“A revolution in the works?” – Glenn Harlan Reynolds

by Susan Olsen

Glenn Reynolds is a law professor at the University of Tennessee and is the father of InstaPundit.com.  Rather than try to condense his thoughtful USA Today piece, it follows in its entirety.

But if there’s an upside to the increasing unhappiness that most Americans feel toward the political class, it’s that maybe it means people are paying closer attention.

Americans are out of sorts, and increasingly they’re unhappy with the government. According to a Pew poll released last week, more than half of Americans view government as a threat to their freedom.

And it’s not just Republicans unhappy with Obama, or gun owners afraid that the government will take their guns: 38% of Democrats, and 45% of non-gun owners, see the government as a threat.

Add this to another recent poll in which only 22% of likely voters feel America’s government has the “consent of the governed,” and you’ve got a pretty depressing picture — and a recipe for potential trouble. Governments operate, to a degree, by force, but ultimately they depend on legitimacy. A government that a majority views as a threat, and that only a small minority sees as enjoying the consent of the governed, is a government with legitimacy problems.

I suspect that these issues also have something to do with the increasing bitterness and polarization of today’s politics, but not the way you might think. As science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle wrote in 2008, “We have always known that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. It’s worse now, because capture of government is so much more important than it once was. There was a time when there was enough freedom that it hardly mattered which brand of crooks ran government. That has not been true for a long time — not during most of your lifetimes, and for much of mine — and it will probably never be true again.”

That captures an important point. The more powerful the government becomes, the more people are willing to do in order to seize the prize, and the more afraid they become when someone else has control. So it was after the 2004 election when liberals talked revolution, and so again after 2012, when secession petitions flooded the White House.

There are two possible ways to address this problem. One is to elect people that everyone trusts. The problem with that is that there aren’t any politicians that everyone trusts — and, alas, if there were, the odds are good that such trust would turn out to be misplaced.

The other option is to place less power within the political sphere. The less power the government has, the less incentive for corruption, and the less that can go wrong when the government misbehaves. The problem with this approach is that the political class likes a powerful government — it’s one of the reasons that the Washington, DC, area, where much of the political class lives, is beginning to resemble the Capital City in The Hunger Games, prospering while the rest of the country suffers.

The political class usually gets its way, because it thinks about politics — and its own position — every waking moment, while the rest of America thinks about these things only in fits and starts, in between living everyday life. But if there’s an upside to the increasing unhappiness that most Americans feel toward the political class, it’s that maybe it means people are paying closer attention.

What’s next? In my constitutional law class the other day, most of my students took the position that they would be unlikely to see a Constitutional Convention in their lifetimes. I’m not so sure. Last year I spoke at a Harvard Law School conference on holding a new Constitutional Convention, one which had participants from all sorts of ideological positions ranging from the Tea Party to the Occupy Wall Street movement. (People got along surprisingly well.)

In the American system, a Constitutional Convention — which has never been held since the Constitution was adopted — is the last stop before revolution. It was intended as a way for the people to end-run the political establishment; if enough states request a convention, Congress has no choice but to call it, and the resulting proposals go straight to the states for ratification, bypassing Congress. It’s a way to make drastic changes when the political class has blocked smaller ones.

Are we there yet? I don’t think so. But we’re getting closer all the time. Political class, take note.”

Leave a Comment

  • Chris P. Bacon

    Everyone hates the political class. But they keep voting for them. Please don’t tell me “party” makes a difference. There’s a party alright, and we’re not invited.

    • C. dog e. doG

      Preachin’ to the choir, preacher boy. That’s why Skip, I, and a passel of non-apparatus types advocate for the de facto chattel-class to foist up to the pols who will listen, our list of issues, ranked by importance, we beseech them to push forward with all their might. The key is to make it independent of party. Who knows, maybe there’s a wayward democrat or two, or a republican who wondered off the RINO range, that actually wants to remove shackles, not add to them. Ya, I know, I sound like I found someone’s stash.
      – C. dog, crAZy rantings from a cur

  • allen

    the problem wit ha constitutional convention is that we all know the progressives would gleefully hijack it, and we’d be far worse off.

    • C. dog e. doG

      Not true. That would be the perfect opportunity for states populated by people wanting to be free to opt out. Of course, that option already exists, but the hurdle a little higher to jump over.
      – C. dog extending his vertical leap to liberty

  • C. dog e. doG

    One of my pet peeves is when guys like Harlanquin romance us with misuse of tense: “more than half of Americans view government as a threat to their freedom.” Wakeup call! That train departed for the Left Coast some time ago. Ample proof abounds. Just pick up a spoon and dig into a helpin’ heapin’ of good ol’ Federalé Alphabet Soup. OR if your tastes are more provincial, do the same for New Hamster’s endless encroachments into your personal affairs. Really quite depressing when you think about it. Maybe that’s why they pretend it hasn’t happened already.
    – C. dog

    • Chris P. Bacon

      Did you know that in 1940 the chances of a woman being involved with some type of breast cancer was 1 in 22 (in North America, of which New Hamsterdam is part of i think). Now it is 1 in 2.
      Sorry, i am treating someone with Breast cancer right now and it prompted me to do a little research yesterday.
      Are you allowed to say Breast here at GG?

      • C. dog e. doG

        Depends. Are you talking about one or two? We all know the plural is breastases. Kidding aside, keep up the good work. On the other side, I hope New Hamsterdam becomes a free port on the eastern seaboard sometime during my lifetime. I’ll save you a choice bud.
        – C. dog barking in code

        • Chris P. Bacon

          Me too. Seems only right in a “Live Free Or Die” kinda place. Made a video of feeding my salt water fishes if you are interested over at aquaponicspauly. i know how you love fish.
          Today i had a 90 minute drive down to Phoenix and i was thinking about where i went wrong in life. I realized i should save that question for a cross country trip!!
          cpb—this buds for you.

          • C. dog e. doG

            What the key in F is going on there? I thought I’d see some salty fish swimming through kelp or lettuce or somefin’ – instead I get a concert with you and Flute Boy! By the way, how long can Buddha – or was that Gouda? – hold his breath under water?
            – C. dog mesmerized by fish dancing with stars and pot-bellied gods

          • Chris P. Bacon

            No plants, that is outside in the aquaponics greenhouse. Those are not parrot fish. I am surprised you dont know this but, they are DOG faced puffers, although they do have a pecker like a parrot. When they get mad they blow up the size of softballs.
            big fun.

          • C. dog e. doG

            Cool stuff, Crisp.

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