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Mais Non, Mais Non (doot-doo de-doot doo)

I was asked by Gentle Reader Michael to opine about the recent referenda in France and Holland. The problem is that I really don’t have much of an opinion. I haven’t looked at the constitution in question, and what I know about it is fairly problematic. I get the impression that the French and the Dutch haven’t really looked at the proposed constitution, either, and that at least in France it was viewed more as a vote of no confidence in the government of France than in that of Europe.

You know, I like the idea of a Federal States of Europe. I like it both as a science fiction trope long past its prime and as a fascinating bit of evolving history. I like the idea of a counterbalance (and challenge) to the US both as an economic and a military superpower. I like Federalism, generally, and I think that in a lot of ways Europe is a terrific sandbox for playing with ideas that could ultimately lead to a useful World Government. The European nation-states have so many advantages already that they can afford some things that a pan-African, pan-Asian, or other massive geopolitical alliance couldn’t. Unmarked black helicopters with weather-altering devices, for instance. Hard to imagine a Federated South America getting those off the ground.

Seriously, though, there’s a difference between liking the idea of a Federated Europe and liking a particular constitution. As I say, I haven’t looked at this one, and I don’t have any ideas about it. It’s hard for me to imagine any remotely adequate constitution passing referenda in a lot of nation-states, though. Take the principled opposition, the xenophobes, and the conservatives, and add in the people for whom the constitution happens to dissatisfy them on their pet issue, and the people who will be persuaded by the fact that it’s just easier to knock holes in things than to build them, and you are already over fifty percent just about everywhere, I would think. Then add in the people for whom (as in France, I understand) a vote for Brussels would be scarily close to a vote for the incumbent, and you’ve got a good shot at sixty.

As a thought experiment, even given the disastrous state of affairs under the Articles of Confederation, do any of y’all think the US Constitution would pass a public referendum today if proposed as new? It’s a cobbled-together compromise, and I would guess that the conservatives (who worried at the time that the Constitution was a recipe for constant turmoil and change, and the eradication of the gentle guiding hand of the meritocratic state legislatures) and progressives (who would likely disdain to dirty their hands with several of the more disgusting clauses, such as the infamous three-fifths rule, not to mention the exclusion of a Bill of Rights) would keep the thing from ever getting close. And that’s not to knock the arguments. The conservatives were right; the Constitution was a recipe for turmoil, and did, over time, smash the power of the landed families who controlled the state houses. My imaginary progressives are right, too, and I myself, no proponent of clean-hands politics, would have some difficulty voting for the Constitution as originally written. It’s an awful, discriminatory document, which also happens to be an unimaginable work of staggering genius. It’s an astonishing breakthrough in governmental structure, and it protects some of the worst crap leftover from the pre-Constitutional era. And it does almost nothing to prevent real tyranny from slowly taking root, and my imaginary late-eighteenth-century progressive self might well have been sufficiently anti-tyrant to choke on the document as a whole.

And who knows? Maybe if Mssrs Jay, Hamilton and Madison hadn’t been so persuasive, or if the media for political discussion at the time hadn’t encouraged their kind of deliberation, the Constitution would have been rejected and the third try would have been even better. Hard to believe, but worth a thought.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,


Further thought experiments:

If we held a national public referendum (which I don't believe we have any mechanism for doing), would Congress or the state legislatures consider it something they have a moral obligation to follow?

Given that the 2004 election results were spun after the fact as a referendum on our Iraq policy, would any actual referendum be treated as what it claimed to be on its face?

On your first question, certainly not, unless of course it came out the right way. If it comes out against the party, it's poll-watching and pandering; if it comes out with the party on top, it's democracy. Right?

I'm more impressed that the 2004 election results (incumbent barely squeaks through) were interpreted as a mandate for a Social Security policy that the candidates both publicly repudiated several times. Now that's spin.

Maybe the political capital from the landslide can be used to get David his pony.

now i'll never get a pony...

Well, no, but at least we'll build a growing consensus that there's something wrong with the pony you aren't getting.

The pony would have died in 22 years anyway, and it would have cost a lot to feed, and wouldn't you rather have this nice private gerbil instead? It's sparkly!

i had an enron gerbil. it grew so big, it exploded!

Although they no longer are making the claim that your gerbil is a pony.

will your retirement rodents live long enough for you to eat them on a rainy day?

dear rodent advisor:
i want my rodent to grow large enough that i can ride it like a pony, but i know that rodents that grow too big aren't healthy... to eat.
signed, mwaaa ha ha ha

dear MHH,
the trick with having rodents for your retirement is growing them large enough that you can trade them in the near term for a larger species of rodent. after tending the new rodent, which may be a guinea pig, you would then trade for a larger rodent. perhaps a hare. currently the largest rodent available is the capybara, which can even be eaten during lent if you are in venezuela. i think it's safe to assume that market forces will cause the development of a larger rodent by the time you need to trade your capybara up. elephant naked mole rats or cloned mammoth chinchillas are only two of the possibilities.
keep squirreling it away, RA

Due to an administrative mishap, the comment between david's "enron gerbil" and my now incomprehensible response was deleted. Michael had said "Arthur Anderson says your gerbil is just fine." My "they" was Arthur Anderson, you see. It was funny because Arthur Anderson was ...
Oh, never mind.

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