Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Adam Smith and slavery

Liberals love to give scathing denunciations of plantation slavery (denunciations I agree with), as well as declare their support of socialism and communism (which I don't agree with). But therein lies an interesting contradiction: Socialism and communism are both organized assaults on economic freedom, which is a feature that they share with plantation slavery.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Some fun facts about our solar system

Most of us know that the years on other planets seldom (if ever) correspond to the years on our own. Here are some fun facts about the years of our solar system's outer planets:

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Montesquieu quoted in Federalist Papers: “Confederate republics”


During the debates over whether or not to ratify the United States Constitution, both sides in the debate quoted from a French philosopher named Montesquieu. They did so in an attempt to show that their views conformed more with Montesquieu's than their opponents' views did. (This might aptly be compared to different religious groups claiming to have better conformity with scripture than rival religious groups have.)

There were Founding Fathers on both sides of the ratification debates - which could have gone either way, as they were close and hard-fought. But among the ones on the pro-Constitution side were Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, two of the most prestigious. These two men co-wrote a series of articles that we today call "The Federalist Papers," in which they use Montesquieu's name no less than 12 times. This post, strictly speaking, is not about either Montesquieu or the Founding Fathers per se; but about Montesquieu's influence on the Founding Fathers, as evidenced by what these two particular Founders (Hamilton and Madison) said about him in the Federalist Papers.

Title page of the Federalist Papers (first printing)

I have divided this blog post into two parts, because I discovered when writing it that there was enough material for two separate blog posts. This part is the first half, dealing with the topic of "confederate republics" (a major source of interest at the time of the ratification debates), and how Montesquieu influenced our Founding Fathers on this topic. The second half deals with the topic of separation of powers, where Montesquieu did his most famous work; and how he influenced our Founding Fathers with regards to this topic.

Montesquieu quoted in Federalist Papers: Separation of powers

This post is the last half of a two-part blog post. To see the first half, click here.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A review of PBS’s “Benjamin Franklin” movie

"Neither of the two Parties [France or America] shall conclude either Truce or Peace with Great Britain, without the formal consent of the other first obtain'd; and they mutually engage not to lay down their arms, until the Independence of the united states shall have been formally or tacitly assured by the Treaty or Treaties that shall terminate the War."

- "Treaty of Alliance between the United States and France," Article 8 (6 February 1778)

He is one of the most respected Founding Fathers in America, but spent most of his life patriotic to Great Britain. He spent his later years warring against Great Britain, but had a son that was loyal to the Empire. He wrote an autobiography that is a classic of American literature, but did not discuss his Founding Father accomplishments in it at all.

The man is Benjamin Franklin, and he is still today one of the most respected men in our history. His autobiography was one of the first American books to be taken seriously by Europeans as literature; yet he does not discuss in it his role in the Declaration of Independence, the treaty of alliance with France, the peace treaty with Britain, or the United States Constitution. Why is this? Quite simply, it's because these were in the later portion of his life; and his autobiography deals mainly with the early portion. He didn't finish his autobiography, because old age caught up with him before he could; but his later years are well-covered in his own diary, and allow modern storytellers to finish the biography for him. One of those modern storytellers is a team at PBS, which made a documentary about his life - the film that I will review now.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A review of PBS’s “Alexander Hamilton” documentary

He was one of America's Founding Fathers, but was born on the Caribbean island of Nevis - far away from the country he would help found. He was one of the most self-made men in America, but owed much of his career success to the generous help of someone else. And he died young while fighting a duel in his late forties, but had a great life of massive accomplishment despite this.

The man was Alexander Hamilton, and he was a tremendously obstinate man who made as many enemies as friends; but who led one of the most remarkable lives in American history despite this. He was a brilliant man, and he knew it; possessing enough ego to sink a battleship; but he was a deeply good man as well, and always wanted what was best for his country. PBS's documentary about him is among the best that they've aired, and so I thought I'd offer a review of it here, for those interested in this amazing man.

Friday, January 9, 2015

A review of PBS's “Nixon” movie

"I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interest of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad. To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home.

Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office."

- Richard Nixon, in a speech given in the Oval Office (8 August 1974)

Richard Nixon

Nixon was never actually impeached ...

There have been only two impeachments in the entire history of America - but contrary to popular perception, Richard Nixon actually wasn't one of them. He was credibly threatened with impeachment, which was what caused him to become the only American president ever to resign from office. But he was never actually impeached; as the only two presidents to do that were Lincoln's successor Andrew Johnson and the more recent president Bill Clinton. To "impeach" means to bring charges against someone; which in the United States can only be done by the House of Representatives. But the trying of the impeachments - and the power to remove presidents from office upon conviction - belongs exclusively to the Senate.

Andrew Johnson

Bill Clinton

... but Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were

Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached by the House, but survived removal from office in the Senate - in Andrew Johnson's case, by only one vote. But Richard Nixon was never actually impeached. Unlike with the other two, though, there would have been enough votes in both Houses to remove Nixon from office, and Nixon knew it - which was why Nixon became the first (and to date, the only) president ever to resign from office. It was a shocking thing for the American public, and a dubious distinction that has followed Nixon (with some appropriateness) to his grave.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The price of being dumb (and voting for Obama)

To every thinking person,
It must seem a little strange
That so many could be fooled
By words like "hope" and "change."

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Reflections on learning about history of Ancient Rome

"The great historian Edward Gibbon was right when he said that the story of the fall of the Empire was 'simple and obvious' and that therefore 'instead of inquiring why the Roman Empire was destroyed, we should rather be surprised that it had subsisted so long.' "

- D. Brendan Nagle's "Ancient Rome: A History" (published 2010), pages 309-310 - quoting Edward Gibbon's "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," Volume IV (published 1788-1789)

So I recently finished reading a textbook about the history of Ancient Rome. (Any observations about my being a shameless nerd are readily agreed with.)

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