Special Interests, Good and Bad

I am indebted to my son for suggesting the theme of this post. Any failures of execution are mine alone.

There is a tendency to think of special-interest groups as “bad” things. But that isn’t necessarily so. As I pointed out in “The National Psyche and Foreign Wars,”

[t]wo, relatively small, interlocking groups of strong-willed individuals were responsible for the Revolution and the Constitution, and those groups were bound by two special interests (at least): independence from Britain (not a universally popular idea at the time) and freedom from Britain’s interference in the colonies’ commerce. (The second interest is a “bad thing” only if one view commercial interests as a “bad thing.” Unlike the historians of the Beard school, I do not.)

In sum, Americans — even those who disdain “dead white men” — owe what liberty they still enjoy to those “dead white men” who founded this nation and wrote its Constitution. The Constitution is not a perfect document because it the product of fallible human beings, and to assert that it should have done thus-and-such is to indulge in the Nirvana fallacy.

The Constitution represents compromises among special interests, some of them bent on preserving the institution of slavery in their own States. But, thanks to the framers’ understanding that the world changes, the Constitution could be changed — and eventually was changed — to codify the abolition of slavery.

Only a wise (and rare) élite could have done what the framers did in 1787. That the citizens of the United States, for a time, enjoyed the fruits of the framers’ efforts was due not only to those efforts but also to luck. The right élite appeared on the stage of history at just about the right time, and that élite’s wisdom managed to prevail for a while.

The framers’ work has been largely undone by a succession of special interests — Progressives, Populists, and their progeny — whose work continues unto this very day. Their stated aims are laudable, of course, but so were many of the stated aims of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, and Mao. Politicians and political movements should not be judged by what they promise, but by what they deliver. What has been delivered to Americans in the past century? The answer — less liberty and economic privation — is detailed in many of the posts linked below.

It is long past time for a new special-interest group to seize the levers of power and revive the Constitution.

Related posts:
The State of the Union: 2010
The Shape of Things to Come

On Liberty
Parsing Political Philosophy
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
Fascism and the Future of America
Inventing “Liberalism”
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Beware of Libertarian Paternalists
Secession Redux
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Mind of a Paternalist
Accountants of the Soul
Rawls Meets Bentham
Is Liberty Possible?
The Left
The National Psyche and Foreign Wars
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration

The Commandeered Economy
The Price of Government
The Mega-Depression
Does the CPI Understate Inflation?
Ricardian Equivalence Reconsidered
The Real Burden of Government
The Rahn Curve at Work