Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Some social scientists divide social reform movements into two major groups, which we might call "Externalists" and "Internalists."
Externalists think reform is a matter of changing institutions. If the laws that govern us are "improved," society will function more smoothly.
Internalists, however, believe that human nature is what drives society and that external rules must conform to that innate nature or ultimately fail.
Both groups do think laws can change behavior, but differ on how long or effectively they can do that. However, a significant subset of Externalists believe human nature is not fixed, so society can change people themselves. This view is commonly called "progressive."
(Thus, Vladimir Lenin and his successors thought they could remake humanity into "New Soviet Man" by forcing Marxist theory on the Russian people. Communism's blood-drenched failure should have been a fatal blow to this view, but sadly, it wasn't.)
Be that as it may, a new book by talk-show host Mark Levin, a conservative for whom the word "acerbic" appears to have been invented, presents an Externalist view of the Constitution.
Levin, who is most certainly not a progressive, favors the "original intent" of the Framers in creating a Constitution that would serve as a limit on government action.
They designed "checks and balances" to prevent "factions" from running wild by limiting them via constitutionally defined powers that were further constrained by the separate roles of the states and the inalienable rights of the people themselves.
However, Levin says that system has decayed to the point where "social engineering and central planning are imposed without end, since the governing masterminds, drunk with their own conceit and pomposity, have wild imaginations and infinite ideas for reshaping society and molding man's nature in search of the ever elusive utopian paradise."
So, he has proposed that the states use the power vested in them in Article V of the Constitution (which he calls "the Achilles heel of statism") to adopt 10 amendments.
Each would require the approval of three-fourths of state legislatures or state conventions, which would restrain a "runaway" process, Levin says. He believes the amendments would restore historic limits set aside by the pressures of war, economic stress and ideological impulse.
His book, "The Liberty Amendments," is already No. 1 on Amazon. In it, he says he isn't interested in "social issues" -- abortion, marriage, religious freedom, etc. -- that are among the goals of public policy, not the means to decide it.
Instead, he offers purely structural changes that are intended to reach "those of us who fear what is happening to our nation -- the increasing authoritarianism and abuse of the individual -- and refuse to accept these events either by pretending they are not serious or as the inevitable decline of a great republic."
His proposals would mandate term limits on Congress and Supreme Court justices (opening up an ossified, sclerotic system) and permitting a supermajority of Congress to overrule Supreme Court decisions (restoring to the people's representatives a role in constitutional interpretation that, in the view of many -- including Abraham Lincoln -- was usurped by the courts early in our history).
Other proposals would limit the federal government's share of the gross domestic product to 17.5 percent and cap income taxes at 15 percent of total income.
Another amendment would move Tax Day from April 15 to the Monday before Election Day, to let taxpayers connect their votes more directly with their tax rates.
Levin would also sunset every federal department after three years, requiring a vote to maintain each one; make Congress approve all agency-mandated regulations that cost more than $100 million; and allow states to overturn such rules or any federal statute if three-fifths of state legislatures agreed.
The goal, he says, "is not the dissolution of the federal government, but the true sharing of responsibilities -- and the kind of balancing and checking of authority necessary given the ubiquitous nature of the federal government. The states will actually have input into their own fate."
Levin would also authorize federal voter ID laws, offer more protections against eminent domain and, interestingly, further empower states by returning the election of senators to state lawmakers, something that the early Progressive movement outlawed via the 17th Amendment a century ago.
Some of Levin's ideas seem more practical than others, but his overall intent -- to restrain the ever-growing and increasingly intrusive and unaffordable nanny state -- is well worth support.
The dismal swamp of incipient "soft tyranny" we now inhabit, in which the government is trying to direct our lives "for our own good" (as if it could really do that), has to be stopped. Levin offers one route toward that goal.
Indeed, it may be that he offers the only way out of the velvet trap with steel teeth we are creating for ourselves.
M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: