To Help Educate Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez

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Among the many, many books I am sure that the Congresswoman has not read, she might wish to consult The Federalist Papers, specifically Federalist 47:

 

The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, selfappointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny. Were the federal Constitution, therefore, really chargeable with the accumulation of power, or with a mixture of powers, having a dangerous tendency to such an accumulation, no further arguments would be necessary to inspire a universal reprobation of the system. I persuade myself, however, that it will be made apparent to every one, that the charge cannot be supported, and that the maxim on which it relies has been totally misconceived and misapplied. In order to form correct ideas on this important subject, it will be proper to investigate the sense in which the preservation of liberty requires that the three great departments of power should be separate and distinct. The oracle who is always consulted and cited on this subject is the celebrated Montesquieu. If he be not the author of this invaluable precept in the science of politics, he has the merit at least of displaying and recommending it most effectually to the attention of mankind. Let us endeavor, in the first place, to ascertain his meaning on this point. The British Constitution was to Montesquieu what Homer has been to the didactic writers on epic poetry. As the latter have considered the work of the immortal bard as the perfect model from which the principles and rules of the epic art were to be drawn, and by which all similar works were to be judged, so this great political critic appears to have viewed the Constitution of England as the standard, or to use his own expression, as the mirror of political liberty; and to have delivered, in the form of elementary truths, the several characteristic principles of that particular system. That we may be sure, then, not to mistake his meaning in this case, let us recur to the source from which the maxim was drawn.

On the slightest view of the British Constitution, we must perceive that the legislative, executive, and judiciary departments are by no means totally separate and distinct from each other. The executive magistrate forms an integral part of the legislative authority. He alone has the prerogative of making treaties with foreign sovereigns, which, when made, have, under certain limitations, the force of legislative acts. All the members of the judiciary department are appointed by him, can be removed by him on the address of the two Houses of Parliament, and form, when he pleases to consult them, one of his constitutional councils. One branch of the legislative department forms also a great constitutional council to the executive chief, as, on another hand, it is the sole depositary of judicial power in cases of impeachment, and is invested with the supreme appellate jurisdiction in all other cases. The judges, again, are so far connected with the legislative department as often to attend and participate in its deliberations, though not admitted to a legislative vote. From these facts, by which Montesquieu was guided, it may clearly be inferred that, in saying “There can be no liberty where the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or body of magistrates,” or, “if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers,” he did not mean that these departments ought to have no PARTIAL AGENCY in, or no CONTROL over, the acts of each other. His meaning, as his own words import, and still more conclusively as illustrated by the example in his eye, can amount to no more than this, that where the WHOLE power of one department is exercised by the same hands which possess the WHOLE power of another department, the fundamental principles of a free constitution are subverted. This would have been the case in the constitution examined by him, if the king, who is the sole executive magistrate, had possessed also the complete legislative power, or the supreme administration of justice; or if the entire legislative body had possessed the supreme judiciary, or the supreme executive authority.

This, however, is not among the vices of that constitution. The magistrate in whom the whole executive power resides cannot of himself make a law, though he can put a negative on every law; nor administer justice in person, though he has the appointment of those who do administer it. The judges can exercise no executive prerogative, though they are shoots from the executive stock; nor any legislative function, though they may be advised with by the legislative councils. The entire legislature can perform no judiciary act, though by the joint act of two of its branches the judges may be removed from their offices, and though one of its branches is possessed of the judicial power in the last resort. The entire legislature, again, can exercise no executive prerogative, though one of its branches constitutes the supreme executive magistracy, and another, on the impeachment of a third, can try and condemn all the subordinate officers in the executive department. The reasons on which Montesquieu grounds his maxim are a further demonstration of his meaning. “When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person or body,” says he, “there can be no liberty, because apprehensions may arise lest THE SAME monarch or senate should ENACT tyrannical laws to EXECUTE them in a tyrannical manner. ” Again: “Were the power of judging joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control, for THE JUDGE would then be THE LEGISLATOR. Were it joined to the executive power, THE JUDGE might behave with all the violence of AN OPPRESSOR. ” Some of these reasons are more fully explained in other passages; but briefly stated as they are here, they sufficiently establish the meaning which we have put on this celebrated maxim of this celebrated author.

James Madison

If she is really interested in the heritage of the concept of three branches of government, another book that she has not read that she might want to look at is the book referenced by Madison, Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws:

In every government there are three sorts of power: the legislative; the executive in respect to things dependent on the law of nations; and the executive in regard to matters that depend on the civil law.
By virtue of the first, the prince or magistrate enacts temporary or perpetual laws, and amends or abrogates those that have been already enacted. By the second, he makes peace or war, sends or receives embassies, establishes the public security, and provides against invasions. By the third, he punishes criminals, or determines the disputes that arise between individuals. The latter we shall call the judiciary power, and the other, simply, the executive power of the state.
When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty; because apprehensions may arise, lest the same monarch or senate should enact tyrannical laws, to execute them in a tyrannical manner.
Again, there is no liberty if the judiciary power be not separated from the legislative and executive. Were it joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control; for the judge would be then the legislator. Were it joined to the executive power, the judge might behave with violence and oppression.
There would be an end of every thing, were the same man, or the same body, whether of the nobles or of the people, to exercise those three powers, that of enacting laws, that of executing the public resolutions, and of trying the causes of individuals.
The executive power ought to be in the hands of a monarch, because this branch of government, having need of dispatch, is better administered by one than by many: on the other hand, whatever depends on the legislative power, is oftentimes better regulated by many than by a single person.
But, if there were no monarch, and the executive power should be committed to a certain number of persons, selected from the legislative body, there would be an end of liberty, by reason the two powers would be united; as the same persons would sometimes possess, and would be always able to possess, a share in both.

Montesquieu, Spirit of the Laws, Book XI, Chapter 6

 

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23 Comments

  1. In fairness, I’m not given to jumping on public figures who make mistakes when they’re talking. Especially someone who clearly is not used to this level of scrutiny (she better get used to it though). I remember back when Dan Quayle misspelled Potato. Even a room full of none too conservative college guys finally said let it go. I think it went on for weeks, IIRC. With that said, the problem is that if this was a Republican – or Trump – you know full well it would be plastered on every news cast and repeated for days on end by the late night comedians, celebrities, pundits and journalists. That’s the maddening part of it all.

  2. Keynes said or wrote, “Never has such a dull and illogical concept as Marxism exercised such control over so many minds.” He was lucky he never met an American liberal.

    Also, Stalin (Or, was it Lenin?) was wrong when he called them, “Useful Idiots.” There is nothing useful about them.

    PS – When the zombie apocalypse erupts, I told you so.

  3. I think we would first have to explain who Polybius was and give her a background of Rome and Greece in the wake of the Second Punic War, and that could be rather like attempting to teach a piglet to sing in four part harmony.

  4. She’s not married; she doesn’t have any children; she managed to cadge a college degree, but in an academic rather than a vocational subject; in the half-dozen years since she’s not settled on any regular sort of means of earning a living and has gone from one disposable wage job to another. Supposedly, she has a political science degree, but her course of study was so haphazard that all she can do is traffick in sentiment. The voters of that district weren’t doing her any favors by putting her in public office. She’s had to make rent on a meagre income (give or take what she could wheedle out of her architect father), but nothing else about her biography suggests she’s had or could digest experiences which could plant her feet firmly on the ground and her mind within a yard or two of her feet. It’s so too bad. She should be doing something else with her time.

    Suggested constitutional amendment: anyone who stands as a candidate for a supralocal office has to be between their 39th and 72d birthday.

  5. In her congressional district, there are about 70,000 people that are more stupid. They voted for her.

    Democracy stinks!

  6. Art Deco wrote, “Suggested constitutional amendment: anyone who stands as a candidate for a supralocal office has to be between their 39th and 72d birthday.”
    A rule that would have excluded 5 British Prime Ministers as too young: Pitt the Younger (24), the Duke of Grafton (33), the Marquess of Rockingham (35), the Duke of Devonshire (36) and Lord North (37)
    The upper age limit would have excluded another 5, who ages on leaving office were: Marquess of Salisbury (73), Lord John Russell (73), Disraeli (75), Churchill (80) and Gladstone (84)

  7. Pitt the Younger (24), the Duke of Grafton (33), the Marquess of Rockingham (35), the Duke of Devonshire (36) and Lord North (37)

    So what? The current practice would exclude four of those men as they were in the Peerage. While we’re at it, all five were prominent more than 200 years ago when the life expectancy of a man of 24 was considerably less than it is today. I’ve forgotten who it was who said the cemeteries were filled with indispensable men.

    The upper age limit would have excluded another 5, who ages on leaving office were: Marquess of Salisbury (73), Lord John Russell (73), Disraeli (75), Churchill (80) and Gladstone (84)

    Salisbury was a peer who never stood for election; the last election to the Commons under his rule was held in 1900, when he was 70. Russell was given an Earldom and never stood for election after the age of 67. Disraeli died at the age of 76; his penultimate campaign for the Commons was the only one in which the Conservative Party under his direction was successful; he was 69 at the time. Churchill’s work was done between the ages of 65 and 70. The best you can say about the post-war Conservative Party pre-Thatcher and post-Thatcher is that they’ve not been the Labour Party.

  8. “The current practice would exclude four of those men as they were in the Peerage.”

    Nowadays, a peer can resign his peerage as Earl Home (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) did, becoming one of our greatest Prime Ministers.

    Lord John Russell was not a peer until he was create an earl after his first premiership. As 3rd son of the Duke of Bedford, “Lord” was a courtesy title, but he served as an MP

    By your test, Richelieu would haqve been excluded (38), so would Innocent III (37) and Leo X (38). Augustus became first emperor at the age of 36. Alexander the Great died at 33.

  9. By your test, Richelieu would haqve been excluded (38), so would Innocent III (37) and Leo X (38). Augustus became first emperor at the age of 36. Alexander the Great died at 33.

    I’m not the least bit interested in anyone resembling any of these characters sitting in the New York State legislature.

  10. Maybe we make an exception for those under 35/38 (I’m happy to go with the same age limit the Constitution presently sets for U.S. Senate) who’ve actually done something worthy:

    As a 2nd Lt. in 1988, I volunteered to stand watch in Panama, overseeing all U.S. base security forces e.g. MPs, in the country as tensions were running high with the dictator General Noriega. On the second or third night I was on duty, we got a radio call that a Special Forces team deployed in the jungle to document hostile activity was taking enemy fire. A green beret chief warrant officer much older than me, who was working the radios looked at me and asked “What do we do Sir?” At first, I thought he was talking to someone behind me. Then I asked, “Well Chief, what do you recommend?” He told me I could deploy our quick reaction force, known as the “Heavy Team.” I asked if I was allowed to do that, and he said “Sir, right now you are Joint Task Force Panama.” I honestly had no idea if I had the authority to deploy the Heavy Team. I was a 2nd Lt. Air Force intelligence officer and as far as I knew I might be starting a war. But I had American soldiers under fire, and they were asking me for help. I didn’t know what the rules of engagement were, and we couldn’t get ahold of anyone more senior than me to ask. [. . . .] Screw it, I thought. They can court martial me tomorrow. “Launch the Heavy Team,” I told the Chief Warrant Officer in a voice that I hoped sounded a lot more confident than I felt.

    We give more responsibility to 20 somethings in the military than someone like Occasional-Cortex will have no matter how long she serves in Congress.

    Happy Thanksgiving to all.

  11. Ernst Schreiber wrote, “We give more responsibility to 20 somethings in the military than someone like Occasional-Cortex will have no matter how long she serves in Congress.”

    On recalls that Le Grand Condé commanded the French forces at Rocroi at the age of 25, the same age as Robert Clive (Clive of India) when he took Arcot. As Lord Macaulay said of him, “the commander who had to conduct the defence…was a young man of five and twenty, who had been bred as a book-keeper… Clive…had made his arrangements, and, exhausted by fatigue, had thrown himself on his bed. He was awakened by the alarm, and was instantly at his post…. After three desperate onsets, the besiegers retired behind the ditch. The struggle lasted about an hour…the garrison lost only five or six men.” Pitt dubbed the young man, who had absolutely no military training “The heaven-born General.”

  12. We give more responsibility to 20 somethings in the military than someone like Occasional-Cortex will have no matter how long she serves in Congress.”

    The 20-something in the military is subject to operational measures of competence. His discrete errors are a danger to his unit, but don’t tend to radiate farther. If NCOs elect to follow a military career, they’re subject to up-or-out winnowing and almost none will have a career longer than 37 years. As for the officer corps, pretty much everyone over the age of 55 is in the flag ranks. There’s a four-star general born in 1953; he’s just about the oldest man in uniform.

    See the career of Robert Byrd. If Ocasio-Cortez sticks around, she’ll be in a position to do a great deal of damage.

  13. MPS, Ernest: one of our problems has been people who make electoral politics their primary means of earning a living, and spend decades populating our legislative bodies. The modus operandi of our legislative bodies is such that these people are not analogues of Edward Heath, who sulked in the House of Commons for 20 years. They will be occupying gatekeeper positions.

  14. Existential question: “Do stupid people know they are stupid?”

    My wiseacre answer, “Fish don’t know they are wet.”

  15. Suggested constitutional amendment: anyone who stands as a candidate for a supralocal office has to be between their 39th and 72d birthday.

    Bah, worthless twits don’t get better with time– my classmates are nearly that age, and the ones who want to be politicians? Are still the same worthless twits they were in high school. They won’t change in three or four years.

    In contrast, those who got a life have something to lose, now, and by dang the activists will make sure anybody running on teh right will lose it.

    Twenty-five or so might work, then you get folks who aren’t worthless and don’t have as much to lose.

  16. Bah, worthless twits don’t get better with time–

    Both you and MPS have persistently misunderstood the idea behind that, even though it has been stated in explicit terms. This is not that difficult.

  17. Art Deco

    I would have thought Sir Edward Heath was the kind of person you would like to see in politics – A talented enough musician to win an Organ Scholarship to Baliol College, Oxford, an accomplished yachtsman, winning the Sydney to Hobart race and Admiral’s Cup in 1971, whilst PM, a Lt-Col in the Royal Artillery and the Honourable Artillery Company, News Editor of the Church Times – In short, a man of very varied interests and accomplishments outside politics.

  18. After he was discharged from the military, he held a series of positions between the ages of 29 and 34 before being elected to Parliament, where he remained for the next 50 years or thereabouts. He had hobbies. He didn’t have ‘varied interests and accomplishments’ in the way Mitt Romney does. And, if I’m not mistaken, the amount of time he spent taking up space in Parliament after departing his last executive position exceeds that of any Prime Minister in the last 120 years and is approached only by David Lloyd George, who left his party in ruins.

  19. “Of the many, many books that [Ocasio-Cortez] has not read, she might wish to consult the Federalist Papers…”

    Naw. Four years at Boston University —-knows nothing of economics. Any more years of studying political science, old White Men’s writings, would be an equal waste. Forward, Comrades!

    Unfortunately it also becomes very apparent she isn’t very intelligent. Standard ideologue. But she shows streaks of the vicious absolutist totalitarianism of a female Strelnikov (Dr. Zhivago).

    Nephew recently graduated from UCLA also with a degree in economics. Another relative and I asked nephew what he thought of the Austrian school, F.A.Hayek, the Laffer curve.

    3 strikes and out. Never heard of it/him. He new about Keynesian theory though and liked it. The Occasional-Cortex School.

  20. Nephew recently graduated from UCLA also with a degree in economics. Another relative and I asked nephew what he thought of the Austrian school, F.A.Hayek, the Laffer curve.

    Economics commonly begins with a four course sequence of primciples, micro, macro, and stats. These are taught out of texts, usually of fairly recent publication. Then you take 300 and 400-level electives in various subjects within economics. In my experience, these will have multiple texts and reserve readings and you’ll need to repair to the professional literature for research papers. Also, and in contradistinction to what was the mode when Hayek came to public attention 70 years ago, discussion centers on theoretical models which can be represented graphically or in calculus and then on empirical verification through statistical analyses. I don’t think Hayek is identified with any subspecialties, so there wouldn’t be much discussion of him in a course on resource economics or industrial organization or public economics or economic development. I’m not sure he published any statistical analyses at all.

    Contemporary Austrians commonly deny the validity of important components of foundational economics – e.g. representations of utility. They also deny the validity of empirical testing of economic theory. Not sure that Hayek was on board with that (Murray Rothbard was). That cannot be readily integrated into any ordinary economics curriculum. You could have a course on alternative or fringe economics where these critiques are entertained, but it would have to be an elective along with all the other electives.

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