Tuesday, October 15, 2013

TED CRUZ AND THE 2013 DEBT CRISIS: Notes on The Right and Duty to Revolt

Photograph by J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo
Senator Ted Cruz talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Sept. 25, 2013


The Right and Duty to Revolt
Have our elected representatives of the Goverment violated their Social Contract with the people who empowered them?

By Kimmarie Rojas

News Link on Debt Ceiling, Oct 2013

Once again news, editorials and pundits repeat claims with varying degrees of optimism that Washington is getting closer to a deal. It is generally agreed that any Senate "deal" will be a temporary measure to keep the government open until about January 15, 2014, and avert a global financial crisis.  Still, it places us in the same situation again in a few months.

On one end of the spectrum, Joshua Green of BloombergBusinessWeek writes that even if the Senate comes up with a deal, Ted Cruz (R-TX) could manipulate the Senate rules preventing the passing of any deal before the Thursday deadline[i]. Huffington Post[ii] contributors McAuliff and Siddiqui are cautiously optimistic that Congress can agree on a deal, but concerned that the legislative bodies will be unable to complete the complicated and fragile processes and procedures before the January 17th deadline on US borrowing capabilities. Also hopefully optimistic, Senator Schumer (D-NY) told Face the Nation that he believed a deal would be reached, citing the sequester cuts as a way to "spark a conversation", while Senator McCain (R-AZ) called the sequester a "sticking point" in negotiations.[iii]


With government services closed and only days from reaching the Country's borrowing limit, President Obama has taken to the podium in an attempt to define the terms that have divided Congress and shut down the daily business of the government, specifically, the cryptic verbiage of the complicated US budgetary system. Our elected representatives appear flippant to the consequences of a financial default, each party, branch and faction blaming the other while meting out fallacious arguments. 

The most frequent fallacy that these professional persuaders present is that of the false dilemma, claiming only two possible outcomes to the current Congressional/Executive stalemate over funding the government.  Yet any debater worth their premise understands that truth is multifaceted, and few issues are dichotomous: There are as many possible outcomes to any situation as the mind is capable of considering. Although we've been offered only two choices, there are infinite possibilities.

"The bounds of possibility, in moral matters, are less narrow than we imagine:  it is our weaknesses, our vices, and our prejudices that confine them" wrote Jean-Jacques Rousseau, an 18th Century philosopher whose ideas were set down in his political treatise "The Social Contract" (1769).  

"Clear them out and start over!" is an oft heard sentiment these days as the publics' frustration with their elected leaders grows.  The Congressional approval rating is under twenty five percent, and the majority of the Country is dissatisfied.   While Washington makes a weak attempt to reverse a self-created crisis, the public is becoming increasingly vocal for change. 

But how do we, the people, determine the course of action that would create a revolutionary change of political and economic power and policy?  How do we agree that the government has become untenable and undeniably broken? 

An understanding of the philosophies of free and democratic nations is essential, as is examining how other major paradigmatic changes have come about in the past. After more than Two Hundred and Twenty years, it is a generally accepted warrant that our Constitution is a brilliantly viable document that has proved its ability to create the greatest nation in the world. A cursory review of modern and contemporary political thought reminds us of the contentious and often bloody history of western democracy. Yet the paradigms of government by consent and the equality of man, delineate both a right and a duty to revolt against an unjust body politic. 

Fair and open elections combined with universal, unencumbered suffrage is the most effective, democratic, moral and nonviolent method for changing the members of the government.  On October 14, NBC News questioned if fair elections were even possible, claiming that assignment of districts have been Gerrymandered (manipulated to ensure specific party dominance), assuring re-election of the ultra-conservative minority.  Add to that voter apathy and the chances of electing an entirely new Congress becomes even more challenging.   

 Hobbes and Locke

Thomas Hobbes (b.1588-d.1679) is considered a founder of modern political philosophy, proposing his philosophical discourse on civil society and authoritarianism in his analytical work Leviathan. This, probably his most famous work, established much of the foundations of western politics. Leviathan also developed liberal democracy fundamentals, such as the right of the individual and the natural equality of all men. Hobbes' concepts supported representative government at the will of the people.

Hobbes believed that individuals entered into a social contract and civil society to avoid a state of war, with the instinct of self-preservation. The civil society described by Hobbes begins with the "state of nature", which Hobbes describes as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short".  Hobbes supports this under the premise that men, being rational beings, desire both power and their own preservation; and, that men's greatest fear is a violent death at the hands of another human. To reconcile these axioms with the state of nature, Hobbes claims that man must relinquish his power to an authoritarian government.

The fallacy of this claim is ironically familiar to our present day Legislative-Executive standoff.  Hobbes gives citizens only two choices: either subjugation or a state of nature (anarchy).

Although Hobbes prescribes absolute authority to governments, he believed that the government derives its original authority from the people, and maintains this power only so long as it successfully keeps peace.  There is no place in Hobbes' society for revolution; however failure to adhere to the social contract voids it and returns society to a state of war.

By not providing for the financial solidarity of the Country, has today's Legislature voided their vow and larger contract to defend the Constitution, and their personal contract with those States they were elected to represent?

English philosopher John Locke (1634-1704) claimed in his Second Treatise of Government  that people have a duty to revolt against an unjust government. The right of a people to dissolve their government has been a generally accepted concept especially within the liberal democracy discourse.

Locke describes two ways in which governments can be dissolved. The first is from without, as when a nation is conquered by a foreign force and the society is dissolved. The purpose of a government is to protect the society from dissolution. If it does not, a breach of the social contract has transpired because it "ought to have preserved them from violence.”[iv]  

A second way that government can be dissolved is from within.  Locke claims that when the condition exists that has altered the legislature in some way, the government is then dissolved.  According to Locke’s principals, government can be dissolved when the legislature is no longer acting according to the rules it has set for itself, such as when a government refuses or neglects its executive powers and fails to enforce the laws in effect. Has the legislature voided the government by withholding the necessary elements for the executive branch to function effectively?

All members of Congress take a vow of loyalty to uphold the Constitution against enemies, "foreign or domestic".  What of the dissolution of society by a FACTION, foreign or domestic?  A domestic faction which has found its way into an elected body may be even more poised to dissolve the society without direct violence by influencing and blocking the necessary business of the Administration, causing widespread disruption and changes in the workings of the legislative process.

According to Locke, individuals have a right to prevent such happenings:  "The reason why men enter into society is the preservation of their property".  A government that has failed the duty it was engaged for puts itself into "a state of war with the people and are left to...force and violence" (qtd in Locke’s 2nd Treatise of Government).

The Contemporary Manifestation of Revolution

These philosophies, consent of the governed and the duty to revolt against an unjust government have been manifested in American contemporary politics as non-violent, passive-resistant direct action.  While the right and duty of revolution in modern history (16th-19th C.) reflects the violent dissolution of societies and their governments, contemporary thinkers harbor the concepts of social contracts and the duty to revolt as necessary to bring about non-violent political modernization of laws that are unjust and governments that have become unreasonable.

Henry David Thoreau

In 1848, Henry David Thoreau listed grievances against the American Government, not the least of which was the issue of slavery.  Thoreau claimed in his famous pamphlet Civil Disobedience that the current situation required "at once a better government" and reminded the American public of their right to refuse allegiance to a government which has become "unendurable".  Distinct in Thoreau's approach to the right of revolution however, was the concept of passive resistance. 

It is not a man's duty to eradicate "even the most enormous wrong", writes Thoreau of the issue of slavery, "but it is his duty not to give it practically his support." 

Martin Luther King Jr.

Thoreau's concept of revolt through non-violence was the cornerstone of Martin Luther King Jr.'s leadership in the Civil Rights Movement and contemporary manifestation of the duty to revolt without violence.  From a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. advocated "direct action", a non-violent form of resistance, against Southern segregation laws. In Letter from a Birmingham Jail, King admonishes the white clergy for failing to support his organized resistance movement to illegal and unjust segregation laws in Alabama, and lists in graphic detail the suffered wrongs, this time by the Negro in the status quo government of Alabama.  King justifies his belief in non-violent direct action as the best recourse for righting civil wrongs by creating a crisis situation and establishing "creative tension" to force the Birmingham authorities to recognize their wrongful deeds and enter into negotiations. Letter was not only a call for support of the passive resistant movement, but also came to be a prescription for the implementation of a non-violent revolt.[v]

The Great Society Days

               The late 1960's and the early 1970's saw a great outpouring of reform literature, much of which called for a restructuring of administrative government. Social philosopher John Rawls had much in common with early philosophers, with an added emphasis of liberal democracy and the challenge of creating a "just society".  Like Hobbes, Rawls also believed that people act on self-interest; however, according to Rawls they are capable of acting rationally through planning.  Rawls' theories were presented just after the "Great Society" days begun by President Lyndon B. Johnson. During this period, the administration created and funded many new social programs, such as MediCare and Welfare. The repercussion of the Great Society programs was one of the most wide-spread anti-statism movements in history. Thus, his philosophy was criticized for supporting the foundation of the Welfare State, during the politically conservative era following the Great Society days. 

Contract with America

               The 1994 "Contract with America" was another symptom of a decline in the integrity of the American civil society and their social contract with the American Government.  Presented by then minority leader Newt Gingrich and Representative Richard (Dick) Armey, this ten-point legislative program promised reform in many federal programs, reversing the efforts of "The Great Society" days.  Based on a State's Rights argument, the Contract awarded large block grants in place of Federal programs into the jurisdiction of individual states. Presented six weeks before a Congressional election, the document laid out specific legislative actions it would take to reform the government, should the Republicans win the majority in the House of Representatives.  When the GOP took over the 104th Congress, they gave credit to the Contract with America, and chose Newt Gingrich as the new Speaker of the House.



Has our government become unendurable? Does the Legislative Body represent the American ideal?   Has there been a breach in the Government's constitutional and statutory compact with U.S. citizens?  Does a default of the Government's global contracts constitute a state of war among the populace and void authority?  How does a society agree on unjust laws and government? (See How does a society agree that a law is unjust?)

History proves the ability of a social contract to resolve or dissolve the creation of a political order. Review of political history and infrastructure reminds us of the fluidity of the political body and the issue of trust in those who have been granted power over the masses. Once again, the conversation surrounding government reform is growing. Yet for most, the workings (or non-workings) of the Federal government creates more questions than it does answers.




[i] Green, J. (2013) http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-10-14/ted-cruz-could-force-a-debt-default-all-by-himself#!
[ii] McAuliff, M and Siddiqui, S. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/14/senate-budget-deal_n_4099135.html
[iii] Kaplan, R.  ://www.cbsnews.com/8301-3460_162-57607281/sen-schumer-optimistic-that-senate-negotiators-can-end-the-government-shutdown/
[iv] Locke, John, The Second Treatise of Government, chapter 19, paragraph 211.  Orginially publshed in 1690.  Reprinted by Prometheus Books: New York. 1986
[v] King, Martin Luther, Jr. (1963) Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

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