The Roots Of “Big Government”: Right-Wing Statism From Hamilton To The Neocons

By Thomas DiLorenzo

Several times a week I force myself to be subjected to five minutes or so of neocon chatter by Rush Limbaugh, Marc Levin (“The Grate One”), Sean Hannity, or the FAUX News Channel morning show.  Their bloviations are filled with extreme hypocrisy and delusional contradictions.

For example, during the Bush administration the neocon mantra was “9/11 changed everything!” by which they meant, “to hell with the Constitution.”  Whenever Judge Andrew Napolitano would challenge any of his FAUX News Channel colleagues over warrantless wiretaps, NSA spying, undeclared and unconstitutional wars, torturing of prisoners, the murder-by-drone of American citizens, etc., this was their mantra, their all-purpose slogan designed to censor all discussion. “Constitution Schmonstitution” was their unofficial motto.

Now that a Democrat is in the White House that has all changed.  Marc Levin, who slavishly supported Bush’s “War on Terra” and all of its constitutional subversions, has even written a very silly book on the importance of sticking to the Constitution.  His fellow neocons all sounded more like Mussolini than (James) Madison during the Bush administration but today they have all become born-again constitutionalists. At least until the next Republican is elected president.

For example, the Heritage Foundation published a study entitled “An Executive Unbound,” condemning Obama for his “abusive, unlawful, and even potentially unconstitutional actions.”  Charles (“Dr. Strangelove”) Krauthammer has bellowed that Obama’s actions have been “unbelievably unconstitutional.” George Will has said that Obama’s unconstitutional behavior is “worse than Nixon’s.”  Senator Ted Cruz has published a list of “76 lawless Obama administration actions” through executive order.  What a hoot!

The funniest and most thoroughly confused of all the neocons has to be Marc Levin.  Rarely does an evening go by on his radio show that he does not invoke the “wisdom” of his nationalist, Hamiltonian political heroes, Alexander Hamilton, Chief Justice John Marshall, Justice Joseph Story, and . . . drum roll please . . . . . . . . Abraham Lincoln in his diatribes against Obama and the big shots of the Republican Party.

This, however, is the root of the problem with all neocons like Levin and their Republican Party.  They are the political descendants of the nationalist wing of American politics, represented by the views of the above-mentioned individuals.  If Hamilton, Marshall, Story, and Lincoln stood for anything, they stood for a highly centralized government with a dictatorial executive branch.  They were all mortal enemies of the alternative, Jeffersonian states’ rights tradition, the tradition that gave us federalism, the Tenth Amendment, decentralized government, and the rights of nullification and secession.  It is the tradition that is epitomized by the slogan, “that government is best which governs least,” as Jefferson once said.

It was Levin’s hero Hamilton who first invented the poisonous notion of “implied powers” of the Constitution.  He did this in his debate with Jefferson over the constitutionality of a national bank.  In doing so he literally laid the theoretical groundwork for the dismemberment of the Constitution as a limitation of governmental power for future generations of despots.  He was also the first to point out how the Commerce and General Welfare Clauses of the Constitution could be used by slick-talking lawyers like himself to subvert constitutional limitations of governmental powers and turn the government into one of more-or-less unlimited powers.  Unlimited government was fine in Hamilton’s view, as long as people of high moral character (like himself, for instance) were in charge of it.  This is one reason why Jefferson thought of him as a mortal threat to American liberty.

At the constitutional convention Hamilton called for a permanent president who would appoint all the governors as his puppets.  All power would have been in the hands of the central government, especially the executive branch.  He was the original neocon.  His proposal was not adopted by the founders, of course, but was cemented into place in 1865 when states’ rights, the political philosophy of the founding generation of Jeffersonians, was neutered.  Americans have slaved under ever-increasing centralized federal tyranny ever since.

Levin’s other hero, John Marshall, repeated Hamilton’s lies about the American founding – that the Constitution was supposedly not adopted by state political conventions but by the “whole people” of the country – to “justify” increased powers of the central government, including a national bank, which he declared to be constitutional despite the fact that the idea was discussed and rejected by the constitutional convention.  Like Hamilton, Marshall was a centralizer and a sworn enemy of federalism.  No wonder Jefferson hated and despised him despite the fact that he was his second cousin.

Joseph Story, whom Levin praised just a few nights ago on his radio show as though he was perhaps the Greatest Human Being Ever to Inhabit Planet Earth, was “the most Hamiltonian of judges,” wrote historian Clinton Rossiter in his book, Alexander Hamilton and the ConstitutionLevin praised Story’s book, Commentaries on the Constitution, which Rossiter described as a training manual for “the political elite of the Northern states” in the nineteenth century.  As such, the book is essentially a roadmap for constitutional subversion.  The Supreme Court “still cites it!!” screamed an absolutely giddy Marc Levin.  But of course they do, for obvious reasons that are apparently lost on The Grate One.  It is an instruction manual for destroying constitutional limitations on government.  In fact, the Supreme Court cites its ideas so frequently that, as Judge Andrew Napolitano pointed out in The Constitution in Exile, the Court did not find one single federal law to be outside the bounds of the constitution from 1937 to 1995.

Joseph Story’s Commentaries on the Constitution, which Clinton Rossiter said should have been called “Commentaries on Alexander Hamilton’s Commentaries on the Constitution,” lays out the Hamiltonian view of the Constitution.  This is the view that the Constitution should not bind the government in chains, as Jefferson once said, but should instead serve as a potential rubber stamp of approval of anything the federal government ever wanted to do (Like healthcare socialism, eh Chief Justice Roberts?).  This was how Hamilton himself viewed the Constitution after the convention rejected his “president for life” proposal as too king-like.  He then condemned the Constitution as “a frail and worthless fabric.”  As “the most “Hamiltonian of judges,” this is what Joseph Story, Marc Levin’s hero, set out to do in writing his long-winded book on “constitutional commentaries.”

These men all laid the rhetorical groundwork for Levin’s ultimate hero, Abraham Lincoln.  Levin was a one-man carnival of contradictions last night on his radio show by harshly condemning the current leadership of the Republican Party for not being “Lincolnesque” and going back to the roots of the Republican Party on the one hand, while on the other hand viciously attacking Obama for his “dictatorial” and unconstitutional behavior.   But it was Lincoln, armed with several generations of nationalist rhetoric (the words of Hamilton, Marshall, Story, Daniel Webster, and other fellow nationalists), who was the most unconstitutional and dictatorial of all presidents.  He claimed the power to redefine treason from its clear meaning in Article 3, Section 3 of the Constitution as “levying war upon the United States” or “giving aid” and “comfort to THEIR enemies,” to any criticism of him or his policies (emphasis added).  Treason is defined in the Constitution as levying war upon the free and independent states (as they are defined by the Declaration of Independence), which of course is exactly what Lincoln did.

Having declared all of his political opponents to be traitors, Lincoln unconstitutionally suspended Habeas Corpus and imprisoned tens of thousands of Northern political critics and opponents without due process; shredded the First Amendment by shutting down hundreds of opposition newspapers and censoring the telegraphs; deported his main Democratic Party critic, Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham of Ohio in a bold-faced attack on the separation of powers; confiscated privately-owned firearms in the border states; violated his oath to protect and defend the Constitution by waging total war on his own country; rigged Northern elections; intimidated federal judges with soldiers so that they could not issue writs of Habeas Corpus, further destroying the separation of powers; enforced the slavery of military conscription (and executed deserters on a daily basis); and worse.

All of this has been lavishly praised by left-wing academics like law professor George Fletcher, in his book, Our Secret Constitution: How Lincoln Redefined American Democracy, for laying the groundwork for the kind of dictatorial executive branch powers that were necessary to give us the gargantuan welfare state that is bankrupting America today.  It has been similarly praised by the right-wing statists known as “Straussians” (of which Levin is a follower) because it can be used to “justify” and support an ever-enlarged warfare state.

If Marc Levin and the other neocons want a president who behaves more like Lincoln, they should all become supporters rather than critics of Barack Obama and his “unbelievably unconstitutional” behavior.

The Neocon Carnival of Constitutional Confusion