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Jefferson And The Arrogans

Christopher A. Ferrara POSTED: Monday, November 8, 2010
"The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills."  -Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, January 24, 1814

Trouble with the Tenthers

( Even if their false principles are inimical to Catholic teaching, not everything the libertarians have to say is wrong.  On the contrary, a considerable amount of what they publish by way of critical commentary on the modern state is dead on, even if it is presented within the nest of self-contradictions that libertarianism, like all forms of liberalism, inevitably is. Take, for example, a recently posted article at that Austro-libertarian nerve center,, entitled “Getting Back to the Real Constitution?” by Kirkpatrick Sale, a non-Austrian who achieved lasting fame with his landmark critique of corporate as well as government gigantism, Human Scale.

Sale’s article makes precisely the same argument I made in my piece for The Remnant calling for a Catholic Tea Party movement based on the principles of Catholic social teaching: that the Constitution, including the Tenth Amendment, cannot save us from the Leviathan in Washington because the Constitution itself gave birth to that Leviathan by creating a central government for an unprecedented extended republic with authority over millions of people, vesting it with sweeping powers that would trump the authority of the states under the Constitution’s “supremacy clause,” just as the anti-Federalists predicted even before the document was ratified. As Sale writes:

Let’s wake up these “real Constitution” die-hards and the ardent “Tenthers” and tell them that it’s a waste of time to try to resurrect that document in order to save the nation—because the growth of government and the centralization of power is inherent in its original provisions. As the anti-Federalists were trying to say all along from the very beginning of the ratification process. Only when we get people today off this understandable but ill-fated track can we begin to open their eyes to the reality of our present peril: we have a big overgrown government because that’s what the Founding Fathers founded, and we won’t escape from it until we take the idea of secession as seriously as it must be taken.

Catholics cannot, of course, endorse secession as a remedy, unless it could be accomplished peaceably, for we follow the scriptural injunction to obey civil authority—even pagan emperors—in all things except sin, although particular unjust laws may be resisted.  Nevertheless, Sale speaks the truth when he remarks the obvious: that “the real Constitution” sets up a strong central government with supreme authority, which is precisely what we have today.  The constitutional acorn has grown into the federal oak.

Sales rightly chides “Tenthers” for their pious insistence that the utterly ambiguous Tenth Amendment imposes clear and strict limits on federal authority. The Amendment, tacked on to the Bill of Rights as a sop to the anti-Federalists, states nothing more than that the states retain the powers they have not delegated to the federal government, without specifying the powers they retained or limiting the scope of the powers they delegated.  As Sale notes, “the centralists agreed to it (and put it at the end of the Bill of Rights) because they knew that it was so unspecific, so merely rhetorical, that it was capable of any interpretation…” Merely rhetorical indeed, no matter how many “strict interpretations” Tenthers purport to find in selectively quoted, non-dispositive musings of certain Founders and Framers. served the truth by publishing Sale’s piece. But, in a typical example of what I call the consistent inconsistency of the followers of Mises and Rothbard, the same website features a number of articles on this issue by one of the most prominent “Tenthers” in America today, the libertarian polemicist we at The Remnant have dubbed Arrogans.  Arrogans is the former traditionalist and Remnant columnist who now ridicules this newspaper and the traditionalist movement in general as a bunch of kooks, while boasting of his own rise to fame in the libertarian “mainstream” where, he declares, he is “being greeted by thunderous standing ovations (I have the YouTubes to prove it)…”

The Church and the Libertarian

A Defense of Catholic Teaching on Man, Economy and State

Click HERE to see what all the fuss is about! 

As Arrogans recently wrote concerning The Remnant on his fan site (which currently features a photo of a Halloween pumpkin carved in his likeness by an admirer): “I much prefer to ignore this crowd [The Remnant], a crowd I can’t believe anyone is still reading, and which the great Michael Davies would have rebuked by now for all the silliness.” It takes considerable cheek for Arrogans, who never knew Davies, to pit him against the very newspaper to which Davies devoted his entire career in Catholic journalism. But then Arrogans is nothing if not superabundantly cheeky.  I would suggest that Arrogans get in touch with the editor of The Remnant to find out what Michael Davies thought of him and his imperious public dissent from Catholic social teaching. Hint: Davies did not have any thunderous standing ovations in mind.

By the way, while declaring that he prefers to ignore the Remnant crowd, Arrogans took the occasion to republish his “statement on Chris Ferrara,” which represents the fourth or fifth time He Who Receives Thunderous Standing Ovations has deigned to respond “just this once” to my objections—joined by those of at least a dozen other Catholic critics—to his sustained attack on papal teaching Saint Pius X imposed unequivocally on the Catholic conscience. Arrogans’s “response” is a piece of devious demagoguery that evades every issue and resorts to attempted character assassination. While Arrogans has shown himself to be incapable of a rational defense of his position, he does have a bright future in politics, either as a candidate or a writer of copy for attack ads.

Arrogans is a prominent contributor to something called the “Tenth Amendment Center,” a website whose operators proudly embrace the very term “Tenther.” An article on the site entitled “What is a Tenther?” explains that “A Constitutionalist and Tenth Amendment supporter believe [sic] that the U.S. Constitution is arguably the greatest political document man could devise.”  The author complains that “the Federal government has no business what-so-ever [sic] getting involved in these issues… the Bill of Rights is intended as a limitation on the power of the FEDERAL government ONLY, not the states…” Evidently, the Tenthers at the Tenth Amendment Center, including Arrogans, do not regard constitutional amendments after the Tenth to be part of the “greatest political document man could devise,” including the Fourteenth Amendment, which, in fact, makes the “privileges and immunities” of national citizenship applicable to the states as limitations on state power.  Oops.  (Funny, but Tenthers seem to have no problem with the Supreme Court, via the Fourteenth Amendment, compelling the states to respect the Second Amendment right to bear arms, as the Court did in the recent Heller decision, complaining only that the Court did not go far enough in striking down state gun control laws.)

Arrogans has (quite rightly) complained about irregularities in the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, but he somehow manages to overlook the massive irregularities in the ratification of the Constitution itself. First of all, the delegates to the constitutional convention, who had no real authority to bind the entire population of America to their decisions in the first place, simply ignored their limited commission from the Continental Congress, which itself had no real authority to bind the nation.

Instead of merely revising the Articles of Confederation as they were charged to do, the delegates in Philadelphia junked the Articles and devised an entirely new government on paper—the very government that now oppresses us. Then they bypassed the state legislatures that were supposed to ratify the document—but would never have done so, as the Framers well knew—in favor of “popular” ratifying commissions comprising a few hundred electors chosen by a mere 120,000 propertied males in a nation of more than three million people.

As Sale notes, Patrick Henry and other anti-Federalists objected to this substitution of “We the People” for the states as ratifiers, but to no avail.  One day three million Americans awoke to find that they had been made direct subjects of a central government “We the People” had never asked for and had no part in establishing, and which from its inception purported to exercise more power over them than King George ever had.

Now, absurdly enough, Arrogans and the Tenthers propose to resist that government on the basis of the very document that empowered it and gave it juridical supremacy over the states!  Good luck, fellahs. In typical Tenther fashion, Arrogans informs us that “if we are serious about limiting government, as opposed to giving pretty speeches and wringing our hands, we will have to make use of all the mechanisms of defense Thomas Jefferson bequeathed to the states,” including “nullification” of federal laws under the Tenth Amendment, which “to him [Jefferson] was the foundation of the entire Constitution.”

Oh come on. Jefferson is our savior from the federal government? The same Jefferson condemned as a Presidential dictator, a hypocrite and a Federalist turncoat by his own fellow Republicans?  Bequeathed to the states? Excuse me, but what standing did Jefferson have to “bequeath” anything to the states? Were the states his progeny? Was he some sort of semi-divine progenitor of nations from whom the Republic sprang like Athena from the Zeusian sinciput?

Let me point out a few historical facts about the man Arrogans and the Tenthers present as the apostle of limited government. First of all, irony of ironies, Mr. Limited Government did not even attend the Philadelphia convention of 1787 that “bequeathed” the Constitution of which he is supposed to be the definitive interpreter. While the delegates in Philadelphia were exercising their non-existent authority over millions of people behind closed doors, Mr. Limited Government was in Paris, helping to prepare the way for the dictatorship of the Jacobins while serving out the last days of his term as the decidedly less-than-diplomatic United States “ambassador” to France (succeeding Ben Franklin, the “electrical ambassador” who was instrumental in fomenting the French Revolution). Mr. Limited Government outrageously abused his diplomatic post by cheering on the Third Estate’s dictatorial usurpation of power from Louis XVI in declaring itself the National Assembly.

In July of 1789 Mr. Limited Government delightedly informed his fellow meddler in French affairs, Tom Paine, that the National Assembly had “set fire to the four corners of the kingdom,” would “perish with it themselves rather than relinquish an iota of their plan for a total change of government,” and “are now in complete and undisputed possession of the sovereignty…. They have prostrated the old government and are now beginning to build one from the foundation.” (Jefferson Cyclopedia, § 1729). But by whose authority had the National Assembly taken possession of “the sovereignty” that had been exercised by the King of France since the time of Clovis? Such questions did not trouble Mr. Limited Government, whose own Declaration of Independence had declared the existence of the several states and their governments without any mandate from rank and file colonials, most of whom wanted nothing to do with armed revolt against the Crown or submission to state governments and a Continental Congress “elected” by tiny rump groups in various localities.

Mr. Limited Government, flogger of his own escaped slaves, even had the supreme audacity to conspire with and render positive assistance to the Parisian insurrectionists, who would soon be committing genocide in the Vendée, by assisting Lafayette in drafting the Declaration of the Rights of Man (inspired by the Declaration of Independence) which the National Assembly adopted on August 26, 1789 pursuant to “authority” which, like the Continental Congress, it simply bestowed upon itself.

Would the French Revolution mean bloodshed? Not to worry, wrote Mr. Limited Government to Lafayette upon his return to the United States, for France could hardly “expect to be translated from despotism to liberty in a featherbed.” (Jefferson Cyclopedia § 4694). Mr. Limited Government even defended the early Jacobin massacre of priests and other prisoners in the Paris jails with these infamous words:

The liberty of the whole earth was depending on the issue of the contest, and was there ever a prize won with so little innocent blood?.... Rather that it should have failed, I would have seen half the earth devastated. Were there but an Adam and an Eve left in every country, and left free, it would be better than as it now is. (Jefferson to William Short, January 3, 1793)

What’s a little innocent blood when it comes to “the liberty of the whole earth”?  Like the broken eggs in Lenin’s omelet, the blood of a few innocents slaughtered for Liberty was a small price to pay in the view of Mr. Limited Government.

A few years later, during his first term as President of the United States, Mr. Limited Government would engage in the veritable conquest of the Louisiana Territory by purchasing it from Napoleon in 1803 and subjecting its inhabitants to the authority of the United States without their consent—an act he privately admitted he himself viewed as unconstitutional! (Cf. Brown, Constitutional History of the Louisiana Purchase, pp. 25-30). And, during his second term, Mr. Limited Government exercised outright dictatorial power by embargoing all overseas American shipping to the benefit of Napoleon, who had “saved” the French Revolution by making himself military dictator of France, soon to be Emperor. Mr. Limited Government would later hypocritically deplore Napoleon’s tyranny, but only after conniving with him to get Louisiana (agreeing to pay vastly more than Congress had authorized him to offer) and urging him to attack and re-conquer Haiti following the anti-slavery revolution of 1791-1803—the better to assuage the southern states’ anxieties about the future of slavery in America.  Liberty of white colonials from King George was one thing, but liberty of slave from master was quite another.

In retirement back at Monticello, enjoying the comforts made possible by his large retinue of heavily mortgaged slaves (sold off like chattels to pay his massive debts after he died), Mr. Limited Government proposed this limited government solution to the problem of slavery: a program under which “black slave children be taken from their parents at the age of five years, raised as wards of the states, and prepared for their pending expatriation by instruction in skills that would prove useful to them in their new homeland,” meaning Haiti among other places.

Deprived of their offspring, the slaves in America would soon be extinct. Problem solved! Writing to Jared Sparks, who later became President of Harvard, Mr. Limited Government defended his monstrous idea with a comment worthy of Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot: “The separation of infants from their mothers, too, would produce some scruples of humanity. But this would be straining at a gnat, and swallowing a camel.” (Jefferson to Jared Sparks, February 4, 1824).

That’s a curious reference to Sacred Scripture by the same supreme egotist who dared to rewrite the Gospel, “cutting verse from verse out of the printed book and arranging the matter which is evidently his [Christ’s]” in order to present what Mr. Limited Government considered the true teaching of Jesus, to be extracted like “diamonds in a dunghill” from the inspired text. (Jefferson to John Adams, October 13, 1813). Thus did Mr. Limited Government purge the New Testament of the  “pretensions… of those who say he was begotten by God, born of a virgin, suspended and reversed the laws of nature at will, and ascended bodily into heaven…” (Jefferson to Carr, August 10, 1787).

Now if, as Arrogans and his fellow Tenthers would have it, the only defenses we have against the encroachments of the federal government today are “mechanisms” supposedly “bequeathed” to us by the truly appalling likes of Mr. Limited Government, then we are well and truly defenseless.  Fortunately, however, we do not inhabit the cartoon world of the Tenthers and their superficial pop history view of human liberty. In the real world, our right and duty to resist the abuse of power by rulers of any kind has been given to us by Christ the King from the foundations of Creation, and the Popes and Doctors of the Church have developed an entire body of teaching concerning when and how the unjust ordinances of men may be resisted under the divine and natural law and the law of the Gospel. We have no need to consult the worthless opinions of Jefferson or the other tin gods Arrogans and the Tenthers invoke because they fear to invoke the true God, the ground and limit of all human authority, lest they lose human respect.

I have said it before and I say it again: Mere men called Founders and Framers cannot save us from the tyranny that threatens us. As this newspaper has always proclaimed, only true religion, right reason, and the divine and natural law—in a word, the Faith—can lead America on the right path, the only path that leads up, not down.  If the Tea Party movement embraces and advances Catholic principles that apply to all nations, confronting moral and social as well as economic evils, the victory its activism has just achieved in the off year elections will be only a prelude to what it could accomplish for the cause of liberty rightly understood.

Arrogans, being arrogans, professes that he cannot believe anyone still reads The Remnant. But that is why it is called The Remnant. “This crowd,” as he refers to us so contemptuously, continues to believe what the jeering galleries of the worldly wise, egged on even by Catholics like Arrogans, view as ridiculous and contemptible. Fools for Christ and sinners all, we believe what the Church prescribes for the salvation of both men and nations simply and only because it is true. Admittedly, however, we don’t have the YouTubes to prove it.

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