Virtual Cantons RODERICk T . lONG
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Editors’ Note “Virtual Cantons” was published in the Proceedings of a Forum on the Subject of Constitutions, Free Nation Foundation, 2 October 1993, pp. 23-28.
The Problem of Structure What would the constitution of a free nation look like? In trying to answer that question we immediately think in terms of a Bill of Rights, restrictions on governmental power, and so forth. And any constitution worth having would certainly include those things. But if a constitution is to be more than a wish list, it must also specify the political structure necessary to ensure that these freedoms are not eroded or ignored. Consider the old Soviet Constitution, which guaranteed all sorts of fine-sounding freedoms for its citizens – but which in practice proved only an empty promise, since its interpretation and enforcement lay in the hands of an unfettered monolithic centralized state. Framing a constitution is an exercise in public-choice economics; politicians react to incentives, and so the political incentive structure must be designed in such a way that those in authority cannot profit by the aggrandizement of state power. Such was the intent of the Framers of the U.S. Constitution when they established the Federal system. Each branch of government was expected to be jealous of the others, and so to be motivated to serve as a check on their expansion. At the same time, the broad base of representation was expected to ensure that no special interest could succeed in manipulating the government. As we have since learned all too well, the experiment eventually proved to be a failure. Madison and his colleagues could not foresee the logrolling process whereby government branches and special interests (“factions”) that were intended to hold one another in perpetual check instead made concessions to one another’s ambitions in exchange for like concessions to their own. Yet some foresaw the danger; one Anti-Federalist poet, bemoaning the recent ratification of the Constitution, wrote:
In five short years, of freedom weary grown, We quit our plain republics for a throne;
Congress and President full proof shall bring A mere disguise for Parliament and King.