Saturday, November 7, 2020

Unanswered Questions

     Forgive me, Gentle Reader. I can’t bring myself to write about the election or what has followed. My sense that the Hideous Strength has finally taken America in its fist, to squeeze as it wishes, has become too strong to be borne. To maintain any semblance of sanity, I must look away.

     I pray a lot these days. It’s about all I’m good for.

     Anyway, for the foreseeable future – how long that will last, I cannot say – I’ll be writing about other things.

1. “Conventional warfare.”

     The distinction in military terminology between “conventional weapons” and “weapons of mass destruction” has held firm for some time. Yet we must remember that conventional has no fixed meaning. “A matter of convention” means nothing more than “This is the way things are done.” It has no enduring weight – certainly no moral weight.

     This is on my mind because of a passage I’ve just encountered in a science fiction novel. A general staff is pondering whether to use antimatter bombs, anathematized by all known solar systems and governments, to win an engagement. One of the commanders in the conversation says “At least it’s conventional.”

     That elevated my eyebrows. Antimatter explosions would be the largest imaginable sort, as they would involve the total conversion of matter to energy rather than the partial conversion available from fission or fusion explosions. The complete conversion of a kilogram of matter to energy – say, by introducing 500 grams of antimatter to 500 grams of matter – would produce a 21 Megaton explosion. Antimatter weapons would be the ultimate weapons of mass destruction.

     Clearly, in the setting of the aforementioned novel, there’s been some drift in the military meaning of “conventional.” We also have the question Arthur Herzog posed in The B.S. Factor: “Is killing conventional?” But perhaps we should save that one for another day.

2. The “reasonable man” standard.

     There are many laws and regulations that specify, at some point, what has come to be called the “reasonable man” rule for determining the legality of some action. It’s another phrase that has no fixed meaning – a phrase that allows bureaucrats to get away with whatever they please. For in what gallery of standards is there a certified “reasonable man” against whose judgments a ruling might be measured?

     Reason is about the use of evidence and the tools of deduction and induction to reach conclusions. From that, one would think that the “reasonable man” would be one who eschews all other methods of reaching a decision. Has there ever been such a man? If so, why haven’t we preserved him in a glass case, so that we might bring “reasonable man” decisions before him for his ratification?

     A proper judge would strike any law or regulation that reposes on a reasonable-man standard as “void for vagueness.”

3. The “necessary and proper” clause.

     Here’s one that should have been put to bed long ago. As you probably recall, it features in clause 18 of Article I, Section 8 of that somewhat significant document, the Constitution of the United States:

     [The Congress shall have power] To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

     The odious Nancy Pelosi once claimed that the Necessary and Proper clause empowers Congress to do whatever it pleases. Incredibly, even Robert Ringer, a strong libertarian, agreed with that interpretation in his book Restoring the American Dream. But why? Why would the Founding Fathers, so intent upon limiting the powers of the newly-born federal government, have put such a provision into the Constitution?

     The answer, like the answers to most thorny questions, is utterly obvious once you’ve seen it:

Finish the sentence!

     To have meaning, “necessary” and “proper” require a defined context. Necessary to what? Proper by what standard? The Constitution answers those questions in the very next phrase: “for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.”

     A law is necessary if without it, a power granted to Congress in the previous seventeen clauses could not be executed. A law is proper if it has no effects, whether intended or unintended, that go beyond the powers granted to Congress or that violate a Constitutionally guaranteed right. While there can be some discussion about the precise limits the Necessary and Proper clause imposes on federal legislation, there can be no doubt that it establishes limits rather than an unbounded expanse of Congressional power. It is sharply at odds with the powers Congress has usurped this century past.

     Of course, few Congressvermin would agree with your humble Curmudgeon on this interpretation. They like having unbounded power. Without it, they’d have nothing to sell to their donors and supporters.

     That’s all for today, I think. Once more, I exhort you: Pray for our country.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I enjoy your content and am also worried about the future of this nation.