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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The American Republic and Its Constitution.,
This review is from: The American Republic: Its Constitution, Tendencies, and Destiny (Orestes A. Brownson: Works in Political Philosophy) (Paperback)Written by former Transcendentalist turned Roman Catholic conservative, Orestes Brownson, _The American Republic_ is an inquiry into the nature of government, the formation of the Constitution, and the relationship between federal and states' rights in America right after the Civil War period. Orestes Brownson notes that he writes his book for all Americans but in particular for those who are Roman Catholic so as to understand their nation and its Constitution. As a Roman Catholic, Orestes Brownson bases much of his argument upon the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Suarez, Pierre Leroux, and Abbate Gioberti, the majority of whom were also Catholic Christians. The first section of this book deals with the origins and nature of government. Orestes Brownson notes that a proper understanding of government is possible only by recognizing that man is a creature endowed with certain characteristics, but dependent upon his Creator. Next, he considers eight different theories which are offered as explanations of the origin of government and the principle of sovereignity. These theories are listed as:
"I. Government originates in the right of the father to govern his child.
II. It originates in convention, and is a social compact.
III. It originates in the people, who, collectively taken, are sovereign.
IV. Government springs from the spontaneous development of nature.
V. It derives its right from the immediate and express appointment of God; -
VI. From God through the Pope, or visible head of the spiritual society; -
VII. From God through the people; -
VIII. From God through the natural law."
Orestes Brownson considers each of these theories in turn and shows how they are each problematic. In a subsequent section, Brownson considers the Constitution of government. Here he references the work of Traditionalist French Catholic, Count Joseph de Maistre, who wrote on the generation of constitutions and was a reactionary opponent of the French Revolution. Brownson argues against those revolutionaries who believe that constitution is determined by a social contract which is agreed upon as savages become civilized (such as the theory advocated by Jean-Jacques Rousseau). Brownson considers the sovereignity of kings and the Roman emperors and shows how they differ from the Constitution in America. Next Brownson turns his attention to the United States and its Constitution. In particular, Brownson examines the issue of Confederacy versus Union that was played out in the debate between federalist and anti-federalist and saw its realization in _The Constitution_ which superseded _The Articles of Confederation_. Indeed, it is the issue of states' rights which was to play such a large part in the subsequent Civil War between the Southern and Northern States. Brownson considers the issue of secession and shows how those in the Southern states believed themselves to belong to a Confederacy and thus believed that their states had the right to secede. Alternatively, those in the Northern states including then President Abraham Lincoln argued that the union must be preserved at all costs. Brownson shows how this preservation of the union occurred even at the risk of defying certain parts of the Constitution, at the same time as it was argued that it must be preserved. Brownson shows that since the member of the Confederacy of Southern States believed himself to belong to a confederacy and thus believed that his state had a right to secede from a confederacy to which it belonged he was not a traitor or a revolutionary since he acted within his beliefs. Brownson considers the reconstruction of the South and shows how the Civil War involved a conflict between different notions of democracy. The South represented an individualist (Jeffersonian) notion of democracy, as opposed to a territorial democracy or the socialistic democracy of those who wanted to preserve the union. The war was not fought over the issue of slavery contrary to what may have been believed in Europe at the time by those who advocated against slavery. Finally, Brownson turns his attention to the political destiny of the country. As a Roman Catholic, Brownson argues that religion must play an important role in the reshaping of the nation. After the Civil War, the entire nation emerged as a united people, and it is necessary for the Northern States to offer peace with those who they fought against in the South. Brownson remarks that the Catholic church is not to be united with the state, nor is the church to be subsumed under the state, but rather both must be allowed to freely exist. These remarks by Brownson are important for understanding his position and the position of the church regarding earthly sovereigns. This essay is an important contribution to political thought from a Roman Catholic perspective regarding the nation in America which had just undergone the turbulent struggle of the Civil War. In addition, this essay is important because it focuses upon an issue which was to continue to play such a large role in national politics, that of the rights of states. Much of the modern political debate can be understood in terms of this single issue.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great American poltical thinker!,
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This review is from: The American Republic: Its Constitution, Tendencies and Destiny (Hardcover)This book is the only one that can really convince you that Brownson ranks just below Tocqueville as a commentator on America. Lawler's introduction--A GREAT BOOK ON AMERICA IN ITSELF--is what will convince you.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Original Insights on American Order,
This review is from: The American Republic (Hardcover)Orestes Brownson's "The American Republic" deals with the reconciliation of law and liberty in the United States, whose constitution, tendencies, and destiny have come together through Providence to establish an order for the freedom of both individuals and the State. Although Brownson's arguments appear at times to be artificial or disingenuous (especially those that support a united Republic from which secession is necessarily illegal), the overall treatise offers the reader original insights on American order and the roots on which it is founded.
Brownson begins his essay with a maxim from the ancients that sums up all human wisdom: know thyself. Yet though "no one has more need of full knowledge of itself than the United States, and no one has hitherto had less" than the United States, which has lived the "irreflective life of a child." Brownson therefore welcomes the Civil War as a "severe trial ... to throw [the United States] back on itself and compel it to reflect on its own constitution, its own separate existence, individuality, tendencies, and end, ... to pass from thoughtless, careless, heedless, reckless adolescence to grave and reflecting manhood. ... [F]our years of civil war have wrought in the nation is great, and is sure to give it the seriousness, the gravity, the dignity, the manliness it has heretofore lacked" (¶ 16).
The author goes on to point out the long-standing tradition of ordered liberty, which began first with the Jews, the "chosen people of God, through whom the primitive traditions were to be preserved in their purity and integrity, and the Messiah was to come," and continuing through the Greeks, chosen by God "for the development and realization of the beautiful or the divine splendor in art, and of the true in science and philosophy," and the Romans, "for the development of the state, law, and jurisprudence" (¶ 18). The American Republic in turn "has a mission, and is chosen of God for the realization of a great idea" (¶ 19). It has been appointed the providential mission of continuing the work of Greece and Rome, while bringing out in its life the union of "authority and liberty, of the natural rights of man and those of society ... The American republic has been instituted by Providence to realize the freedom of [the individual and the State] with advantage to the other" (¶ 19). The American system stands at the pinnacle of civilization and is "better than monarchy, better than aristocracy, better than simple democracy, better than any possible combination of these several forms, because it accords more nearly with the principles of things, the real order of the universe" (¶ 24) through a written constitution that "retains all the advantages of the constitutions of states thus far known, is unlike any of them, and secures advantages which none of them did or could possess" (¶ 20).
The author goes on to examine the foundation for government, which is necessary for society, which in turn is necessary for man's nature. Of the origins of government, Brownson cites eight different theories, ranging from the paternalistic view to the social compact theory and the views that government derives from the people, from spontaneous development of nature, from the immediate and express appointment of God, through the Pope, or visible head of the spiritual society, or from God through the people or through the natural law. All of these problematic theories have been invented by political writers who failed to "carefully [distinguish] between the fact and the right" of government (¶ 40).
The written governmental constitution of every nation must conform to the unwritten "constitution of the state or nation." Whereas the former originates in law, the latter originates in historical fact and is "providential, given by God himself, operating through historical events or natural causes" (¶ 151). Every nation's written constitution must suit its unwritten state constitution, for "Where there is a discrepancy between the two constitutions, the government has no support in the state, in the organic people, or nation, and can sustain itself only by corruption or physical force" (¶ 192).
The written constitution of the United States must therefore accord with the unwritten constitution--"the genius, the character, the habits, customs, and wants of the people, or it will not work well, or tend to secure the legitimate ends of government" (¶ 192). Whereas the written constitution is "simply a law ordained by the nation or people instituting and organizing the government," the unwritten constitution is the providential "real or actual constitution of the people as a state or sovereign community" (¶ 227). The American written constitution conforms perfectly to the unwritten constitution and to providence. After the War for Independence, the States severally simply continued the colonial organizations, holding the sovereignty that was originally in England. There was one people "existing in distinct State organizations, as before independence they were one people existing in distinct colonial organizations." This, writes Brownson, "is the original, the unwritten, and Providential constitution of the people of the United States" (¶ 232). Brownson further argues for the place of religious faith in this unwritten constitution for the establishment of order and liberty in America: "Let the mass of the people in any nation lapse into the ignorance and barbarism of atheism, or lose themselves in that supreme sophism called pantheism, the grand error of ancient as well as of modern gentilism, and liberty ... would be lost and irrecoverable" (¶ 144).
Brownson defines the relationship between the states and the federal government in anticipation of his arguments on the invalidity of the arguments of the secessionists. He writes that the citizens of the nation constitute a sovereign power comprised of the general government for the United States and particular governments for the States, which have charge "only of the particular interests of the State; and the two together constitute the government of the United States, or the complete national government" (¶ 247). The secessionists, however, believed each State to be sovereign and thereby argued that secession was a right "inherent in the very conception of a sovereign State. Secession is simply the repeal by the State of the act of accession to the Union; and as that act was a free, voluntary act of the State, she must always be free to repeal it" (¶ 282). The refutation of this argument "is in the facts adduced that disprove the theory of State sovereignty, and prove that the sovereignty vests not in the States severally, but in the States united, or that the Union is sovereign, ... a real, living, constitutional union, founded in the original and indissoluble unity of the American people, as one sovereign people" (¶ 285). Brownson, in turn, argues that even if a State were to secede from the Union, it would become not a separate, independent sovereign, but rather, it would revert to its status as a pre-accession territory, for "the States acquire all their sovereign powers by being States in the Union, instead of losing or surrendering them" (¶ 294). The State of Texas, however, poses a problem to this theory, for as even Brownson concedes, prior to its accession, it was an "independent foreign state [that was] annexed as a State without having been first subjected as territory to the United States." Brownson nonetheless describes Texsa as "an exceptional case [that] forms no precedent, and cannot be adduced as invalidating the general rule" (¶ 294).
The author contrasts the political tendencies of the southern States with those of the northern States. Whereas the slaveholding States held to a "compact" view of government that focused on the right of each citizen to do as he pleased according to his individual rights, in the north, a view based on social rights and civil authority prevailed. A third notion of government, which Brownson labels as "humanitarian democracy," "scorns all geographical lines" (¶ 354) and leads to the "abolition of all individualities" (¶ 364). Brownson warns of the danger of taking the victory of the North to be a "victory for humanitarianism or socialism" (¶ 366).
Brownson concludes with an analysis of the political and religious destiny of America. He articulates a vision in which faith and religion are inseparable from good government: "Church and state, as governments, are separate indeed, but the principles on which the state is founded have their origin and ground in the spiritual order--in the principles revealed or affirmed by religion--and are inseparable from them. There is no state without God, any more than there is a church without Christ or the Incarnation ... Theological principles are the basis of political principles" (¶ 407).
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The American Republic by Orestes Augustus Brownson (Hardcover - January 1, 2003)