17th Amendment

Tam has a great essay assessing the damage.  I am no fan of the 17th myself, but tend to believe the pesky progressives were bound to create leviathan with or without it.  If we didn’t have the 17th amendment, I still believe we’d have a large and expensive federal government, but it would likely have been more difficult for the federal government to amass the power that it’s managed, and it probably wouldn’t have been able to amass so much of it.

The real problem is that our culture worships at the altar of democratic governance.  Power to the people, and all that.  Not enough stop and think that maybe the people, when they act collectively through voting, are actually pretty collectively stupid.

5 thoughts on “17th Amendment”

  1. I’m afraid I have to disagree, Sebastian.

    Direct election removed, at worst, a whole two years from tendency to follow political fads. The worst cause of federalism’s death lasted significantly longer than that, and most lasted more than eight years. I should not need to point to FDR’s near disintegration of federalism over twelve highly popular years.

    The argument that it would have provided some check against government infections because the local legislature would avoid sending up anyone who stepped on their turf ignores a rather simple truth. The government can only make new laws. Its power balance very heavily toward destruction. Thus, local legislatures don’t give a damn about senators and federalism, because they’d only be sending to Washington those Senators that violated federalism in ways they liked. It’s not like they’d pass local laws that the local populace was floating one way or the other one quickly; we’ve got no reason to think they’d push Senators who’d do differently on a federal level.

    I should not need to point out exactly how heavily state politics tend toward the big cities today. The 17th was not an influence on that.

    I could at least understand the argument that the 17th made politics and public much more federal — I know a lot of folk who can name their senator, but not a single representative for the whole state — which isn’t a good thing, but not the same thing. Given the rampant corruption, obstructionism, and simple ease of being screwed up throughout the 1850s, I think that’s a rather justifiable flaw.

  2. I don’t think I really disagree with you on this. I think Leviathan was inevitable. I’ve heard some argument that suggest the reason we got a large federal bureaucracy was because the technology was developed that made it possible. Before, it couldn’t have been created even if people wanted it, because information and transportation technology hadn’t progressed to the point where it was possible.

  3. While I agree that the 17th is an abomination, I think it must be linked to the passage of the 16th amendment to fully appreciate the kick in the crotch to Federalism in our country. I’m sure they weren’t a “package deal” at the time they were proposed, it is hard for me to not believe that the forces of “progessive” policies during that time in our history didn’t know exactly what they were creating; a strong central government.

    I disagree with Gattsuru’s assessment of how large urban areas would skew the various legislature’s choice of their senators. Remember, many “big cities” are held in check by the rest of their state’s rural residents. Just like the federal districts, state districts have mechanisms to hold their own legislators in check. Many states have a distinct culture of “resenting” (maybe that’s too strong?) the “city boys” and act accordingly. Bottom line; rarely do the cities run roughshod over the “country boys” in the state house. One more thing; many of the longest serving and most entrenched legislators of a state house are big fish back in their little rural pond. If you’re from GA, just remember Speaker of the House Tom Murphy!

    Anyway, I would love to repeal the 17th & 16th as a “packaged” deal and take the power away from DC. Let the states be labratories…as intended by the founders.

    Also, I agree that FDR was an absolute DISASTER for our republic, don’t forget the damage done, and precedent set, by the War Between the States and the death of the 10th Amendment. There’s no need to argue for/against the “Civil War” and whether it was a slavery v. states’ rights issue, just understand that the War of 1861-65 set the stage for a strong central government. Yes, the post-Reconstruction era saw the Federal government give ground to the states, but the foundation was in place and would be borne out by the 20th century. FDR was the single greatest blow to individual liberty that our republic has yet to see.

    Keep up the good discussion!


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