This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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The limits of intention in a changing world

The unintended consequences of any action will, as a rule, exponentially outnumber the intended ones. This is the best argument in favor of a minimalist approach to public policy.

In terms of American history, this principle means that whenever we consider the ‘intentions of the Founders’, we must admit that they themselves might not like the actual results of certain policies they favored, and might themselves opt for discarding some things. But aside from that, it also means that there were numerous social actualities in place which, although not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, were essential to its interpretation and application. As one example, we can say that universal suffrage although reconcilable with the verbiage of the Constitution, would have seemed ridiculous to the Founders, since for them it was taken for granted that social and economic barriers would severely limit political participation by race, property, education, and so on. The continuance of these actualities was (more or less) assumed by the authors of the Constitution, and the fact that these actualities did not, in fact, continue, renders the intentions of the Founders null and void.

This world is not their world and our circumstances and political processes have only a historical connection to theirs. The reason most people do not understand this is because, as I’ve already mentioned, Americans consider the Constitution on par with a doctrinal treatise, or with Holy Scripture, the lessons of which are universal and timeless, and the fact that the authors of the document were not timeless does not matter.

Times change and new mechanics are introduced. For example, the Constitution recognized neither parties nor universal suffrage. That it does not forbid them only speaks to the limits of the imaginations of the authors, and not to forward-thinking.

The Constitution explicitly delegated certain powers to the central government, and explicitly reserved all others to the states. But even in the nation’s youth, there were opposing ideas at play and every administration tried in some way to increase the powers of the head in relation to the body. In the early Federalist government of Washington and Hamilton, Hamilton introduced the idea of ‘implied powers’ of the central government, which was an idea as blatantly opportunistic as it sounds. This sat in opposition the idea of ‘state’s rights’ and a ‘strong central government’ and eventually led to the Secession War.

Another point of departure from anything the Founders could have imagined was the control over the laws of the nation wielded by the judiciary. It was Chief Justice Marshall who introduced the idea, which would become common practice, that the judiciary could disrupt the laws of the entire nation by declaring a thing ‘unconstitutional’. This was a purely negative power, since it allowed the judiciary to delete laws but not make any, and in that sense its only function was to reduce order and increase chaos, but chaos in the legal systems of the states is beneficial for the central government. In this respect, the judiciary is the great destabilizer.

It would be correct to say that the Founders would not have foreseen the development of the judicial veto, since they specifically wrote into the Constitution a separation between the judicial and legislative, but at the same time this development is not foreign to their mentality. They were, by and large, all lawyers, and the Constitutional Convention was formed almost entirely by members of that profession. The Constitution is not a document of practical political wisdom, but of legal phraseology. That is an important point, especially if we recall that one of America’s most long standing problems is an insistence on abstraction and legalism over actual realities.

American legalism meant that, as things developed, many problems were referred to the legal system on the pseudo-religious assumption that they would be dealt with impartially and the outcome would be free of human weaknesses like prejudice and ignorance. This is the same type of ridiculous legal thinking that would think it wise to have a jury of twelve random citizens decide guilt or innocence in immensely complex legal cases.

Law is the result of politics, traditionally. American legalism, with its unique employment of the judiciary, created a situation in which the law and those responsible for its maintenance and interpretation, are enabled to steer politics. Or, to connect all the dots, we can say that the judiciary was susceptible to significant political influence, and once the practice of judiciary veto became the norm, that susceptibility was quickly exploited by various political forces, namely parties and money. Now law is still the result of politics, which is a result of money.

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