Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Nation versus the State

The current American State was created by the Constitution, a document written in 1787 and adopted by the thirteen states in 1789. By that act, the first post-revolutionary state, the government created by the Articles of Confederation was overthrown. The Constitution established the second post-revolutionary state. You could call the second American Republic.

The authors of the Constitution conceived of the American nation as an ordered society in which white men of property were supreme, and others were subordinate to them, not because the government said so, but because it was the natural order of things. White supremacy was reality, according to them.

Their view was that the nation (the people as a whole) was naturally dominated by white men of property and so the state that they created to govern that white supremacist nation was structured to preserve white rule. The new government was studded with anti-democratic barriers to thwart reform from below. The founders created the strongest central government they could that still lacked the power to interfere with the practice of slavery.

So, White Nationalism is not a strange new ideology. White Nationalism is the founding ideology of these United States. The present government of the United States, the one created by the Constitution of 1789, is a White Nationalist State. We see this today in belief that white Americans are the "real Americans," or that August Wilson is a great black playwright, while Arthur Miller is a great American playwright.

Today, we consider that the American Nation, (the people, the society as a whole) is a multi-cultural nation. We are a multi-cultural people, with all the unity and disunity which naturally flows from that fact. But the structure of the American state is, from its beginning, white nationalist, which makes it a barrier to justice for the multicultural American nation.

The structure of the state, the government, is at odds with the nation, or the people and society.

The question now is whether the present US State, as structured by the US Constitution, can deliver democratic justice, especially to People of Color, and even more particularly, Black People, anytime in the foreseeable future.

If you think that the answer is "yes," then your strategy has to be gain enough political power in the system as it now stands to deliver the reforms needed for justice. How's that being working out?

If you think that the answer is "no," then your strategy has to be to work for structural changes in the government, either through a series of amendments to the present Constitution, or the replacement of the present Constitution by a new one.  But, the prospects of amending the Constitution to create a democratic and just state is that the anti-democratic features of the Constitution are designed to prevent that kind of change.

The alternative is to propose a new Constitution.

I think that it is time for a group of prominent and respected people who represent the full range of the American people be gathered to propose a new, or radically revised, Constitution, one that dismantles the anti-democratic structures of the present one, and yet still protects the civil rights of those with minority opinions.

Examples:


  • The qualifications to vote and the administration of elections should be standardized across all states: universal, automatic registration, national standards on voting periods and administration etc. 
  • Local policing should be directly accountable to the Federal government with a nation-wide system for civilian review of police conduct. 
  • A nation wide system of equitable public school-funding.
  • The abolition of the Electoral College
  • Positive guarantees of rights to health care, education, housing, food, etc. 
How would democratic self-government in the United States be structured? How could a government be created that would have the power to reverse and repair the injustice and exploitations of centuries of white supremacy? How would get from here to there?

A new people's Constitution written by an all-peoples' Constitutional Convention could establish a goal, a positive vision of our hopes.  

With the election of Trump, people are talking the possible end of the American Republic. But we don't want to just preserve the American Republic. The pre-Trump status quo is not our goal; it was unacceptable, then and now. 




1 comment:

Peter Newport said...

This is a very bold piece with which I think should precis any discussion of the American Constitution. It should be the nul point, the basis for any reformist or revisioning process. This sentence is particularly trenchant: "The founders created the strongest central government they could that still lacked the power to interfere with the practice of slavery."

That said, I would wish for the connection between federalism, a political system invented by the Founders, and laissez faire capitalism, an economic system that flowered in the nineteenth century, to be more explicit. Are we forever going to misconstrue and confuse the movement of capital ever upwards and the coils of racism? This is a fundamental chicken and egg issue that needs specifically to be unravelled.

I am dubious about your second point. If the Justice Department was properly equipped to mete justice (enforce the first amendment) there would be no need for "Local policing [to] be directly accountable to the Federal government with a nation-wide system for civilian review of police conduct.

Go get 'em, Tom. I'm right there with you.

Rev. Peter Newport