Popular Sovereignty

Depicted above is a painting of Charles II, holding in his left hand the “Orb of the Sovereign”, a regal ornament held by the monarch of England during the coronation process. The Orb symbolizes the power of the head of the Church of England. As the name suggests, the Orb belongs to the sovereign – and the only sovereign in a monarchy is the King or Queen.

Sovereignty is the highest authority within a nation. The American Revolution was fought, and won, for sovereignty. Popular Sovereignty is the idea that in a nation of free people, authority is vested in a government by the sovereignty of its citizens, not by a monarch, president, or any single person. As Americans, we consent to be governed. We have designed a system of federal, state, and local administrations that we willingly allow to operate on our behalf. We elect a president to represent us as a nation of sovereign people, and the president is beholden to each of us. We exercise our sovereignty through popular application. Our sovereignty is our birthright – it is instilled at birth, or “natural”, and cannot be taken. The only way we lose our sovereignty is by forfeiting it ourselves.

True conservatism is about safeguarding our sovereignty. After the Revolution, Americans were faced with the task of forming a new government. To function properly, a government must be the only entity that can exercise the authority it has, and it cannot have competition. We need a unified system of leadership, laws, property rights, and recognition on the world stage. Again, this is a concession of power we have made as Americans. Yet therein lies the greatest concern; If government is designed to have no rival, then how can it exist and we simultaneously retain our own sovereignty? The answer is also the mission of conservatism: limits on government.

Queue the Constitution. The Constitution is a contract. It is a written agreement between the people of America noting that, in exchange for our willingness to comply, the government will exist and function to our benefit. It also details the limit to which the government can act upon our authority – it is a safe guard. Everything about our government was designed to revolve around the constitution. Congress acts within its authority to craft common agreements between the people (laws), the President acts within his authority to execute these laws, and the Supreme Court stands by to interpret laws and action of the other two branches with the Constitution as a guide.

Perhaps one of the greatest features of the Constitution is its amendment process. A system by which we as a sovereign people can modify the authority we give to the government if it is agreed upon to do so – and amending the constitution is no easy process. It typically takes more than a simple voting majority. And the amendment process has proven its worth over time. As a country born from a previous world of kings and queens – the epitome of ‘big government’ – there were vestiges of abuse of centralized sovereignty that had to be corrected. In many monarchies, women were generally powerless and given no voice in the state’s affairs. Likewise, entire demographics of people could be subjugated to another – via slavery – simply because the monarch allowed it. After all, he or she held the sovereignty, not the citizens. But as America grew and the natural course and power of popular sovereignty took its course, great wrongs were righted. Slavery was abolished, and suffrage was extended universally. These achievements belong squarely and solely to the people through popular sovereignty and the recognition of the value of the individual, and were not achievements won by big government or collectivist attitude. More on the individual vs. collectivist mindset in posts to come.

Let’s take this opportunity to define ‘big government’. Big government is any system of government that acts without the consent of the people, or is unresponsive to the will of the electorate, or is inaccessible to those who wish to play a part within it, or constantly increases the size and scope of its own power. No certain amount of each of these characteristics is an exact formula for what constitutes big government, but they work in tandem – and always at the disadvantage of the citizenry. When government is allowed to continuously grow in size, it starts to act more independently of the citizens who give it power. Eventually, it reaches a point where it no longer needs borrowed authority, it simply makes its own. If history has demonstrated one lesson time and time again, it is that a government system will expand itself, and the worst abuses of human rights come at the apex of this expansion. The more power the government has, the less the citizens have.

Centralized power means fewer people are part of the decision making process. People in power abuse power. Thus, people in power are prone to abusing the decision making process. The ‘why’ here doesn’t matter. It’s the fact that big governments create the potential for the abuse of power that is the true enemy of equality, human rights, and justice. At extremes, big government has committed genocides (Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia) and apartheid (South Africa). Today, we see the expanding size of the American federal government take many opportunities to abuse the citizenry. Big government allows for special interests, back door deals, corruption, and crony capitalism.

Modern American society has numerous problems to address: hunger, medical needs, unemployment, education, environmental issues, energy issues, and institutional inequalities.

The liberal solution to each of these problems involves increasing the size of government. True leftist thought is devoid of innovation and reliant upon government solutions. People die and nations collapse when the field of solutions is narrowed to government action alone. Trying to understand the left’s justification of the necessity of continuing to increase the size of government to solve the ills of society is like looking through a glass darkly.

The conservative field of solutions is limitless, and clear. Conservatives want to see all of the aforementioned problems addressed, but offer solutions with limited government participation coupled with any number of what we, popular sovereignists, can contribute without giving up more of our personal authority. Conservatism embraces capitalism, innovation, philanthropy, charity, and open-source problem solving. Through conservative solutions, not only are society’s problems addressable, they are solvable.

The most illuminating example of this is told through the story of the American entitlement system. The last 50 years has seen exponential increases in growth to the size of the American federal government. Massive social entitlement programs have been instituted by various administrations to address issues like poverty. Don’t take my word for it, go ahead and look up exactly how much has been spent by the government on this effort – despite a stagnant poverty rate. Clearly, government entitlements are not the answer to this issue. The entitlement system has failed the people it claims to support and needs to be dramatically reformed and restructured. The narrative pushed by the left is that conservatives don’t want to support the needy. Nothing could be further from the truth, or more dishonest for that matter. Democratic politicians do a disservice to the classes of individuals they claim to represent by continuing to push this narrative while limiting the scope of the field of solutions. Here, the ‘why’ is clear: more money directly given to the government for entitlement programs (instead of given to philanthropies, charities, etc.) means more consolidated power. Never mind the failure of the entitlement state.

Problems such as these are the conservatives call to arms. The purpose of this blog, Popular Sovereignty, is twofold:

  1. Confront and dispel the narratives of the left about conservatism.
  2. Offer and analyze conservative alternatives to the left’s one-track, big government mindset.

The Orb of the Sovereign is in your hands.

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5 thoughts on “Popular Sovereignty

  1. “We know what works: freedom works. We know what’s right: freedom is right. We know how to secure just and prosperous life for man on earth, through free markets, free speech, and the exercise of free will unhampered by the state.” — George H.W. Bush 1989

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