Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – There’s a new book out called Politics on a Human Scale: The American Tradition of Decentralism. It’s published by Lexington Books. Dr. Jeff Taylor is the author. I read part of this essay to you last week and I’ve referred to it a couple other times last week. Dr. Taylor is on the Dude Maker Hotline, making his first visit here. Dr. Jeff Taylor, welcome to the program, sir. Check out today’s transcript for the rest…
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: There’s a new book out called Politics on a Human Scale: The American Tradition of Decentralism. It’s published by Lexington Books. Dr. Jeff Taylor is the author. I read part of this essay to you last week and I’ve referred to it a couple other times last week. Dr. Taylor is on the Dude Maker Hotline, making his first visit here. Dr. Jeff Taylor, welcome to the program, sir. How are you?
Dr. Jeff Taylor: I am good, Mike. I’m glad to be with you.
Mike: My pleasure. First of all, congratulations on the book and on the chosen subject matter. Why did you choose human scale? Were you influenced at all by Kirkpatrick Sale?
Taylor: Not directly. I’ve read his writings over the years here and there. Partly I realized that his book Human Scale, which came out some years ago, actually contains a chapter entitled “Politics on a Human Scale,” which I had not actually read. If anything, it’s a shortcoming on my part. I guess the intellectual circles I hang out in, “politics on a human scale” has almost become a cliché, which is why I was shocked, when I did a book search, to find that there wasn’t one having that title already. I was kind of tapping into, I guess, the currents of the folks I hang out with. Kirkpatrick Sale certainly has been an influence in that.
Mike: In the brief essay that our mutual friend Peter Haworth published at NomocracyInPolitics.com, which is an up-and-coming website, ladies and gentlemen. We can get into the definition of nomocratic versus what Bradford called teleocratic, but it’s morning drive radio and I know you people are in a hurry. Let’s just get to the heart of the matter here. You quoted some stuff in the essay you posted that I had never heard of. I had never read this letter that was published by Brutus, who you think was Judge Yates. How do we think that it’s Judge Yates, if you don’t mind my asking?
Taylor: Well, Robert Yates was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. In fact, he was one of three from the State of New York. Alexander was the other. Two of the delegates from New York State, in the end, refused to sign the Constitution because they believed it was taking too much power away from the states and away from the people. They feared centralization. This was the sort of thing that Yates, those positions — he was an antifederalist. He held those positions. He argued at the ratifying convention in New York against adoption of the Constitution because of those fears. I’m relying basically on scholars who have said: We don’t know for sure who wrote those Brutus essays — at the time they would have been newspaper editorials against ratification — but the suspicion is that it was probably Yates who did that.
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Mike: The amazing part about the quote, or one of the letters that Brutus is attributed, is when he accuses the new system under the Constitution — we’ve been talking a lot about this lately, that instead of viewing the Constitution as the world’s most perfect and flaw-free document, it’s historically accurate to view it as rife with the potential for abuse and for what the men of the founding generation would have called consolidation. In the quote you have here in the essay, Brutus concludes, amazingly, ”This enquiry is important, because, although the government reported by the convention does not go to a perfect and entire consolidation, yet it approaches so near to it, that it must, if executed, certainly and infallibly terminate in it.” In other words, Brutus predicted what would happen in the 20th century, I suppose after Appomattox, what began to happen, he accurately predicted it, didn’t he?
Taylor: Yes, he did. Unfortunately, that turn, it happened even long before the Civil War. It was incremental and slower, but even in the early 1800s, Chief Justice Marshall, who was a federalist, who followed Hamilton’s big government policies, Marshall, through interpretation of the Constitution, loose construction as they called it, he started handing down high court rulings that found loopholes. I think those loopholes were things the antifederalists were aware of. They were very prophetic in warning about the dangers of the way the new system might well work.
Mike: I want to read another quote from your own work, which I’m sure you’re familiar with but the audience probably hasn’t read.
Our age of centralization includes concentration of both political and economic power, both domestic and foreign. It consists of monopoly of every kind, running the gamut from statism to globalization, from No Child Left Behind to World Trade Organization. Really, it is not much of a gamut because the same individuals and groups tend to drive all of these initiatives. Likewise, opponents are usually the same cast of characters, usually on the “far” Right and “far” Left—far from respectability in the eyes of major party leaders and the corporate media, but often in the mainstream of popular opinion. So, while the Center of wealth and power pursues centralization in all areas—a rational pursuit of self-interest, even when it is cloaked, perhaps even from themselves, as noblesse oblige—dissident voices continue to object.
Mike: Dissident voices would be you, would be me, would be Professor Gutzman. You cite Tom Woods and his book Nullification. What are we talking about, Professor Taylor, when we talk about decentralization, from your point of view, and why is it important? Why is it the project for the 21st century to undertake?
Taylor: What I mean by decentralization is wider dispersal of power. We know that power has potential for good, but it also has great potential for bad. Going back to Lord Acton talking about how “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” going further back to Plato, to the Scriptures, we’re warned over and over again about the aggregation of power and the concentration of it into fewer and fewer hands. I think that’s the most problematic of all. What I’m analyzing in my book is basically a history of American power and how we move from a pretty widely dispersed decentralized republic to a much more concentrated, both politically and economically. I’m looking at the Constitution. I’m looking at the Tenth Amendment. We look at the role of the judiciary, also the two big political parties, neither of which are serious about having decentralized power today. Even more broadly, we look at the question of power and its distribution in a human context, just going beyond the United States, of why there are dangers associated with that. It’s a big book. It’s covering big subjects. I think this is very important. Even those of us who maybe aren’t going to agree on where the republic ought to go, at this point we don’t really even have a chance to debate that if the power is concentrated in Washington in the hands of a few folks.
Mike: That’s a central theme and a central point that is argued on this show and on my site and my work, and I know others are arguing it as well, and that is the central question or the central issue of the day. If you’re in a little Amish village somewhere in Ohio and you don’t want to live under something heinous like No Child Left Behind or the Affordable Care Act or whatever other federal edict that has been issued is, you can’t govern yourself. In the affirmative, you don’t have the power to enact it. Let’s just assume for a moment that the Feds actually respect their boundaries. In the affirmative, you don’t have the power to enact it. In the negative, you don’t have the power of what Madison called negative. We don’t have a negative on any of this stuff. We’re not practicing self-government in any significant way, are we?
Taylor: No, no. In my book, I identify what I call basic values, or the quadratic persuasion as I call it, that underlie decentralism. I talk about liberty, community, democracy, and morality. These kinds of things, we can debate what’s the meaning of all of those terms exactly, but to me this impulse towards self-government, widely-dispersed power, it taps into basic American values that really even, say libertarians and populists don’t always agree on everything. There’s some tension between those two perspectives, but what unites us is that we realize that the power is not within our grasp anymore. What little is left is hard to reach and hard to enforce, just because there has been this massive power grab at the highest levels. It all leaves us feeling and actually being relatively powerless. I would say the vast majority of American people, even if they don’t know the details, they sense what’s wrong. Because the Republicans and Democrats have both signed onto this project, it’s hard to have their will felt in the political realm.
Mike: Finally, before we let Dr. Jeff Taylor go, I like this analogy that you have in your essay posted at NomocracyInPolitics.com. This is an argument that I’ve made orally and you make it eloquently and in print. I just want to share it with the audience because it bears repeating.
What happens when the only referee in a ballgame is a member of one of the two competing teams? What if this ref is imbued with overweening confidence in his team’s natural superiority and his own sense of fair play? Confident to the point that any questioning of his calls is deemed illegitimate and his team’s victory is considered inevitable? Meet the U.S. Supreme Court and the rest of the federal judiciary. Self-righteousness and concentrated power are a dangerous combination.
Mike: That is it right there in a nutshell. They are the judge of the extent of their own powers. They’re not judging the limits on anyone else’s powers, which they’ve failed to do. They are the judge of the extent of their own powers, aren’t they?
Taylor: Yes, that’s exactly right. That’s the problem. They have all of this power, yet they seem blissfully unaware of the dangers of that. It is a dangerous combination. I think you’ve hit exactly on the crux of the matter there.
Mike: I look forward to reading the book, Politics on a Human Scale: The American Tradition of Decentralism. I look forward to staying in touch with you and having you back on the program again, Dr. Taylor. I appreciate your time this morning. Thank you very much.
Taylor: I would love to join you again, Mike. It’s been my pleasure talking to you and your listeners.
Mike: We’ll post a transcript of this on the site so you can have it to share with your readers and hopefully students.
Taylor: I do my best here at the college to get the message out. Thank you again.
End Mike Church Show Transcript