Monday, November 29, 2010

Mike Lee, Cleon Skousen and Radical Constitutionalism

Excerpts of Radical Constitutionalism by JEFFREY ROSEN, New York Times
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Of the newly elected Tea Party senators, Mike Lee, a 39-year-old Republican from Utah, has the most impeccable establishment legal credentials: the son of [former BYU president] Rex Lee .... But on the campaign trail, especially during his heated primary battle with the three-term Republican incumbent Bob Bennett, Lee offered glimpses of a truly radical vision of the U.S. Constitution, one that sees the document as divinely inspired and views much of what the federal government currently does as unconstitutional.

Lee proposed to dismantle, on constitutional grounds, the federal Departments of Education, and Housing and Urban Development. He insisted that "the Constitution doesn't give Congress the power to redistribute our wealth" and vowed to phase out Social Security. He proposed repealing the 16th Amendment, which authorizes the progressive federal income tax, and called the 17th Amendment, which allows senators to be elected by popular vote rather than by state legislatures, a "mistake." He pledged to end "the unauthorized federal occupation" of Utah land, insisting that Congress lacks the constitutional power to designate federally protected wilderness unless the relevant state legislature approves. He embraced "nullification," the idea that states have the right — and indeed the duty — to disregard federal laws, like the new health-care-reform bill, that they say are unconstitutional. Lee, who is a Mormon and a social conservative, also has equated the founding fathers' invocations of a deist God with the moral values of the Mormon Church. "As your U.S. senator," he promised during the campaign, "I will not vote for a single bill that I can't justify based on the text and the original understanding of the Constitution, no matter what the court says you can do."

Many of the positions Lee outlined on the campaign trail appear to be inspired by the constitutional guru of the Tea Party movement, W. Cleon Skousen, whose 1981 book, "The 5,000-Year Leap," argued that the founding fathers rejected collectivist "European" philosophies and instead derived their divinely inspired principles of limited government from fifth-century Anglo-Saxon chieftains, who in turn modeled themselves on the Biblical tribes of ancient Israel. Skousen, a Mormon who died in 2006 at 92, was for years dismissed by many mainstream conservatives, including William F. Buckley Jr., as a conspiracy-mongering extremist; he was also eventually criticized by the Mormon Church. A vocal supporter of the John Birch Society, Skousen argued that a dynastic cabal, including international bankers like the Rockefellers and J. P. Morgan, conspired to manipulate both Communism and Fascism to promote a one-world government.

Skousen's vision of the Constitution was no less extreme. Starting more than 60 years ago with his first book, "Prophecy and Modern Times," he wrote several volumes about the providential view of the U.S. Constitution set out in Mormon scripture, which sees the Constitution as divinely inspired and on the verge of destruction and the Mormon Church as its salvation. Skousen saw limited government as not only an ethnic idea, rooted in the Anglo-Saxons, but also as a Christian one, embodied in the idea of unalienable rights and duties that derive from God, and he insisted that the founders' "religious precepts turned out to be the heart and soul of the entire American political philosophy."

In 2009, after years of obscurity, Skousen's ideas were unexpectedly rediscovered by Glenn Beck, who was given a copy of "The 5,000-Year Leap" by a friend. As a result of Beck's endorsement, the book became a best seller and a Tea Party favorite. Beck's endorsement also revitalized the National Center for Constitutional Studies, which Skousen founded under another name in 1971 and which offered seminars on his books. During the 1990s, the center typically offered no more than a dozen seminars a year; this past year, it offered more than 200 to Tea Party groups across the country....

But during the Progressive Era, according to Skousen, America abandoned its founding principles because of the pressure exerted by "certain wealthy influential groups" that persuaded the country to embrace a "strong centralized government" with extensive regulatory power. This resulted in a large-scale, government-mandated, entirely unconstitutional redistribution of wealth. In Skousen's history, as in Tea Party politics, socialists and bankers are not opposing forces; the machinations of the wealthy and the machinations of the income-levelers are one and the same and must be resisted by defenders of liberty. Norton handed out cards enumerating the 28 "principles of liberty" that Skousen ascribed to the founders, and he urged us to memorize them.

Although Tea Party groups like Dick Armey's FreedomWorks have emphasized the movement's libertarianism and played down its social conservatism, several of Skousen's 28 principles stress the role of religious virtue. The fourth principle, "Without religion the government of a free people cannot be maintained," criticizes the Supreme Court for having misinterpreted Thomas Jefferson's metaphor of a "wall" separating church and state." Skousen argued that the First Amendment's prohibition on a federal establishment of religion wasn't intended to separate church and state but to prevent the federal government from disestablishing religion in the seven states that had officially established denominations during the founding era.

Some reputable legal scholars, like Akhil Reed Amar of Yale Law School, have made similar historical arguments. But in Skousen's view, the implications of this history are radical: Skousen would encourage the states today to require "universally accepted" religious teachings in public schools, as long as they don't favor one denomination over another. ...

Indeed, the 101 questions overlap with many of Lee's most-controversial views. In the questions, Skousen concludes that most federal regulatory agencies are unconstitutional, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Communications Commission, because they blur "the founders' division of labor between the states and the federal government." Skousen says the obscure "enclave clause" of the Constitution doesn't authorize the president "to lock up large blocks of land within a state as a 'wilderness reserve,' " or to set up national forests or national parks within the confines of a state — an eccentric view the Supreme Court has rejected. Skousen also calls for the repeal of the 16th and 17th Amendments, which he views as an affront to states' rights, and calls for the elimination of Social Security, welfare and the national debt as examples of wealth redistribution, which he considers unconstitutional because, in his words, the founders authorized the government only "to protect equal rights, not provide equal things." ...



2 comments:

MarkoManager said...

Very good post, like and follow your blog...

Clair Barrus said...

More on the same topic at Religious Dispatches:

http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/joannabrooks/3824/utah%27s_new_senator_and_the_intellectual_decline_of_lds_conservatism/