The Once and Future King - Encounter Books

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The Once and Future King

The Rise of Crown Government in America

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Publication Details

Hardcover / 416 pages
ISBN: 9781594037191
PUBLISHED: 04/08/2014

The Once and Future King
The Rise of Crown Government in America

This remarkable book shatters just about every myth surrounding American government, the Constitution, and the Founding Fathers, and offers the clearest warning about the alarming rise of one-man rule in the age of Obama.

Most Americans believe that this country uniquely protects liberty, that it does so because of its Constitution, and that for this our thanks must go to the Founders, at their Convention in Philadelphia in 1787.

F. H. Buckley’s book debunks all these myths. America isn’t the freest country around, according to the think tanks that study these things. And it’s not the Constitution that made it free, since parliamentary regimes are generally freer than presidential ones. Finally, what we think of as the Constitution, with its separation of powers, was not what the Founders had in mind. What they expected was a country in which Congress would dominate the government, and in which the president would play a much smaller role.

Sadly, that’s not the government we have today. What we have instead is what Buckley calls Crown government: the rule of an all-powerful president. The country began in a revolt against one king, and today we see the dawn of a new kind of monarchy. What we have is what Founder George Mason called an “elective monarchy,” which he thought would be worse than the real thing.

Much of this is irreversible. Constitutional amendments to redress the balance of power are extremely unlikely, and most Americans seem to have accepted, and even welcomed, Crown government. The way back lies through Congress, and Buckley suggests feasible reforms that it might adopt, to regain the authority and respect it has squandered.

About the Author

F.H. Buckley is a Foundation Professor at George Mason University’s Scalia School of Law. He is a frequent media guest and has appeared on Morning Joe, CNN, The Rush Limbaugh Show, C‑SPAN, NPR and numerous other outlets.

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Everyone knows how America came to adopt the separation of powers.

The delegates to the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 who drafted the Constitution were sophisticated legal theorists. They had studied “the celebrated Montesquieu” and wisely applied the French Enlightenment philosopher’s defense of separationism. “When legislative power is united with executive power in a single person or in a single body of the magistracy, there is no liberty,” said Montesquieu, and the American Framers would follow him and protect liberty through a Constitution in which a separately elected president, Senate, and House of Representatives would each have to consent before a bill was enacted.

I tell a different story. The modern presidential system with its separation of powers was an unexpected consequence of the democratization of American politics and not a prominent feature of the Framers’ constitution. It was a near-run thing, decided only on day 105 of a 116-day Convention. The delegates debated the selection of the president on 21 different days and took more than 30 votes on the subject. In 16 roll calls they voted on how to select the president. In six of these (once unanimously), they voted for a president appointed by Congress, which would have resembled a parliamentary regime. Once they voted 8 to 2 for a president appointed by state legislatures. On one thing they were wholly clear: they did not want a president elected by the people. That question was put to them four times, and lost each time.

The Framers wanted a government with a much weaker separation of powers. James Madison came to Philadelphia with a proposal that came to be called the Virginia Plan in which an elected House of Representatives would appoint senators, and the House and Senate together would appoint the president. Such a system would have more closely resembled the British Westminster system of parliamentary government, and the gridlock that characterizes Washington today would largely be absent. The party that won the White House would also have won the legislative branch, giving us the winner-take-all government of parliamentary systems.