Ran across this book during my morning reading, and I think it needs to go on the “Books I’d like to read” page.  The author, Gabriel Schoenfeld, posted today over at Power Line.  An excerpt:

I am a New Yorker who was in Manhattan on the morning of September 11, 2001. Like millions of others here, I saw the destruction wrought by al Qaeda firsthand, saw the dust-covered survivors trudging northward, breathed the smoke from the smoldering rubble and felt it sting my eyes. That afternoon, after the trek home to my family in Brooklyn, seven miles from ground zero, I found a layer of ash on my car. What was in the ash? Along with pulverized concrete, glass, and steel, did it contain the remains of firefighters and office workers turned to dust? That was just one of the many questions coursing through my brain on the evening of the day that war came to my city. I was again in Manhattan on March 11, 2004, the day that Islamic terrorists bombed the Madrid transit system, killing 191 people and maiming more than 1,700. And I was in Manhattan once again on July 7, 2005, when suicide bombers struck the London transit system, killing 52 and wounding hundreds. Like millions of others, I ride the New York City subways daily. So do two of my three daughters.

It was in light of this history and these circumstances, a personal history and personal circumstances in no way unique to me, that I was incensed by the publication in the New York Times of a series of stories in 2005 and 2006 compromising some of the secret counterterrorism programs that the U.S. government had initiated to avert a repetition of such terrible catastrophes. But along with outrage, I was intensely curious about the legal regime that permitted, or appeared to permit, this kind of tell-all-and-damn-the-consequences journalism. This book is an outgrowth of my impassioned curiosity.

I recall those stories, and I remember being outraged by them as well.  Necessary Secrets is officially on the “to read” list.

Last week, I purchased my copy of The Federalist, one of those books that I considered essential for my library, and did so in honor of the people of Massachusetts, who, in electing Scott Brown to replace Ted Kennedy in the United States Senate, may have managed to save the Republic from the horrors of socialized health care.  (I should note that the entire Gideon Edition of The Federalist is available for download here if you’re interested.)  I’ve plowed through most of the introductory material, but tonight I decided that it was time to commence reading the actual work of Hamilton, Jay, and Madison.

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton, 1755-1804

The Federalist No. 1 was penned by Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father, Aide-de-camp to General George Washington during the Revolutionary War, and the man who would go on to serve as the first Secretary of the Treasury in Washington’s presidential administration.  I was struck by this passage, which describes the nature of at least some of the debate common at the time over the adoption of the then-proposed US Constitution:

To judge from the conduct of the opposite parties, we shall be led to conclude, that they will mutually hope to evince the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of their converts, by the loudness of their declamations, and by the bitterness of their invectives. An enlightened zeal for the energy and efficiency of government, will be stigmatized as the offspring of a temper fond of power, and hostile to the principles of liberty. An over scrupulous jealousy of danger to the rights of the people, which is more commonly the fault of the head than of the heart, will be represented as mere pretence and artifice . . . the stale bait for popularity at the expense of public good. It will be forgotten, on the one hand, that jealousy is the usual concomitant of violent love, and that the noble enthusiasm of liberty is too apt to be infected with a spirit of narrow and illiberal distrust. On the other hand, it will be equally forgotten, that the vigour of government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well informed judgment, their interests can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people, than under the forbidding appearances of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us, that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism, than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career, by paying an obsequious court to the people . . . commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.

It strikes me that the situation is reversed today.  Whereas Hamilton had to fight to overcome the suspicions of a population very concerned about the potential creation of an intrusive and too-powerful federal government, we must now fight against the desire of many to cede their liberty to a federal government that is all too willing to pretend that it can provide everything for everyone.  One wonders what the Founders would think were they able to see what has become of the Republic they worked so hard to build and the citizens whose liberty they strove so mightily to protect.

The Constitution and Religious Liberty

On November 16, 2009, in Culture, History, Politics, by marc

Hunter Baker tackles the question of what religious liberty as enshrined in the First Amendment to the US Constitution actually entails. From his recently released book, The End of Secularism:

The End of Secularism by Hunter Baker

The End of Secularism by Hunter Baker

[Steven D.] Smith’s initial point is that the courts and scholars have approached the religion clauses from the wrong angle. More specifically, they have asked the wrong question, which is something like, “What is the meaning and scope of the principle of religious freedom embodied in the Constitution?” When we ask that question, we go off paging through the many different varieties of religious freedom that have been manifested in the development of the West. Certainly, at the time of the founding of the republic no single view of church-state relations was clearly dominant. And that is the first problem. If we were to answer the misconceived question, we would have to ask ourselves, “How do we know which among the various versions of religious freedom is ‘the Constitution’s Version’?” The answer to this knotty problem is not to ask what is the substance of the religious freedom or church-state schema announced in the religion clauses. Instead, the answer is to ask what was the “probable original meaning” of the religion clauses. When we do, we will discover “that the religion clauses have nothing of substance to say on questions of religious freedom.”

If the religion clauses do not address the substance of religious freedom, then what do they address? The answer is obvious in the first five words of the amendment. “Congress shall make no law…” The Religion clauses where merely jurisdictional. They kept control of religious matters in the hands of the states, which would maintain their own governments in a coordinated partnership with the new federal government. When one first hears or reads this claim, it sounds incredible. During the decade prior to encountering Smith’s work, I professionally promoted an understanding of the First Amendment that interpreted it as a statement on the substance of religious liberty and church-state affairs. I lobbied members of the Congress and their staffs utilizing that understanding. As a law student, virtually everything assumed that understanding of the religion clauses. Nevertheless, it takes very little examination to discover that Smith is almost surely correct.

A worthwhile point to remember: many of the colonies (Massachusetts included) had established churches at the time the federal Constitution was written.