The United States: A Stagnant Concern

Why is it that the US does not evolve politically? It seems that to a greater extent than any other Western country in history, the US is determined to maintain the historic form of its government regardless of changing realities on the ground. There is, in essence, no active polis – only citizens pursing policy through a non-negotiable framework.

Is this an outgrowth of the quasi-religious veneration of The Founders? Does anyone think they expected the grab bag of Anglo-European procedures they put in place not to be renegotiated from time to time? Were we supposed to live until the end of time in a constitutional mausoleum dedicated to classical liberalism a la America 1787?

The only substantive changes that have been made – 14th Amendment (giving federal courts jurisdiction over state policies, 17th Amendment (direct election of US Senators), threatened packing of the Supreme Court by Roosevelt – have served the end of reducing constitutional federalism to a more base democratic nationalism.

The Europeans may be more statist than we, but they have had a historic a talent for politics, in the classical sense. Their societies were built out of grinding negotiations by those affected, and then re-negotiated constantly over time. They continue to do so, even in the construction of misguided European Union project. In Europe, there was no group of Founders that bequeathed a homunculus of a federal framework to which they must adhere. It has been constructed over time through gnashing negotiation.

Why is the US, by contract, so mired in political formalism? Not in the positivist sense of the term, but the religious sense. “Formalism” in the sense that the rules of the game are left nominally the same and just bent to serve the ends of contemporary players – or, if they must be changed, only reduced to a lower common denominator. 

Some people argue this formalism is a bulwark against complete collapse into tyranny. Does it not, though, promote at once an ethic of corruption and lack of ownership of a society by those who inhabit it?

For whatever reason, Americans never have been political animals. I think this is because the US claims the territory of many distinct poleis (nations, if you will) and has imposed from above a constitutional prison that has reduced us to imperial subjects and slaves – unable to even conceive which procedures and institutions might better suit our ends.

Or maybe it is because we are a young empire that through early and vast accumulation of power and territory, came to that mix of arrogance and deep conservative fear that is shown by heirs of great fortunes. We didn’t earn it and we don’t understand it, so we better not mess with it but only venerate it.

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