The tug-of-war between American Conservatism and Progressivism has been part of the American story ever since.[iv] Progressivism has gone through several stages–all of them a direct and escalating attack on the Constitution:

Step 1- Statism: Increase the size and scope of the government

Step 2- Centralized Statism: Increase the size and scope of the federal government

Step 3- Liberalism: Use the increasing size and scope of the federal government to redistribute money from the affluent to the lower classes by state force

Step 4- Socialism: Use the increasing size and scope of the federal government to redistribute money from the affluent and middle classes to the lower classes by state force, putting control of the federal government in the hands of a few, and also mandate social and environmental causes that require the federal government to grow even more

Step 5- Globalized Socialism: Expand progressive goals to include federal government programs for people around the globe (not limited to American citizens), requiring a massive expansion of government size and scope and progressive transfers of power and sovereignty from the American voters (and voters within other nations) to international organizations, agreements, and entities

We are currently in the High-Growth Phase of Step 4 and the Early-Growth Phase of Step 5.


American Conservatism, in contrast, focuses on implementing the U.S. Constitution, a return to Constitutional limited government (to the extent that we’ve moved away from the Constitution), and a citizenry that rules itself rather than being ruled by a class of elites.[v] Today the battle between Conservatism and Progressivism is in full swing.

To measure which side is ahead in this contest, the scoreboard is a simple two-question matrix:

  • Is the size, scope, debt, and expenditure of the federal government shrinking?

If “Yes,” Conservatism is winning.

  • Is the size, scope, debt, and expenditure of the federal government expanding?

If “Yes,” Progressivism is winning.

This is the only real indicator of direction, momentum, and victory. Every other possible marker can be faked or obscured. What this scoreboard shows is that the following administrations in the modern era have increased American Progressivism (thus decreasing Conservatism/Adherence to the U.S. Constitution):

  • Roosevelt
  • Truman
  • Eisenhower
  • Kennedy
  • Johnson
  • Nixon
  • Ford
  • Carter
  • Reagan
  • Bush
  • Clinton
  • Bush
  • Obama
  • Trump

In contrast, the following administrations reduced the scope, size and expenditure of the Federal Government, increasing American Conservatism and adherence to the U.S. Constitution:


This comes as a surprise to many conservatives. Indeed, this reality makes it clear which approach is winning: Progressivism. But surely some of the more conservative administrations at least significantly slowed down the increasing scope, size and expenditure of government, right?

The following administrations significantly slowed these things down:


This must have been caused by the opposing liberal Congress faced by certain administrations, right? The following administrations attempted to significantly slow the increase of the Federal Government’s size, scope, and expenditure, but were thwarted by the Congress:


At first glance, for conservatives at least, this doesn’t seem to make sense. Clearly there is a big difference between some of the administrations, that of Carter and Reagan for example, or Obama and Trump. While this is true, the actual differences are not what most people tend to think.

Where the genuine application of Conservative principles often results in significant benefits to the nation, the overall trend since 1944 can only be characterized as firmly escalating in the direction of Progressivism. The nation has occasionally profited from a short-term implementation of Conservative principles (e.g. Eisenhower, Reagan, Trump), but this has not resulted in a reversal of the Progressive trend.

Moreover, during this entire timeline, Progressive momentum has accelerated. It has never reversed. Conservatism (protection and application of the U.S. Constitution and Constitutional limits) has given way to Progressivism (the expansion of the welfare state and the size/scope of the central government) during every administration in the post-World War II era.

A more accurate understanding of these trends is possible if we consider the dominant Steps of Progressivism implemented in modern American history. This allows us to more clearly rate the Conservatism vs. Progressivism of each administration:

Dominant Focus of Washington D.C. from 1860-1913

Step 1- Statism: Increase the size and scope of the government

Dominant Focus of Washington D.C. from 1913-1944

Step 2- Centralized Statism: Increase the size and scope of the federal government

Dominant Focus During the Truman, Kennedy, and Clinton administrations

Step 3- Liberalism: Use the increasing size and scope of the federal government to redistribute money from the affluent to the lower classes by state force

Dominant Focus During the Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush, Bush, and Trump administrations

Step 2- Centralized Statism: Increase the size and scope of the federal government

Dominant Focus During the Roosevelt, Johnson, and Obama administrations

Step 4- Socialism: Use the increasing size and scope of the federal government to redistribute money from the affluent and middle classes to the lower classes by state force, putting control of the federal government in the hands of a few, and also mandate social and environmental causes that require the federal government to grow even more

Dominant Focus of the Current Left since 2016

Step 5- Globalized Socialism: Expand Progressive goals to include federal government programs for people around the globe (not limited to American citizens), requiring another massive expansion of government size and scope and progressive transfers of power and sovereignty from the American voters (and people within other nations) to international organizations and entities


There are at least three significant considerations in all of this that every American needs to understand:

  1. None of the presidential administrations in the post-World War II era have implemented Conservatism (the genuine application of Constitutional limits). All have supported the Progressive agenda at some level (increase of the size and scope of the federal government beyond its Constitutional boundaries, including an expansion of the welfare state). Some administrations promoted this more than others. But all are complicit in Progressivism, while none adhered to Conservatism as defined above (the Application of all Constitutional Limits, versus Increasing the Scope, Size, and Expenditure of Government).
  2. Presidents considered by many to be the most “Conservative” (including Eisenhower, Reagan, Trump) promoted Step 2 Progressivism but not Step 3 Progressivism. Specifically, they actively increased the size and scope of the federal government, but didn’t drastically increase redistribution of money/programs from the affluent to the lower classes by state force. This led to economic upturn through deregulation—a good result. It did not, however, reverse the momentum of the welfare state or reinvigorate Constitutional limits; as a consequence, the trend toward bigger government and increased Progressivism continues unabated.
  3. Presidents widely considered the most Progressive (Roosevelt, Johnson, Obama) implemented Step 4 Progressivism (socialism: major redistribution from the upper and middle classes to government programs nominally for the poor and disadvantaged) and drastically increased the growth rate of the long-term Progressive trend. This always coincided with major (albeit medium-length) economic downturn.

There has been no genuinely Conservative presidential administration (one focused on maintaining the limited size and scope of government to the specific limitations of the Constitution) since presidents Harding and Coolidge in the 1920s. All administrations since that time have promoted an expansion of the federal government in size, scope, and expenditure. The growing welfare state (Progressivism) has continually won out over Constitutional limits (Conservatism).

This has been aided by a number of decisions in the Court expanding the scope of the federal government and naming many additional federal powers “constitutional”. Ironically, such decisions are, according to the original words of the Constitution, unconstitutional.[vi]



Why have all administrations since the mid-1920s joined the Progressive trend, even while many have loudly proclaimed their “bona fide Conservatism”? The answer may be as simple as that suggested by George Will[vii]: Most Americans actually like a lot of our government programs. And today we want more of them, not less. We want programs for “other people” to be cut or discontinued, but we tend to cling to government programs that directly benefit us.

Irony is at work here. On the one hand, voters seem to want freedom—but within limits. Specifically, they want more freedom for themselves than for others. And they want government programs—also within limits. The masses want something that has never been a reality—the quality levels attained by private schools, private institutions of higher education, private health care, and private-sector prestige jobs, provided free to all by government, and paid for by “the rich”–“the 1 Percent”.

Another way to describe our situation is that Progressivism has largely won the battle for the hearts and minds of most Americans. The Conservative ethos—that government should protect our freedoms by adhering to the U.S. Constitution, and give us nothing else, nothing at all, because the rest is up to us alone, our individual hard work, tenacity, initiative, ingenuity and good choices—is now largely a foreign concept.[viii] It is as quaint in our cities, and beyond, as vinyl records or public payphones. We want government to do things for us—lots of things. “How else will it get done?” most Americans now ask.

A majority of Americans now want to work less, make more, and receive a lot of extra government benefits paid for by someone else. If that’s what it means now to be an American, then America is on the path to major decline.[ix] And perhaps the most shocking point: Almost nobody is arguing about this.

We argue about whether or not such government benefits should go to illegal aliens. Some say “Yes, of course. Be generous”, while others respond “No way! Don’t make me pay for their needs. What about Americans, what about our needs?” But both sides miss the deeper issue. Again, most Americans now want to work less, get paid more, and receive a lot of extra government programs paid for by someone else. As long as this is our agreed-upon worldview, we’re in decline, and sinking fast.

We have, on one side, those who want more government benefits for everyone. Another side wants fewer government programs/expenditures for those who aren’t Americans.

But where are those who refuse all benefits that the government offers to them, preferring freedom? —the citizens who want to stand on their own, to make their own way without government help, who want to actually be free? Where are those kind of Americans today?

Without them, American-style Conservatism is extinct. Without them, Progressivism has won.

Most modern Americans want independence without having to select the choices that make them independent. “With all the taxes I pay, I’m not going to turn down government benefits.” The problem is, at its root, that government forces us to pay for the welfare state, whether we accept any of its benefits or not. For most people, as a result, rejecting the benefits appears illogical, even stupid. And they’re right.

But can the Constitution survive such a populace? If the masses want to work less, make more, and refuse to reject government benefits, the government will continue to grow. Limited constitutionalism is already over, in such a world.

Prediction: Unless this changes, we will only elect those promising the easy path, and we will vote ourselves consistently into decline. The Republican Party will oscillate between Progressive Steps 2 and 3, while the Democrat Party will swing back and forth between Progressive Steps 4 and 5. Regardless of which side wins elections, the federal government will keep expanding. Freedom will be redefined, redirected, and reduced, and eventually it will disappear, following the long-established pattern of great power nations.[x]

There is, of course, a solution. It is called limited government. It is outlined in the United States Constitution.

First: the federal government must be held to the twenty powers (only 20!) outlined in Article I Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution.

Second: the Executive branch and its agencies must be required (by the voters, and all those they elect) to actually follow the Constitution. Third: the Court must also be required to follow the Constitution (by the voters, and all those they elect), without dodging this duty by claiming that it can simply redefine the document whenever it wants.

The voters have all the power to make these three things happen.

We have the blueprint. It will work, if the voters demand it.

But it will only work if the voters demand it.

*How can we get regular citizens to be this kind of voter? The answer is outlined in the book LeaderShift: A Call for Americans to Finally Stand Up and Lead, by Orrin Woodward and Oliver DeMille. In LeaderShift you’ll learn the 5 Laws of Declining Nations, why America is currently failing all 5 Laws, and what to actually do about it. Find out how to get America back on track for the long term!

Available here>>


[i] See George Will, 2019, The Conservative Sensibility

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] See Russell Kirk, 1974, The Roots of American Order

[iv] See Arthur Schlesinger, 1986, The Cycles of American History

[v] See op cit., Kirk; see also W. Cleon Skousen, 1985, The Making of America

[vi] The Constitution of the United States, Article III; see also Madison, Hamilton, Jay, 1989, The Federalist, Papers 78, 80, 83

[vii] See op cit., Will

[viii] See Oliver DeMille, 2014, The U.S Constitution and the 196 Indispensable Principles of Freedom

[ix] See Orrin Woodward, 2014, And Justice for All; see also Jonah Goldberg, 2018, Suicide of the West; see also Thomas Sowell, 2007, A Conflict of Visions

[x] See Paul Kennedy, 1987, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers

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3 Comments → “THE JEFFERSON-MADISON DEBATES: Can the Constitution Survive?”

  1. Sarah Smith

    4 years ago

    Your article presents an interesting perspective. A smaller government would be so much better for freedom and families in the long-run, but it sadly feels almost hopeless to expect things to change: once a government expansion has happened, it feels like there is no way to ever scale it back again. No one would be willing to fire all of those new government employees. No one is ever willing to reduce their budgets.

    I agree that the American people would have to demand change, but I also don’t know if that could ever really happen when it comes to drastically scaling back the government. We are continually fed a series of political candidates who are career politicians, who inherently have a priority of being re-elected. Therefore, they will never actually be willing to scale back the government since that would translate into firing a bunch of federal employees (which would always be at-odds with being re-elected).

    Having previously worked for the federal government, I’ve seen what happens with budgets. It is really ridiculous: all year, they try to scrimp and save to make sure they’ll have enough $$ to get through the year, but then every year when the fiscal year draws to a close, they panic to spend all of the money that is left. You see, if they don’t spend all of their yearly budget, then their budget for the next year will be reduced accordingly. So there is a spending frenzy at the end of each fiscal year, buying anything and everything just to spend the money in order to preserve the next year’s budget. No one would ever do this if it was their own money they were spending! There is a total disconnect from that fact that they are spending the American people’s hard earned money.

    Meanwhile, families are struggling under the increased burden of taxes and big government year-after-year. It would be one thing if that tax burden was resulting in true benefits, but instead, the taxes go to feed the bureaucratic machine that is the government. The organizations are so large that they are almost impossible to run with any kind of efficiency. And they mistake paperwork as a way to really ensure quality, so that everything that is done has a huge burden of time and money to create the corresponding paperwork. Seriously: nearly $2 BILLION dollars for the website for the Affordable Care Act? Just for the website?!?

    I’m not sure what the solution is. Definitely educating as many people as possible in the true principles of freedom is one way to try to combat this. I just have to keep trying to do my part in that and not lose hope. 🙂

  2. Oliver DeMille

    4 years ago

    You are right. That’s why I sincerely question if the Constitution, and actual freedom in fact, can survive. We’ve been on a decline of overall freedom since the New Deal. Really since the Butler case in 1926 where the Court ruled that the Federal Government could spend money on things and regulate beyond the 20 powers it is given in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. Once the Court opened the floodgates to ignoring the Constitutional limits on federal power, it’s been downhill. And the expansion has escalated, regardless of which party held power. Not only has the federal bureaucracy gotten out of control, as you noted, but K Street and its ilk have drastically exacerbated the problem. And I see no end in sight on our current trajectory.

    That said, history clearly proves that everything changes, eventually. The reality is that government that is too big always eventually ends, one way or another. The pressure that builds either causes massive decline, a major shift to a new (usually worse) system of governance, or major crisis demands significant changes. Usually this goes in a bad direction, but it doesn’t have to. When the turning point arrives, how much the people understand freedom principles makes all the difference. If they don’t, things get much worse, in some way. If they do, things might still get worse, but sometimes they can get a lot better. The height of free nations come after decline when wisdom turns things in the direction of positive. This is rare, and it always begins with a lot of people understanding freedom principles. Note that a lot of people understanding freedom principles doesn’t always work–but without it, freedom never flourishes. I believe it’s worth the fight. And I actually, sincerely, believe we will win. I know, this is a lot of idealism, and optimism, against all evidence. But I really do think we’ll pull it off–after a lot of problems. I think things are going to get really bad, and the old American spirit will respond by making big changes and trying to reboot freedom. History says this usually means a system with less freedom, not more, but I think we can swing it the other direction. Why? I’m convinced that when God sees a problem ahead, he does a certain thing: he sends a baby. In some cases, he sends a generation of babies. They come with certain life missions, gifts, talents, passions–everything needed to sway the world. It happened in the Founding generation, where the time of big change could easily have gone the other direction. It happened in the Scottish Enlightnment era, in the Enlightenment, in the Rennaissance, in the 6th Century BC. Again, it’s rare. But it’s also possible. I believe it’s coming. It’s success will depend on how well the “babies” learn the principles that make freedom flourish, and the courage and guts to make it stick. High bar? Very. I believe the “babies” are up to it. It’s not logical, but I still believe it. It’s the only thing that has ever turned stifling government, inexorable big institution creep, aristoratic elite arrogance and power, and Byzantine bureaucratic dominance in the direction of genuine freedom. And while it is rare, I think our time is going to rise to this. If I’m wrong–and the odds are all against my view on this–then we won’t pull it off. But even in that case, by trying to truly win we strengthen what Alfred Jay Nock called “The Remnant”, a number of people who deeply understand the principles of freedom and pass them on generationally until one of the generations does effectively apply them and swing the pendullum once again to the side of freedom. The more we truly try to win this battle for the minds of the people (the hearts already have the support; freedom loses, when it loses, in the mind side), the more chance to win, and the stronger The Remnant even if the side of freedom loses this generation. The alternative is to give up, and that makes the least logical (or any other sense) sense of all.

    Call me crazy, but I believe a bunch of us were born for this.

  3. Sarah Smith

    4 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your optimistic perspective. I do agree with you (but I’m an optimist at-heart, too). It is certainly worth aiming for, regardless of the outcome. 🙂

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