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The Consent of the Governed Revisited

Americans have lost the habit of constitutional government.  Judges hand down commands derived from their own personal revelation, in the teeth of law and majority rule, and are tamely obeyed by millions.  A President, recently sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States, announces his intention to commit the blood and treasure of the citizens in war against a distant state that has provoked his personal ire or the suspicions of his unelected entourage.

To have lost constitutional government is to have lost self-government.  Self-government has apparently come to mean no more than counting up punch-card holes to determine which of two interchangeable celebrities will preside over the immense, unreachable, and unlimited machinery on the Potomac that can take our property and even our lives in a fit of pique or even of absent-mindedness.  But note: The Founding Fathers spoke not of throwing the rascals out to make way for another bunch of rascals; they spoke of changing the “form of government.”

Much of the problem results from the inclination of too many Americans to conflate the state apparatus and the people, to fail to distinguish government from society.  Thus, people say “New York City is broke,” though the statement does not apply to the place and the people, in all their multifarious life, but only to the passel of politicians who locally monopolize the powers...

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