Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Lessons Learned: Abuse of Government Power

Looking over the posts from the past week or so and the disclosure of the most recent in the George W. Bush administration's "long train of abuses and usurpations," in larger terms what can we learn from all of this?

One thing we can say for certain is that our current multiple crises serve as strong confirmation of the importance of our Constitution in preventing the sorts of abuses of governmental power we are now witnessing.

Yes, abuse of power - plain and simple. And this is a non-partisan point. It matters not if the perpetrators are Republican, Democrat, Independent, Red, Green, Blue, or whatever - if people in government use their positions in ways that attempt to circumvent the rule of law, regardless of the agenda, it is abuse of power.

Our forefathers knew the corrupting effect of power, and had a deep aversion to its unjust exercise. As Bernard Bailyn put it in his Bancroft- and Pulitzer-Prize winning 1967 book, "The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution":

“‘Power’ to them meant the dominion of some men over others, the human control of human life: ultimately, force, compulsion…. Most commonly the discussion of power centered on its essential characteristic of aggressiveness: its endlessly propulsive tendency to expand itself beyond legitimate boundaries….” The founding and framing generation held to "'[t]he general point … that the preservation of liberty rested on the ability of the people to maintain effective checks on the wielders of power, and hence in the last analysis rested on the vigilance and moral stamina of the people.”

Bailyn concludes, “The acuteness of the colonists’ sense of this problem is, for the twentieth-century reader, one of the most striking things to be found in this eighteenth-century literature: it serves to link the Revolutionary generation to our own in the most intimate way.”

Lessons of history learned, not (we hope) to be forgotten.

By: Michael Anthony Lawrence