Saturday, November 23, 2002

Hopeful Developments

As Collin writes of the possibility of a new French Revolution below, two other international developments give us hope for the continued spread of intellectual sobriety and political decency.

The first is a conference on the Federalist in Jerusalem reported by Peter Berkowitz in the Weekly Standard. The occassion for the conference was a recent Hebrew translation of the classic defense of the American Constitution sponsered by the Shalem Center, a conservative thinktank in Jerusalem founded by two Princeton graduates. The translation and conference come at a time when there is growing debate about whether Israel needs a written constitution to help it deal with its current problems of haphazard protection of individual rights, lack of clarity regarding the role of its supreme court and the status of judicial review, and the vulnurability of the system to manipulation by fringe parties.

Berkowitz reports that the historians generally took a perverse pride in the irrelevance of their knowledge, maintaining the inability of the Federlist to minister to Israel's current problems. So what else is new? But Berkowitz himself and others with some knowledge of the history of political philosophy defended at least the possibility of the timelessness of Publius's emphases on the importance of self-interest on human conduct, the principle that power stems from the consent of the governed, and the belief in the natural basis of freedom and equality. Berkowitz highlights the closing speech by law professor Ruth Gavison, a prominent member of the Left in Israel for two decades, who has taken recently to nettling her Left-liberal colleagues with her criticisms of the activist Israeli Supreme Court. Gavison made three important points in closing the conference: 1. Democracy has weaknessess and disadvantages that written constitutions are supposed to mitigate with remedies consistent with democracy. 2. Government's first duty, the protection of rights, is not achieved primarily with a Bill of Rights; it is achieved through artful institutional design involving mechanisms for the channeling of self-interest such as representation and separation of powers. 3. Constitutions must be forged from arguments among the representatives of competing groups that constitute political society and ratified by the people, not imposed from above. Smart lady.

The eagerness to debate the meaning of the Federalist and its relevance for one's life displays remarkable health and vigor, especially in the midst of such terror and tumult. We should be so lucky here in the U.S.

The second development to give us hope is President Bush's current trip to Russia and Eastern Europe. Bush seems to understand that it is important to show recenlty liberated countries that the United States, which stands for freedom around the globe, is their friend. Once again Bush is looking more Reagan-like; Reagan understood very well how important it was to encourage and support defenders of freedom throughout the world as the new biography of him by Peter Schweizer emphasizes. To this end, inviting Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Romania into NATO is entirely appropriate. If the U.N. will remain neutral in ranking the various kinds of regimes, then the liberal democracies of the world must support each other and defend freedom. Bush's warm reception in these recenlty liberated countries must be giving liberals fits; let's see how the New York Times responds tomorrow to Bush's triumph in Romania today.....


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