Sunday, November 13, 2016

Orestes Brownson, Territorial Democracy, and the Trumpening

What might XIXth Century American political philosopher and Catholic convert Orestes Augustus Brownson have to say about this past week's events and the map below?

In "Orestes Brownson and Territorial Democracy," Gerald J. Russello explains one of this thinker's central ideas:
    In The American Republic, Brownson sought to explain American government in light of the Civil War. Out of that great conflict a new nation had arisen; what was its relation to the old? Some had argued that each of the states had independent existences that could survive the dissolution of the Union. Others believed the nation was, or should become, a unitary state, centralized in Washington. To Brownson, both sides were wrong. The states were neither pre-existing nations that had “contracted” with one another, nor were they mere provinces of a general government. The former, for Brownson, contradicted principles of sovereignty; the latter equated the federal system with the centralized democracy of Jacobin France.

    Rather, the states are sovereign in their own spheres, but that sovereignty exists only because they are part of a nation. Brownson calls this understanding of the American system “territorial democracy”: “not territorial because the majority of the people are agriculturists or landholders, but because all political rights, powers, or franchises are territorial.” Power, in other words, is not portable — as it was, for example, in pre-modern nomadic peoples or in medieval Europe, where the “state” was wherever the royal court happened to be.

    Rather, sovereignty in the modern state exists only within the physical area of a particular society. The sovereignty of New York, for example, exists only because it is part of the geographical entity known as the United States. As Brownson puts it, “The American States are all sovereign States united, but, disunited, are not States at all.” Brownson’s territorial democracy is consistent with American federalism, and in fact has greater explanatory power than either the nationalist or secessionist versions. The Founders knew that government should be as close to the people as possible, so it could be more accountable. The national and state governments each derived legitimacy from the people, and each had a legitimate claim to govern within its own sphere.
I admit to having had some difficulty wrapping my head around this idea of "territorial democracy" while reading Orestes Brownson's The American Republic or the chapter dedicated to the man's philosophy in Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot. Mr. Russello is explains this idea well in contrast to "the centralized democracy of Jacobin France" which we reject and that "the states are sovereign in their own spheres, but that sovereignty exists only because they are part of a nation." In Brownson's own words, "[A]ll political rights, powers, or franchises are territorial." The Land itself, in a sense, has rights, powers, and franchises, or rather, these arise from the Land, not the People, as shown in the map above and in our Electoral College, which gives Place place over People.

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Blogger papabear said...

What was the lacuna in his education that would lead him to hold such a view? Or did the Founding Fathers fail to make sure that such a public education was provided by the states?

November 14, 2016 at 2:03 AM  

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