John C. Calhoun and the American System

The great genius of traditional American politics is an aversion to utopianism. It is very common to find Utopian ideas on the left, but they are also present on the radical right. Utopians generally assume that making a change in the external political organization of a society can eliminate all or most of the problems facing mankind. They think that if private property is abolished, or if suffrage is extended further, or if certain races are removed, then the evils of greed and corruption found in all societies will somehow disappear, or at least be reduced to a negligible level. Those who hold this attitude make the mistake of thinking that human suffering is caused by external institutions, not by the wicked hearts and desires of men.

Adopting a Scriptural anthropology inevitably leads to an anti-Utopian position, because God is quite clear that man in his fallen state always has a tendency to sin: The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked(Jeremiah 17:9), There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one”(Romans 3:10-12). We are even told that those who have been redeemed and given the Holy Spirit will continue to struggle against sin as long as they live in this world. As St. Paul says of himself, For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.  For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do”(Romans 7:18-19). Given this inner depravity of the human heart, it is complete folly to think that crime and other social problems can be abolished by transforming institutions, rather than men. The vices of greed, hatred and envy will be found wherever men live together.

It was largely because of the Protestant heritage of the earliest American colonists that our founding fathers framed a constitution that assumed the corrupt nature of men and therefore both built in a series of checks and balances to prevent the excessive accumulation of power in a limited number of hands, and also staved off chaotic mob rule by deliberately avoiding direct democracy. However, we must recognize that during the early years of the Republic, alongside the wiser attitude embodied in the Constitution there was sometimes demonstrated an unhealthy zeal for democracy and equality.

In his works on political science, the celebrated statesman from South Carolina John C. Calhoun (1782-1850) distilled the wisdom of the American political tradition and purified it of all lingering traces of egalitarianism. His two short works A Disquisition On Government and A Discourse On the Constitution and Government of the United States succinctly and clearly critique the dangerous tendency towards mass democracy that is currently bringing about the undoing of civilization. Calhoun’s is the purest and most potent American political philosophy, and as such should be mined by contemporary American nationalists who wish to change our current trajectory.

Calhoun begins his Disquisition with the simple observation that men are inevitably more concerned about those affairs that directly affect them.

“while man is created for the social state, and is accordingly so formed as to feel what affects others, as well as what affects himself, he is, at the same time, so constituted as to feel more intensely what affects him directly, than what affects him indirectly though others; or, to express it differently, he is so constituted, that his direct or individual affections are stronger than his sympathetic or social feelings. I intentionally avoid the expression, selfish feelings, as applicable to the former; because, as commonly used, it implies an unusual excess of the individual over the social feelings, in the person to whom it is applied; and, consequently, something depraved and vicious. My object is, to exclude such inference, and to restrict the inquiry exclusively to facts in their bearings on the subject under consideration, viewed as mere phenomena appertaining to our nature—constituted as it is; and which are as unquestionable as is that of gravitation, or any other phenomenon of the material world.” (Disquisition on Government, in Union and Liberty: The Political Philosophy of John C. Calhoun, page 18)

While this observation is incredibly obvious, it is practically denied by those Utopians who believe that private property can be abolished or that men can be expected to naturally vote for the common good, not their own personal advantage. In addition to the teaching of the Bible cited above, the self-interested nature of man is undeniable in every society of which we have any knowledge. The Utopian belief that men are not naturally self-interested is an irrational article of faith. There is nothing “scientific” about any form of socialism that claims to be able to abolish human self-interest. Animals down to the microscopic level display self-interest, so it is absurd to think that self-interest is caused by supposedly unjust or unnatural economic systems.

Indeed, if men did not have self-interest, there would be practically no need for government in the first place. It is mainly because men often pursue their self-interest through violent and treacherous means that governments are formed.

that constitution of our nature which makes us feel more intensely what affects us directly than what affects us indirectly through others, necessarily leads to conflict between individuals. Each, in consequence, has a greater regard for his own safety or happiness, than for the safety or happiness of others; and, where these come in opposition, is ready to sacrifice the interests of others to his own. And hence, the tendency to a universal state of conflict, between individual and individual; accompanied by the connected passions of suspicion, jealousy, anger and revenge—followed by insolence, fraud and cruelty—and, if not prevented by some controlling power, ending in a state of universal discord and confusion, destructive of the social state and the ends for which it is ordained. This controlling power, wherever vested, or by whomsoever exercised, is government.” (ibid., page 19)

Although governments are instituted to regulate the behavior of self-interested men, governments themselves are no more trustworthy than the individual self-interested men who compose them. This simple observation disproves the common statist fantasy that somehow the state is inherently more trustworthy than individuals. It is natural that men will use any authority granted to them to seek their own self-interest at the expense of others.

“But government, although intended to protect and preserve society, has itself a strong tendency to disorder and abuse of its powers, as all experience and almost every page of history testify. The cause is to be found in the same constitution of our nature which makes government indispensable. The powers which it is necessary for government to possess, in order to repress violence and preserve order, cannot execute themselves. They must be administered by men in whom, like others, the individual are stronger than the social feelings. And hence, the powers vested in them to prevent injustice and oppression on the part of others, will, if left unguarded, be by them converted into instruments to oppress the rest of the community. That, by which this is prevented, by whatever name called, is what is meant by constitution, in its most comprehensive sense, when applied to government. (ibid., page 20)

Therefore the starting point for theorizing about a civic constitution ought not to be an abstract concept of justice, but rather the realistic consideration of how best to balance the existing interests of individuals, classes and regions.

“Having its origin in the same principle of our nature, constitution stands to
government, as government stands to society; and, as the end for which society is ordained, would be defeated without government, so that for which government is ordained would, in a great measure, be defeated without constitution. But they differ in this striking particular. There is no difficulty in forming government. It is not even a matter of choice, whether there shall be one or not. Like breathing, it is not permitted to depend on our volition. Necessity will force it on all communities in some one form or another. Very different is the case as to constitution. Instead of a matter of necessity, it is one of the most difficult tasks imposed on man to form a constitution worthy of the name; while, to form a perfect one—one that would completely counteract the tendency of government to oppression and abuse, and hold it strictly to the great ends for which it is ordained—has thus far exceeded human wisdom, and possibly ever will. (ibid., page 20)

Truly constitutional governments, as defined by Calhoun, are therefore the exception in human history, not the rule. Thus when we, as American nationalists, urge the importance of constitutional government, we should emphasize that harmonizing competing interests is our main concern. Once we realistically accept the limits to social harmony imposed by differences in race, culture and religion, we can argue on purely constitutional grounds against multiculturalism. Given the difficulty of totally harmonizing the interests of any two men from identical backgrounds, it is absurd to suggest that the interests of hundreds of different nationalities unnaturally joined together under one government can be coordinated with justice and efficiency.

How can those who are invested with the powers of government be prevented from employing them, as the means of aggrandizing themselves, instead of using them to protect and preserve society? It cannot be done by instituting a higher power to control the government, and those who administer it. This would be but to change the seat of authority, and to make this bigger power, in reality, the government; with the same tendency, on the part of those who might control its powers, to pervert them into instruments of aggrandizement. Nor can it be done by limiting the powers of government, so as to make it too feeble to be made an instrument of abuse; for, passing by the difficulty of so limiting its powers, without creating a power higher than the government itself to enforce the observance of the limitations, it is a sufficient objection that it would, if practicable, defeat the end for which government is ordained, by making it too feeble to protect and preserve society. The powers necessary for this purpose will ever prove sufficient to aggrandize those who control it, at the expense of the rest of the community.” (ibid., pages 20-21)

Since neither expanding nor limiting governmental authority solves the problem, Calhoun concludes that distributing governmental authority amongst the citizens is the only logical option for preventing despotic abuse while at the same time maintaining justice.

“How government, then, must be constructed, in order to counteract, through its organism, this tendency on the part of those who make and execute the laws to oppress those subject to their operation, is the next question which claims attention. There is but one way in which this can possibly be done; and that is, by such an organism as will furnish the ruled with the means of resisting successfully this tendency on the part of the rulers to oppression and abuse. Power can only be resisted by power—and tendency by tendency. Those who exercise power and those subject to its exercise—the rulers and the ruled—stand in antagonistic relations to each other.

The same constitution of our nature which leads rulers to oppress the
ruled—regardless of the object for which government is ordained—will, with equal strength, lead the ruled to resist, when possessed of the means of making peaceable and effective resistance. Such an organism, then, as will furnish the means by which resistance may be systematically and peaceably made on the part of the ruled, to oppression and abuse of power on the part of the rulers, is the first and indispensable step towards forming a constitutional government. And as this can only be effected by or through the right of suffrage—(the right on the part of the ruled to choose their rulers at proper intervals, and to hold them thereby responsible for their conduct)—the responsibility of the rulers to the ruled, through the right of suffrage, is the indispensable and primary principle in the foundation of a constitutional government. When this right is properly guarded, and the people sufficiently enlightened to understand their own rights and the interests of the community, and duly to appreciate the motives and conduct of those appointed to make and execute the laws, it is all-sufficient to give to those who elect, effective control over those they have elected.” (ibid., page 22)

Note that Calhoun gives a very different rationale for the importance of suffrage than what is commonly heard from the left. Calhoun does not present suffrage as an inherent natural right, nor does he suggest that “the people” possess a wise “general will” that will inevitably tend towards justice. Suffrage, in Calhoun’s view, is necessary because it is a check on the self-interest of rulers.

However, suffrage by itself is not sufficient to form a healthy constitution, since it only transfers power from the legislators to the voters. Democratic voting is therefore not the fundamental feature of a healthy constitution, and it does not automatically bring about harmony in society. In fact, without further checks, democratic voting will tend to produce great discord.

The right of suffrage, of itself, can do no more than give complete control to those who elect, over the conduct of those they have elected. In doing this, it accomplishes all it possibly can accomplish. This is its aim—and when this is attained, its end is fulfilled. It can do no more, however enlightened the people, or however widely extended or well guarded the right may be. The sum total, then, of its effects, when most successful, is, to make those elected, the true and faithful representatives of those who elected them—instead of irresponsible rulers—as they would be without it; and thus, by converting it into an agency, and the rulers into agents, to divest government of all claims to sovereignty, and to retain it unimpaired to the community. But it is manifest that the right of suffrage, in making these changes, transfers, in reality, the actual control over the government, from those who make and execute the laws, to the body of the community; and, thereby, places the powers of the government as fully in the mass of the community, as they would be if they, in fact, had assembled, made, and executed the laws themselves, without the intervention of representatives or agents. The more perfectly it does this, the more perfectly it accomplishes its ends; but in doing so, it only changes the seat of authority, without counteracting, in the least, the tendency of the government to oppression and abuse of its powers. (ibid., page 23)

Rather than inevitably leading to harmony, suffrage inevitably leads to conflict and the attempted domination of one group by another. This speaks against the liberal view that man naturally wants to cooperate and will inevitably do so when given the maximum amount of freedom and is not hindered by oppressive economic systems. Increasing individual freedom can also increase the pursuit of conflicting interests.

“the right of suffrage, by placing the control of the government in the community must, from the same constitution of our nature which makes government necessary to preserve society, lead to conflict among its different interests—each striving to obtain possession of its powers, as the means of protecting itself against the others—or of advancing its respective interests, regardless of the interests of others. For this purpose, a struggle will take place between the various interests to obtain a majority, in order to control the government. If no one interest be strong enough, of itself, to obtain it, a combination will be formed between those whose interests are most alike—each conceding something to the others, until a sufficient number is obtained to make a majority. The process may be slow, and much time may be required before a compact, organized majority can be thus formed; but formed it will be in time, even without preconcert or design, by the sure workings of that principle or constitution of our nature in which government itself originates.” (ibid., page 24)

In order to avoid the evil of faction, society must be looked at not as a mass of disconnected individuals, but as a conglomerate of different classes or interests. Harmonious decisions are not to be made by a bare majority vote, but by the concurrent agreement of the different classes or functions in society.

There is but one certain mode in which this result can be secured; and that is, by the adoption of some restriction or limitation, which shall so effectually prevent any one interest, or combination of interests, from obtaining the exclusive control of the government, as to render hopeless all attempts directed to that end. There is, again, but one mode in which this can be effected; and that is, by taking the sense of each interest or portion of the community, which may be unequally and injuriously affected by the action of the government, separately, through its own majority, or in some other way by which its voice may be fairly expressed; and to require the consent of each interest, either to put or to keep the government in action. This, too, can be accomplished only in one way—and that is, by such an organism of the government—and, if necessary for the purpose, of the community also—as will, by dividing and distributing the powers of government, give to each division or interest, through its appropriate organ, either a concurrent voice in making and executing the laws, or a veto on their execution. It is only by such an organism, that the assent of each can be made necessary to put the government in motion; or the power made effectual to arrest its action, when put in motion—and it is only by the one or the other that the different interests, orders, classes, or portions, into which the community may be divided, can be protected, and all conflict and struggle between them prevented—by rendering it impossible to put or to keep it in action, without the concurrent consent of all.” (ibid., pages 27-28)

Imagine that within a certain country, 20% of the adult male population is made up of skilled craftsmen and 60% is made up of farmers. If there was a particular issue on which farmers and craftsmen were at variance (for example a tariff on a particular commodity), the farmers would always be able to dominate the skilled craftsmen at the ballot box. The number of farmers so far exceeds the number of skilled craftsmen that there would be no incentive for the former group to ever consider desires and needs of the latter. But in a system where each class or function within society has a veto over legislation, all interests would be forced to seek a compromise that would be acceptable to the entire community. Such a system of concurrent consent would also create stronger corporate identity and a stronger sense of belonging within one’s societal function. A man who is a farmer, carpenter, engineer, mechanic, etc. would self-consciously vote as a part of that social function, not simply as an isolated individual. Nor would this strong identity with his social function alienate him from the larger society, because it would reinforce the fact that no social function can subsist on its own, as each is but one organ within the organism of the nation.

Differences within society are based on religion, class, region or (most perniciously) ethnicity. This last mark of difference is one of the most destructive to harmonious government, and it is also completely unnecessary. It is inevitable that any state will have members of different classes performing necessary functions. A state must have farmers, it must have professional men, it must have skilled artisans and mechanics, etc. Because these different economic functions must exist within any state, any system of government must take them into account. But there is no necessity, and indeed no good reason at all, to have radically distinct ethnic groups within the same political community. Ethnic diversity can never make a positive contribution towards furthering harmony within the state, but it can always work against this goal. As Calhoun notes, developing a balanced constitution is a most difficult political task fraught with countless obstacles, so it is absolutely insane to introduce the further complication of ethnic diversity when approaching this task.

The failure to comprehend the difference between the numerical majority and the concurrent or constitutional majority leads to serious problems, for a system based on the numerical majority will invariably lead to the concentration of political power and despotism.

“there are two different modes in which the sense of the community may be taken; one, simply by the right of suffrage, unaided; the other, by the right through a proper organism. Each collects the sense of the majority. But one regards numbers only, and considers the whole community as a unit, having but one common interest throughout; and collects the sense of the greater number of the whole, as that of the community. The other, on the contrary, regards interests as well as numbers—considering the community as made up of different and conflicting interests, as far as the action of the government is concerned; and takes the sense of each, through its majority or appropriate organ, and the united sense of all, as the sense of the entire community. The former of these I shall call the numerical, or absolute majority; and the latter, the concurrent, or constitutional majority. I call it the constitutional majority, because it is an essential element in every constitutional government—be its form what it may. So great is the difference, politically speaking, between the two majorities, that they cannot be confounded, without leading to great and fatal errors; and yet the distinction between them has been so entirely overlooked, that when the term majority is used in political discussions, it is applied exclusively to designate the numerical—as if there were no other. Until this distinction is recognized, and better understood, there will continue to be great liability to error in properly constructing constitutional governments, especially of the popular form, and of preserving them when properly constructed. Until then, the latter will have a strong tendency to slide, first, into the government of the numerical majority, and, finally, into absolute government of some other form. (ibid., page 29)

The growth of absolute government can come about through conflating the numerical majority with “the people,” and then conflating “the people” with the government itself.

The first and leading error which naturally arises from overlooking the distinction referred to, is, to confound the numerical majority with the people; and this so completely as to regard them as identical. This is a consequence that necessarily results from considering the numerical as the only majority. All admit, that a popular government, or democracy, is the government of the people; for the terms imply this. A perfect government of the kind would be one which would embrace the consent of every citizen or member of the community; but as this is impracticable, in the opinion of those who regard the numerical as the only majority, and who can perceive no other way by which the sense of the people can be taken—they are compelled to adopt this as the only true basis of popular government, in contradistinction to governments of the aristocratical or monarchical form.

Being thus constrained, they are, in the next place, forced to regard the numerical majority, as, in effect, the entire people; that is, the greater part as the whole; and the government of the greater part as the government of the whole. It is thus the two come to be confounded, and a part made identical with the whole. And it is thus, also that all the rights, powers, and immunities of the whole people come to be attributed to the numerical majority; and, among others, the supreme, sovereign authority of establishing and abolishing governments at pleasure.

This radical error, the consequence of confounding the two, and of regarding the numerical as the only majority, has contributed more than any other cause, to prevent the formation of popular constitutional governments—and to destroy them even when they have been formed. It leads to the conclusion that, in their formation and establishment nothing more is necessary than the right of suffrage—and the allotment to each division of the community a representation in the government, in proportion to numbers. If the numerical majority were really the people; and if, to take its sense truly, were to take the sense of the people truly, a government so constituted would be a true and perfect model of a popular constitutional government; and every departure from it would detract from its excellence. But, as such is not the case—as the numerical majority, instead of being the people, is only a portion of them—such a government, instead of being a true and perfect model of the people’s government, that is, a people self-governed, is but the government of a part, over a part—the major over the minor portion.” (ibid., pages 29-30)

This error is readily seen in American politics where a candidate who slips into office with the approval of less than 50% of the population claims to represent the “will of the people.” Relying on a bare majority or even plurality does much to conceal the strong and dangerous divisions within a society. Allowing these divisions to fester quietly might preserve calm for a time, but it will inevitably bring about a serious rupture in the future.

The next error identified by Calhoun is one commonly found amongst contemporary American conservatives: placing inordinate importance on a written constitution while ignoring the true mechanisms of power.

“There is another error, of a kindred character, whose influence contributes much to the same results: I refer to the prevalent opinion, that a written constitution, containing suitable restrictions on the powers of government, is sufficient, of itself, without the aid of any organism—except such as is necessary to separate its several departments, and render them independent of each other—to counteract the tendency of the numerical majority to oppression and the abuse of power.

A written constitution certainly has many and considerable advantages; but it is a great mistake to suppose, that the mere insertion of provisions to restrict and limit the powers of the government, without investing those for whose protection they are inserted with the means of enforcing their observance, will be sufficient to prevent the major and dominant party from abusing its powers. Being the party in possession of the government, they will, from the same constitution of man which makes government necessary to protect society, be in favor of the powers granted by the constitution, and opposed to the restrictions intended to limit them. As the major and dominant party, they will have no need of these restrictions for their protection. The ballot box, of itself, would be ample protection to them. Needing no other, they would come, in time, to regard these limitations as unnecessary and improper restraints—and endeavor to elude them, with the view of increasing their power and influence.” (ibid., pages 30-31)

Rights that are not exercised by the people will become non-existent, even if they are enshrined in a written constitution. Thus the conservatives who speak of “restoring the Constitution” without first converting the people and restoring local institutions are similar to the leftists who call for a top-down transformation of society. A realistic understanding of human interests and human behavior must be the starting point of all political reform. No ruling power will pay attention to rights of the people that exist only on paper.

Calhoun stresses that a constitutional government based on rule by concurrent majority makes the good of the nation the central focus and goal of political activity. If each faction has a veto power, it is legally impossible for one faction to gain political ascendancy over another, and therefore the success of each faction is tied to the success of all others.

“The concurrent majority…tends to unite the most opposite and conflicting interests, and to blend the whole in one common attachment to the country. By giving to each interest, or portion, the power of self-protection, all strife and struggle between them for ascendency, is prevented; and, thereby, not only every feeling calculated to weaken the attachment to the whole is suppressed, but the individual and the social feelings are made to unite in one common devotion to country. Each sees and feels that it can best promote its own prosperity by conciliating the goodwill, and promoting the prosperity of the others. And hence, there will be diffused throughout the whole community kind feelings between its different portions; and, instead of antipathy, a rivalry amongst them to promote the interests of each other, as far as this can be done consistently with the interest of all. Under the combined influence of these causes, the interests of each would be merged in the common interests of the whole; and thus, the community would become a unit, by becoming the common centre of attachment of all its parts. And hence, instead of faction, strife, and struggle for party ascendency, there would be patriotism, nationality, harmony, and a struggle only for supremacy in promoting the common good of the whole.” (ibid., page 38)

Calhoun wisely goes on to clarify that although constitutional government is of great advantage, it does not by itself guarantee a high-functioning society. In his Disquisition Calhoun rejects the most dangerous of Utopian errors that plague both the left and the mainstream right in our own day: the belief that institutions determine a nation’s moral character, the belief that liberty is a universal human right, the belief that liberty and equality are inseparable, and the belief in human equality. Although the left and the mainstream right will argue endlessly about minor details, they both accept many of these false beliefs. Many on the left and right actually think that they can take a backwards country like Afghanistan and turn it into either a workers paradise or an American-style constitutional republic. They are both wrong because the racial and cultural makeup of the population of Afghanistan will determine the character of the society, not external institutional forms.

“A community may possess all the necessary moral qualifications, in so high a degree, as to be capable of self-government under the most adverse circumstances; while, on the other hand, another may be so sunk in ignorance and vice, as to be incapable of forming a conception of liberty, or of living, even when most favored by circumstances, under any other than an absolute and despotic government.” (ibid., page 40)

“A constitution, to succeed, must spring from the bosom of the community, and be adapted to the intelligence and character of the people, and all the multifarious relations, internal and external, which distinguish one people from another. If it do not, it will prove, in practice, to be, not a constitution, but a cumbrous and useless machine, which must be speedily superseded and laid aside, for some other more simple, and better suited to their condition.” (ibid., page 51)

In other words, in order to be a stable and profitable system, a written constitution must be an organic outgrowth of the racial and cultural constitution of the nation. As we have seen from the process of decolonization during the 20th century, non-white nations around the globe reverted to their native customs and behaviors despite decades or centuries of European rule. Their ignorant and vicious populations dictate that the old European institutions cannot persist once the race that authored them has withdrawn.

it is a great and dangerous error to suppose that all people are equally entitled to liberty. It is a reward to be earned, not a blessing to be gratuitously lavished on all alike—a reward reserved for the intelligent, the patriotic, the virtuous and deserving—and not a boon to be bestowed on a people too ignorant, degraded and vicious, to be capable either of appreciating or of enjoying it. Nor is it any disparagement to liberty, that such is, and ought to be the case. On the contrary, its greatest praise—its proudest distinction is, that an all-wise Providence has reserved it, as the noblest and highest reward for the development of our faculties, moral and intellectual. A reward more appropriate than liberty could not be conferred on the deserving—nor a punishment inflicted on the undeserving more just, than to be subject to lawless and despotic rule. This dispensation seems to be the result of some fixed law—and every effort to disturb or defeat it, by attempting to elevate a people in the scale of liberty, above the point to which they are entitled to rise, must ever prove abortive, and end in disappointment.” (ibid., page 41)

Every effort to “spread democracy” abroad has amply vindicated Calhoun’s judgment on this topic. Liberty, properly understood, is an exclusive property of morally advanced Western, Christian nations. It is an aspirational goal, not a fundamental right. Liberty cannot be communicated from one nation to another any more than personal virtue can be communicated from one individual to another.

“There is another error, not less great and dangerous, usually associated with the one which has just been considered. I refer to the opinion, that liberty and equality are so intimately united, that liberty cannot be perfect without perfect equality. That they are united to a certain extent—and that equality of citizens, in the eyes of the law, is essential to liberty in a popular government, is conceded. But to go further, and make equality of condition essential to liberty, would be to destroy both liberty and progress. The reason is, that inequality of condition, while it is a necessary consequence of liberty, is, at the same time, indispensable to progress. In order to understand why this is so, it is necessary to bear in mind, that the main spring to progress is, the desire of individuals to better their condition; and that the strongest impulse which can be given to it is, to leave individuals free to exert themselves in the manner they may deem best for that purpose, as far at least as it can be done consistently with the ends for which government is ordained—and to secure to all the fruits of their exertions.” (ibid., page 41)

Destroying liberty by demanding equality of outcome has become ever more fashionable on the mainstream left in recent years. While many mainstream conservatives are hostile to the demand of equality of outcome, they are unable to adequately explain why equality of outcome is never seen. Inequality of outcome is largely explained by inborn human differences, and until mainstream conservatives stop lying to themselves and others about this issue they will never make any progress. In countering the dogma of equality, Calhoun also attacks the false idea inherited from the Enlightenment that there ever was a “state of nature” in which men lived prior to the creation of society.

These great and dangerous errors [the necessity of equality for liberty] have their origin in the prevalent opinion that all men are born free and equal—than which nothing can be more unfounded and false. It rests upon the assumption of a fact, which is contrary to universal observation, in whatever light it may be regarded. It is, indeed, difficult to explain how an opinion so destitute of all sound reason, ever could have been so extensively entertained, unless we regard it as being confounded with another, which has some semblance of truth—but which, when properly understood, is not less false and dangerous. I refer to the assertion, that all men are equal in the state of nature; meaning, by a state of nature, a state of individuality, supposed to have existed prior to the social and political state; and in which men lived apart and independent of each other. If such a state ever did exist, all men would have been, indeed, free and equal in it; that is, free to do as they pleased, and exempt from the authority or control of others—as, by supposition, it existed anterior to society and government. But such a state is purely hypothetical. It never did, nor can exist; as it is inconsistent with the preservation and perpetuation of the race. It is, therefore, a great misnomer to call it the state of nature. Instead of being the natural state of man, it is, of all conceivable states, the most opposed to his nature—most repugnant to his feelings, and most incompatible with his wants. His natural state is, the social and political—the one for which his Creator made him, and the only one in which he can preserve and perfect his race. As, then, there never was such a state as the, so called, state of nature, and never can be, it follows, that men, instead of being born in it, are born in the social and political state; and of course, instead of being born free and equal, are born subject, not only to parental authority, but to the laws and institutions of the country where born, and under whose protection they draw their first breath.” (ibid., page 42)

Because God created men to be social creatures and all historical data show that men have always lived in societies, it is otiose to even use a hypothetical “state of nature” when considering politics, because such a “state of nature” is in fact incompatible with and contrary to human nature itself.

In Calhoun’s work A Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States he takes the theory outlined in the Disquisition and applies it to an analysis of the United States Constitution. He strongly argues that the government of the United States is founded on the principle of the concurrent majority, not the numerical majority.

“It is not an uncommon impression, that the government of the United States is a government based simply on population; that numbers are its only element, and a numerical majority its only controlling power. In brief, that it is an absolute democracy. No opinion can be more erroneous. So far from being true, it is, in all the aspects in which it can be regarded, preeminently a government of the concurrent majority: with an organization, more complex and refined, indeed, but far better calculated to express the sense of the whole (in the only mode by which this can be fully and truly done—to wit, by ascertaining the sense of all its parts) than any government ever formed, ancient or modern. Instead of population, mere numbers, being the sole element, the numerical majority is, strictly speaking, excluded, even as one of its elements.” (A Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States, in Union and Liberty: The Political Philosophy of John C. Calhoun, page 89)

Calhoun argues for this point by demonstrating the various forms of disproportionate representation that are built into the United States Constitution. Perhaps the most striking example of this is that each state has equal representation in the Senate regardless of population. Given the numerous powers vested in that body, it is clear that the framers of the Constitution did not envision a lawmaking process based on the will of the numerical majority.

As concurrent representation under the United States Constitution is mostly found in the powers of the various states, it is plain that our concurrent system is based primarily on regional differences, not social function. Therefore the Constitution could be amended to provide an even greater degree of concurrent decision making by taking class and social function into account. This would be especially helpful in bridling the influence of the money power that has come to increasingly dominate American political life. Such a suggestion, of course, would be met with firm opposition from numerous “constitutionalist” conservatives as being contrary to the original system set up by the framers. However, if we can demonstrate that in one important area the United States Constitution is based on concurrent rather than numerical representation, then we can easily argue that expanding the principle of concurrent representation beyond regional organization to social function is an organic development of the American constitutional tradition. This proposed change would be in strong contrast to the alterations that have already been made to the Constitution, which have largely violated its original spirit.

“[A]ccording to the fundamental principles of our system, sovereignty
resides in the people, and not in the government; and if in them, it must be in them, as the people of the several States; for, politically speaking, there is no other known to the system. It not only resides in them, but resides in its plenitude, unexhausted and unimpaired. If proof be required, it will be found in the fact—which cannot be controverted, so far as the United States are concerned—that the people of the several States, acting in the same capacity and in the same way, in which they ordained and established the federal constitution, can, by their concurrent and united voice, change or abolish it, and establish another in its place; or dissolve the Union, and resolve themselves into separate and disconnected States. A power which can rightfully do all this, must exist in full plenitude, unexhausted and unimpaired; for no higher act of sovereignty can be conceived. (ibid., page 134)

Calhoun’s political thought retains the very best of the American political tradition while casting off the most dangerous egalitarian and Enlightenment ideas that certain of the founding fathers embraced. He is  an original, distinctively American reactionary thinker. With his realist anthropology and his firm position on ultimate political sovereignty resting in the people of the American nation, he provides an excellent starting point for the development of a radical Americanism that is both traditional and future oriented.

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