Sunday, December 28, 2014

A review of PBS's “Woodrow Wilson” movie

Disclaimer: I'm not a big fan of Wilson's presidency

Before I begin this review, I should give a disclaimer that I am not a big fan of Woodrow Wilson's presidency. His domestic policy is something of a prototype for modern big-government liberalism, and I would argue that his amateurish foreign policy in handling World War One virtually guaranteed that there would be another war later. But even bumbling incompetents can be interesting, and Woodrow Wilson has one of the more interesting lives in American history. Thus, I greatly enjoyed watching this documentary, and wanted to write a review of it here.

Yes, Woodrow Wilson predicted World War II – but so did J. M. Keynes

Woodrow Wilson accurately predicted a Second World War ...

In the years after the First World War, American president Woodrow Wilson predicted that if America refused to join the League of Nations, there would be a Second World War.

Woodrow Wilson

... but does that mean it happened for the reasons he said it would happen?

America did indeed refuse to join the League of Nations; and there was later a Second World War. Thus, it might seem at first glance that he was a prophet, or that World War II really was the result of not joining the League.

John Maynard Keynes predicted a Second World War, too, but for somewhat different reasons

But this is a problematic claim for several reasons - others, too, predicted World War II; and their causality claims were somewhat different. John Maynard Keynes, for example, predicted that World War II would happen if the Allies pursued reparations from the Germans; and he had much criticism of the League of Nations advocated by Woodrow Wilson. Even if accurately predicting the war comes from a genuine prophecy (rather than a lucky guess), that doesn't mean that the predictor's reason for why it happened is the true reason - causality is a little more complicated than that.

He never said that it would be because of the American refusal to join the League of Nations

I'll leave the discussion of causality to another post; and instead focus here on John Maynard Keynes' predictions - because if accurately predicting an event means that someone is right about why it happened, then John Maynard Keynes' predictions would prove Woodrow Wilson is wrong; and I will give the quotes to prove it now.

John Maynard Keynes

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Bill of Rights: historical context and strict construction

"The enumeration [or "listing"] in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

- Ninth Amendment to the United States Constitution (ratified 1791), a sometimes-forgotten amendment in the Bill of Rights

It's the most familiar part of the Constitution - the one that the most people can quote. It's the most disputed part of the Constitution - the one whose meaning is most debated. And it's the most tangible part of the Constitution - the one that writes into stone the rights we use every day, and which is thus easiest to apply to everyday life.

The Constitutional Convention

The original Constitution didn't have a Bill of Rights

The portion is, of course, the Bill of Rights; but it was not a part of the original Constitution at all. The United States Bill of Rights was the first ten amendments to the Constitution; and for those who don't know, an amendment is just another word for a change. The Constitution has been amended (or changed) 27 times since its adoption; and the first ten amendments written into it were the ones we today call our "Bill of Rights." They can today be seen in the context of the ratification debates; or the debates over whether or not to ratify the Constitution as the "supreme law of the land". The Constitution did not become law until it was approved by nine of the original thirteen states, and it was fiercely debated whether or not we should have this Constitution.

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