The people’s power … and its proper restraint

Hillsdale College president Larry Arnn‘s latest book, The Founders’ Key, attempts to re-establish the “divine and natural connection” between the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution — a bond Arnn describes as severed by years of misguided historical scholarship.

One interesting element of Arnn’s argument is his discussion of the way the Constitution handles the American people’s sovereignty:

When the people are sovereign, they are the strongest force, and nothing can stand up to them. Anything in the way of separation of powers tends to collapse. The executive and the judiciary bow before the superior strength of the sovereign majority, and the next thing you know some minority is being oppressed.

In the colonies, and later most famously in the Constitution of the United States, separation of powers is taken to a high state of perfection. And in the Constitution, separation of powers is strengthened by the fact that the government is purely representative. The people, there can be no doubt, are sovereign, but they do not occupy any place in the government. There they can only delegate their powers in pieces: some of the powers to one branch, some of the powers to another branch, some of the powers to local government, and some of the powers to the state and federal governments. There is great safety in delegating the strength of government force in this way.

Later in the book, Arnn adds:

Representative government places ultimate authority outside the government, which restrains both the government and the governed. In such a system, citizens have endless opportunity to talk, but they may act only on certain occasions. They are encouraged, therefore, to think, and to think together, before they act. The same restraints operate inside the government to encourage statesmen and citizens to the same habits.

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