Understanding America’s Political Spectrum
In a few days Americans will be celebrating Independence Day, but most will take a day off of work and enjoy a backyard barbeque or go to the lake or some other activity without giving much thought to what our forefathers really accomplished on that day. It really represented a culmination of their study of the real purpose of government.Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson described the history of governments as swinging like a pendulum as a people become tired of dictatorships and authoritarian rulers. The people throw them off only to find a lack of order and security and soon someone comes along promising to solve all the people’s problems. Before long the people realize they are back to a dictatorship. Such is the sad history of national governments. France has experienced this political pendulum swing several times in its history and we are seeing it happening again today.
Over the past few months, the European Union, the government consisting of 28 countries, has been holding elections for 751 members of its multi-national parliament. Establishment bureaucrats are shocked that the so-called far-right National Front party is making big gains in France, even taking the lead over the big two controlling leftist parties, the Union for a Popular Movement or UMP, and the Socialist Party. And so the pendulum is beginning to swing once again. The people are tired of uncontrolled borders, policies for nations being made in Brussels, the headquarters of the EU, and they are demanding dissolution of the multi-national currency. They are experiencing the actions of a run-a-way government too distant to control and too big to change. It is the same kinds of things that caused America’s Founders to become frustrated with King George. But the Founders knew more about the proper political spectrum and how to solve the problems than most leaders today.
What is Left, What is Right?
It is extremely unfortunate that the writers on political philosophy today have undertaken to measure various issues in terms of political parties instead of political power. No doubt the American Founding Fathers would have considered this modern measuring stick most objectionable, even meaningless.
Today it is popular in the classroom as well as the press to refer to “Communism on the left,” and “Fascism on the right.” People and parties are often called “Leftist,” or “Rightist.” The public do not really understand what they are talking about.
These terms actually refer to the manner in which the various parties are seated in the parliaments of Europe. The radical revolutionaries (usually the Communists) occupy the far left and the military dictatorships (such as the Fascists) are on the far right. Other parties are located in between. Today in France, for example, the UMP is often referred to a “center-right” and the Socialist Party as “center-left.” Some sources list as many as 27 political parties in France including the Centrist Alliance, Communists, Democratic Socialist, Christian Socialists, Popular Republican, Populist, Progressive, etc.
Measuring people and issues in terms of political parties has turned out to be philosophically fallacious if not totally misleading. This is because the platforms or positions of political parties are often superficial and structured on shifting sand. The platform of a political party of one generation can hardly be recognized by the next. Furthermore, Communism and Fascism turned out to be different names for approximately the same thing — the police state. They are not opposite extremes but, for all practical purposes, are virtually identical.
The American Founding Fathers Used a More Accurate Yardstick
Government is defined in the dictionary as “a system of ruling or controlling,” and therefore the American Founders measured political systems in terms of the amount of coercive power or systematic control which a particular system of government exercises over its people. In other words, the yardstick is not political parties, but political power.
Using this type of yardstick, the American Founders considered the two extremes to be anarchy on the one hand, and tyranny on the other. At the one extreme of anarchy there is no government, no law, no systematic control and no governmental power, while at the other extreme there is too much control, too much political oppression, too much government. Or, as the Founders called it, “tyranny.”
The object of the Founders was to discover the “balanced center” between these two extremes. They recognized that under the chaotic confusion of anarchy there is “no law,” whereas at the other extreme the law is totally dominated by the ruling power and is therefore “Ruler’s Law.” What they wanted to establish was a system of “People’s Law,” where the government is kept under the control of the people and political power is maintained at the balanced center with enough government to maintain security, justice, and good order, but not enough government to abuse the people.
The contrast between Ruler’s Law (all power in the ruler) and People’s Law (all power in the people) could be graphically illustrated as follows. Note where the power base is located under each of these systems. Also compare the relationship between the individual and the rest of society under these two systems.
Can you recognize Ruler’s Law in today’s governments?
It is critical that people be educated to recognize the destructive elements of Ruler’s Law so they can immediately resist it and correct the course of government. This writer has found that instructing youth in these elements is particularly gratifying because they begin seeing what is really happening in America. Here are the basic characteristics of Ruler’s Law:
- Authority under Ruler’s Law is nearly always established by force, violence, and conquest.
- Therefore, all sovereign power is considered to be in the conqueror or his descendants.
- The people are not equal, but are divided into classes and are all looked upon as “subjects” of the king.
- The entire country is considered to be the property of the ruler. He speaks of it as his “realm.”
- The thrust of governmental power is from the top down, not from the people upward.
- The people have no unalienable rights. The “king giveth and the king taketh away.”
- Government is by the whims of men, not by the fixed rule of law which the people need in order to govern their affairs with confidence.
- The ruler issues edicts which are called “the law.” He then interprets the law and enforces it, thus maintaining tyrannical control over the people.
- Under Ruler’s Law, problems are always solved by issuing more edicts or laws, setting up more bureaus, harassing the people with more regulators, and charging the people for these “services” by continually adding to their burden of taxes.
- Freedom is never looked upon as a viable solution to anything.
- The long history of Ruler’s Law is one of blood and terror, both anciently and in modern times. Under it the people are stratified into an aristocracy of the ruler’s retinue while the lot of the common people is one of perpetual poverty, excessive taxation, stringent regulations, and a continuous existence of misery.
The Founders’ Attraction to People’s Law
The Founders’ goal was to have a government that protected the unalienable rights of the people and otherwise left the people completely free to do as they will. The government was not to become oppressive of the people. Thus they put into a written Constitution such concepts as separation of powers, checks and balances, limited delegated powers, etc., to keep chains around the structure of government to keep it from moving to the left or right along the political spectrum.
Jefferson described exactly the goal of the Founders when he noted:
“We are now vibrating between too much and too little government, and the pendulum will rest finally in the middle.”
In our teaching of the Constitution we like to call the position sought by the Founders on the political spectrum as the “balanced center.” It is balanced between too much and too little government. It is important to emphasize to our students of government that if they identify with the Founders’ positions on government they are not on some right-wing binge as some would attempt to label us, but we are actually in the “balanced center” of the political spectrum—right where the Founders were! It feels good to be a balanced person!
In direct contrast to the harsh oppression of Ruler’s Law, the Founders, particularly Jefferson, admired the institutes of freedom under People’s Law as originally practiced among the Anglo-Saxons. As one authority on Jefferson points out:
“Jefferson’s great ambition at that time  was to promote a renaissance of Anglo-Saxon primitive institutions on the new continent. Thus presented, the American Revolution was nothing but the reclamation of the Anglo-Saxon birthright of which the colonists had been deprived by a ‘long trend of abuses.’ Nor does it appear that there was anything in this theory which surprised or shocked his contemporaries; Adams apparently did not disapprove of it, and it would be easy to bring in many similar expressions of the same idea in documents of the time.”
Characteristics of the Balanced
Center position or People’s Law
Here are the principal points of People’s Law which the Founders recognized in ancient Israel and in Anglo-Saxon Common Law culture. Once again, as this writer teaches these concepts to seniors in high school it becomes very apparent to them how far we have slid from the balanced center. These concepts create a feeling of optimism and hope in the human heart and are really a part of the Biblical concept of “the perfect law of liberty.”
- They considered themselves a commonwealth of freemen which means that all are equal and have the same obligation to perpetuate freedom for oneself and all others.
- All decisions and the selection of leaders had to be with the consent of the people, preferably by full consensus, not just a majority.
- The laws by which they were governed were considered natural laws given by divine dispensation, and were so well known by the people they did not have to be written down in detail.
- Power was dispersed among the people and never allowed to concentrate in any one person or group. Even in time of war, the authority granted to the leaders was temporary and the power of the people to remove them was direct and simple.
- Primary responsibility for resolving problems rested first of all with the individual, then the family, then the tribe or community, then the region, and finally, the nation.
- They were organized into small, manageable groups where every adult had a voice and a vote. They divided the people into units of ten families who elected a leader; then fifty families who elected a leader; then a hundred families who elected a leader; and then a thousand families who elected a leader.
- They believed the rights of the individual were considered unalienable and could not be violated without risking the wrath of divine justice as well as civil retribution by the people’s judges.
- The system of justice was structured on the basis of severe punishment unless there was complete reparation to the person who had been wronged.
- They always attempted to solve problems on the level where the problem originated. If this was impossible they went no higher than was absolutely necessary to get a remedy. Usually only the most complex problems involving the welfare of the whole people, or a large segment of the people, ever went to the leaders of the nation for solution.
A Note on Political Parties
Notice that the elements of People’s Law do not include the influence of political parties. America’s Founders were well acquainted with political parties, sometimes referred to as factions and they gave specific warnings in regard to them. There is nothing wrong with people of like minds getting together to support correct principles of government. That is a human tendency. But when political parties are granted political power through laws, then political influence is exercised by unelected people and the contests become party oriented as we now see in Europe and in America. The Founders warned against this and we can see the damaging results testifying of the Founders’ wisdom.
Happy Fourth of July,
Earl Taylor, Jr.