Central to the founding principles of the United States, the US Constitution inverted the traditional form of government. Whereas the Magna Carta sought to impose restrictions on a reigning King and force an extension of privileges and immunities to other nobles, the US Constitution completely inverts this paradigm. The foundational understanding of government for the US Constitution insists that all governmental powers derive from the People (the public, the polis). All powers exercised on behalf of government are thus exercised solely for the benefit of the people. Whereas prior feudal forms of government recognized the absolute rule of the King who could grant privileges to subordinates to wield according to their own personal whims and for their own personal benefit, the US Constitution insists that any official, legislator, judge, or other agent of government wields power only within their role as an agent of the people: an agent of the polis.
However, the US Constitution also adopts the spatially hierarchical arrangement of the feudal order which preceded it. In place of manors, duchies, arch duchies, grand duchies, and kingdoms the US Constitution introduced similarly spatial arrangement of federal rule, state rule, municipal home rule, various private institutional spheres and so forth. Whereas the former involved a reigning ruling power originating in a King, the latter involves a political ruling power originating in the polis (polis as the etymological derivation of ‘political’). Whereas the former involved an ascending service from the peasantry on up eventually to the King, the latter involves a descending governmental service ultimately servicing the needs of citizens and other governmental subjects.
Historically, and in retrospect, we can trace the seeds of the US Constitution’s inversion to the comparatively timid demands of the Magna Carta which eventually led to this revolutionary conception that ruling power has no purpose whatsoever if and when deployed for personal gain. Therefore, only political power – ruling power derived from and directed for the polis – has any place in our government. The polis can elect to extend benefits to its officials such as a mansion on Pennsylvania Avenue and a 747 jetliner, but this is completely different from prior feudal governments where the ruler takes whatever he wants and leaves only what residue he wishes to the rest of us. Human society thus went from asking a monarchy to extend privilege to a few to a sense that the citizenry, as a single body, granted the only possible source of ruling powers to government and only those powers specified to mediate the conflicts among the governed – thus securing their rights in the most peaceable and civil manner possible.
So in the United States the polis grants special political ruling powers to officials, legislators, judges, and juries through a written Constitution. Such grants of political power involve a grant of specific political powers to both a particular state and other specific political powers to our federal government. The grant of political powers to the state also involves an indirect grant of political powers to whatever counties and municipalities comprise that state and which that state sees fit to establish constitutionally or to charter and incorporate.
However, in the American revolution and other related revolutions of the period, these constitutional transformation neglected to retain a traditional role of government crucial to placing effective power into the hands of the people: the power to steward natural resources. Without this power retained by government, some of the most important powers of feudal government were lost in the governance of our new constitutional republic. So just at the moment where we gained popular rule – as we inverted feudal powers of government into federal powers of government – we simultaneously lost an essential power of such government in the stewardship of natural resources.
In the same way that we require government to mediate the legal disputes among judicial litigants in a contract dispute, we require government to mediate necessarily competing and conflicting demands on the natural resources we collectively enjoy. In feudal hierarchy this stewardship and mediation was accomplished through a top-down extension of privilege to nobles – and ultimately to serfs – for a temporary but exclusive use of certain land or terrain. Such grant included the power to make similar sub-licensure, to terminate such sub-grants (expropriation), to regulate the specific terms of such sub-licensure and to demand rents or taxes from such use. In traditional Anglo-Saxon law, such license of land was understood as a license to a specific person and potentially transferrable to his first-born heirs.
In certain cases, license was extended to the church and others as a mortmain where no rents or taxation would be demanded and little was specified to regulate the use of such church land. For such mortmain, the license was not tied to a person and his heirs, but to the organization itself so long as it persisted. Even in feudal society, governmental stewardship of natural resources was crucial to maintaining a peaceful and civil mediation mechanism.
Neither in the case of grants of title to license natural resources nor in the case of mortmain was the right to alienate such natural resources ever a part of traditional Anglo-Saxon law. The privileges to steward the natural resources were temporary, though exclusive. However, whenever one relinquished that privilege it reverted to the ruling superior and ultimately to the monarch.
So in contrast to the feudal approach to natural resources, a federal hierarchy should likewise invert these powers. In federalism, just as the people granted limited powers to the states and to the federal government to wield on behalf of the people, we may consider the same approach of federalism and delegated powers in terms of natural resource stewardship and the mediation of the necessarily competing and conflicting demands for those natural resources. In this sense, all persons retain their own body as a natural resource requiring no government mediation: as each person brings with her or him her or his own body. However, all other natural resources (aside from our own bodies) require mediation: especially as the variable number of persons fluctuates in relation to the relatively fixed terrain and other relatively fixed natural resources of the Earth.
We need natural resources – specifically land or terrain – for our dwellings. In a federalist hierarchical approach we should expect certain guarantees to such essential terrain for our dwellings. Our dwellings are simultaneously sites of production: production traditionally and socially associated with a dwelling (bodily hygiene, recreation, physical fitness, education, meal preparation and ingestion, laundering of garments, and maintenance and improvement of the dwelling itself). Much of production however, and thus the requirements for the natural resources needed for production, occurs beyond our dwellings. So we need government to peaceably and civilly mediate our needs for natural resources both for our dwellings and for production that takes place outside those dwellings (offices, factories, mines, oil rigs, commercial centers, etc.). Such mediation can take place though alienable real property ownership, competitive bid auctions, lottery, or otherwise. But some mechanism is needed to mediate such natural resource access and use.
We must also distinguish between terrain as a natural resource and natural resource deposits such as fossil fuels, minerals, metals, and so forth. These natural resource deposits are of vital necessity to the entire nation. The coincidence that places all the oil under one state should not imply in a federalist system that such state should enjoy an undue advantage over all other states. Rather proprietorship and more broadly, stewardship, over such precious resources belong to the federal level to administer for the general welfare in an equitable and republican manner. Similarly, terrain and other natural resource deposits belong to federal administration such as: minerals, metal ore, other fossil fuels; major aquifers, glaciers, lakes, and rivers; major forests, savannah, and so forth. Delegation of stewardship for these nationally vital resources should fall to the federal government. In some ways this tenet has already been pursued through major acquisitions and holdings by the federal government of such vital lands throughout the United States. The United States federal government already controls over one-quarter of the land of the United States. The stewardship has not always been properly aimed at serving the general welfare and so reigning power slips through in the form of corruption. And there are some pockets of private holdings of such vital resources. But overall we are already heading in the direction proposed here in this initiative – at least on this front of substantial acquisition and retention of federal lands.
States too require similar delegated powers over vital natural resource stewardship: particularly terrain for wildlife preservation, conservation and recreation (as in state parks). In keeping with the spirit of our Constitution, such state stewardship should exist at the discretion of the people of the United States and their representation in Congress. In other words the states are free to establish stewardship over vital state terrain whenever Congress elects to itself not establish such terrain as vital federal terrain.
Likewise a federalist inspired approach to natural resource stewardship would place the power of establishing vital interstate transport corridors with the federal government. The US Constitution included this under the Congressional power to establish postal roads, but today such transport corridors would include other transport (and the traditional role of government in building, operating, and maintaining roadways has been established for millennia). Modern transport corridors includes not only transport of post, freight, pedestrians, passengers and vehicles over standards roads but also over rail and through airway corridors. Modern transport also includes transport of liquid and gaseous materials through pipelines, transport of electrical power over cables, and both wired and wireless transport of modulated electromagnetic frequencies for data and other communication. When involving such vital interstate transport needs, such power should rest with the federal government. We do not want a blocking state, B, to deny transport between two other adjacent states on opposite sides of that state B. Instead we want a federalist delegated power granted to federal government to permit the federal government to establish such transport corridors as needed for the general welfare of all the states.
States will find a need to establish and maintain many transport corridors beyond those established by federal government. However, this too represents a power of stewardship over natural resources granted by the polis to the states with the expectation that the state will steward such resources for the general welfare of all who reside in the state.
Aside from these natural resource deposits and terrain vital for national and state stewardship, we need to foster strengthened local governance to steward terrain for dwelling, production, and commercial activity. This raises an opportunity for vastly more decentralized governance and a further dispersal and decentralization of all political powers.
|Hierarchical meaning||Spatial where subordinate jurisdictions and subordinate ruling powers are largely subordinate in merely a spatial sense: the sense of being encompassed by the hierarchically superior jurisdiction.||Hierarchies are not only spatial, but also reflect absolute powers where subordinates enjoy only those privileges and immunities granted by the superior ruling entity.|
|Principal existential tenet of ruling power||exists to mediate the conflicts arising between its subjects in an equitable and disinterested manner||exists to satisfy the personal whims of the powerful few (the plutocracy), their vassals, and other allies|
|Rule arises from||The consensus of the citizenry as a social contract leading to fundamental conditions for pluralism and the peaceful coexistence amidst a diversity of governmental subjects.||concentrated military, paramilitary, propaganda power to maintain cults of personality, jingoism, chauvinism, and other fundamentalisms.|
|Type of rule||political (polis) power||reigning power|
|Power derived||as a grant of the unified body of citizens: the polis||through manipulation, maneuvering, and might|
|Service||Service descends from each level of government to ultimately serve the citizens and others subject to political rule||Service ascends from serfs and vassals to lords, dukes, archdukes, grand dukes, ultimately to the king|
|Rights||innately held by each subject and restrained only to mediate the conflicting rights among those subject to political rule||Extended as a grant of various privileges and immunities, ultimately from the monarch who makes such grants to subordinates who then, in turn, make sub-grants of privileges and immunities to other subordinates, and so forth|
|Natural resources rights||As with other rights, these rights reside innately within each person and government arises to mediate the conflicts in rights between persons. In the case of natural resource rights, such mediated conflicts arise over the competing demands placed on necessarily limited and, at times, irreplaceable and non-renewable natural resources.||As a particular privilege granted but which comprised a license to such natural resources to regulate their use, extend sub-tenancy, expropriate tenancy; however no alienation was possible because the privilege was always for a term|
|Decision-making power over natural resource allocation and use||Ultimately power rests with the legislative bodies of the federalist hierarchy but these legislative bodies have often granted title to such natural resources and thus assigned deliberative powers to private interests.||All natural resource use mediated by the government, though often degrading into plutocratic government.|
|Revenues from natural resource licensing||Ultimately power rests with the legislative bodies of the federalist hierarchy but we these legislative bodies have often granted title to such natural resources and thus assigned deliberative powers to private interests, fostering a re-establishment of a landed aristocracy but without any of expectations for noblesse oblige whatsoever, where governmental revenues were handed over to private interests necessitating new innovative forms of revenue for government.||Governmental control of natural resources formed the very basis for taxation (rents) and such taxes and rents were therefore indistinguishable.|
|Aim of rule||To service the subjects of government in their economic, cultural, physical, political, and safety needs – mediating the conflicting rights between the subjects – and where agents of government set aside their personal needs while performing their role in wielding ruling power||To service the monarch and other nobles, where the very aim of feudal government is to serve, exalt, and venerate the monarch and other nobles.|
|Exceptions to the general aim||Chiefly two exceptions to polis powers granted to agents of government (officers, legislators, judges, jurists):||The principle of noblesse oblige promoted some expectations that all nobility, including the King, must provide some gracious service to subordinates including providing for subordinates:|
|Anachronisms||Corruption using political power as vested in government to extend patronage and other privileges such as granting titles of nobility (seignorage to the Federal Reserve System), twisting urban development, transportation and military policies to serve the oil industry, using governmental services to reward supporters and punish political opponents. The phrase “privileges and immunities” (and the latter “privileges or immunities”) incorporated into the US Constitution which stands at odds with the burgeoning conception of a political and polis derived power.||The Magna Carta itself reflects an anachronism where subordinate nobles demanded specific protections from their monarchy instead of the monarchy granting those privileges and immunities at his own discretion and thus anticipates the forthcoming modern constitutional, polis rule democracies.|
|Governmental charters||As in prior feudal government, republican government also finds the need to accomplish its aims through chartering quasi-independent entities. These charters occur at both the federal and the state level (each constituted themselves – federal and state government – through written constitutions). These governments then charter corporate enterprises, corporate membership associations, towns, cities, taxing districts, and so forth. However, nothing empowers these governments to abandon their requirements for republican governance or to use charters to skirt those requirements. Such charters must therefore likewise adhere to republican governance.||Feudal governments also chartered entities to further their aims. However, such charters were much like other extensions of feudal privilege in that they are designed to further the aims of the monarch and operated in a similar autocratic and often plutocratic manner.|
In fairness it may be that feudalism, at its best, aspired to wield the power of the aristocracy (literally ‘rule of the best’) in a disinterested and equitable manner. Likewise, at its worst our federalist constitutional republic lends itself to severe though isolated corruption, where agents of government wield their political ruling powers to carve out feudal-like personal privilege and vassalage. The recent and ongoing despotic maneuvers in Wisconsin and Michigan represent glaring examples of such attempts to wield governmental power purely for private privilege (in 2011). However, the mechanism for such vestigial feudal privilege may arise more often from latent ideological manipulation and less often from deliberate and conscious official, legislator, and judicial corruption.
For example, recent decisions among the US Supreme Court reflect an extremist ideological slant which sees government’s role as a supporter of privilege: particularly the feudal vestigial privilege granted through corporate charters and natural monopoly entitlements. Similarly, ideological manipulation has led law enforcement and even the judiciary to see itself as a place to carve out privileges to expand the prison industrial complex without limit. Police officers no longer receive training nor think of their role as a disinterested party serving the polis (the very etymological derivation of the term ‘police’). Instead law enforcement (and state prosecutors) think of themselves as state supported vigilantes who should use whatever means necessary to finger the criminally accused, any accused, to pay for a specific crime. So those throughout law enforcement bear contempt for the US Supreme Court imposed Miranda warnings that merely represent a minimal measure to avoid such abuse of polis power and keep police officers in their disinterested role serving the impartial judiciary and not serving the necessarily partial role of the prosecution (though they might serve as impartial witnesses for the prosecution if they could possibly maintain their disinterested role).
Despite the revolutionary transformation brought by the establishment of our republic, the vestiges of feudal reign remain. Whenever the political or polis powers granted to public officials get used instead for their own personal privilege we have an insidious feudalism seeping back into our republic. Pure feudalism exists when all ruling power emanates from the personal whims of the rulers. Pure federalism exists when all ruling powers emanate only from the polis and those exercising the powers of the polis do so only in the general welfare interests of the polis. So even in our federal hierarchy reigning power can slip back into our political ruling power when such power serves the personal interests of a few and not the general interests of us all. This occurs especially when natural resources and monopoly resources become the entitlement of private interests to wield for their own profit and to satisfy their own private ends. Such monopoly resources should always remain components of our public commons where their use is mediated through republican governance and the necessarily monopoly economic rents accrue only to the public treasury.