Two words for Tyler Cowen and Ilya Somin

The words are ultra vires. If these effulgent benefactors of humanity at large had received an ordinary 19th-century legal education, they’d already know them.

After USG is finally razed to the ground, the entire Potomac watershed from Vienna to Gaithersburg restored to pristine pre-Columbian conditions, and North America governed by a couple of smart, hard-working guys and a secretary out of a cozy little office in St. Louis, smart high-school kids will still need to be taught about this monster and why we slew it.

When did the contract that was the Constitution become null and void? Obviously, any contract, once breached, is void—another truth you’d learn in an ordinary 19th-century legal education. In fact the reality is that a constitution cannot be a contract, for a contract requires an enforcing agency superior to both parties. Were we still in love with Lockean political theory, we might say that the Sovereign People was the enforcing party and resumed the powers they had contracted away. But Lockean political theory went into the Potomac with the Washington Monument and now provides a habitat only to the rapidly rebounding and perennially delicious Chesapeake blue crab.

Given that America’s Sovereign People, if truly sovereign, took a sweet two centuries and change in asserting that sovereignty, there are as many answers to the question as there were GS-15s in Bethesda. But we can still evaluate this Constitution as a supposed contract, and at least count the fistulae where Washington nailed it once too often in the tail. Moreover, since smart high-school kids love compelling simplicities, we can pick one main hole or cloaca maxima, and select it arbitrarily as the orifice through which this national bowel, so often violated beyond nature’s nightmare, finally prolapsed beyond repair and tangled permanently round our combat boots.

What is the charge? The main charge? The main charge, I assert, is that USG post 1945 breached the Constitution irreparably by operating ultra vires as a world government.

The so-called “international” agencies of this period, like the risible “United Nations,” were established by USG and creatures of it. In fact rather than name, they were merely new tentacles of the State Department, not bound by the archaic restriction to employ only American citizens. USG’s “withdrawal” from the UN was like Russia’s “withdrawal” from the Warsaw Pact. This institution of socialist brotherhood did not mope in exile pining for its founding big brother—but simply ceased to exist. Obviously. I mean, obviously in retrospect.

Even what we called our “friends” and “allies” in this “international community” turned out to be no such thing, but rather despicable puppet regimes of foreign nationality but American loyalty. The great Vattel described this phenomenon with his usual succinctness:

But a people that has passed under the dominion of another is no longer a state, and can no longer avail itself directly of the law of nations. Such were the nations and kingdoms which the Romans rendered subject to their empire; the generality even of those whom they honoured with the name of friends and allies no longer formed real states. Within themselves they were governed by their own laws and magistrates; but without, they were in every thing obliged to follow the orders of Rome; they dared not of themselves either to make war or contract alliances; and could not treat with nations.

Of course these quislings, traitors to their own nations, were not loyal to America, but rather to Washington. But from the perspective of, say, France, it made no difference:

During the transition our dear puppets kept phoning their masters, in excellent English of course, but could not get an answer. Sometimes the line would pick up, but emit no English—only a sort of wet scuttling noise, suggestive of the Maryland blue crab with its exquisitely evolved hind paddles.

Bees without a queen are pretty helpless. It didn’t take long for the French and others to get the idea. As Americans, of course, it’s hard to support what they did. But as Americans, we don’t have to. Besides, France has a pretty long tradition of this kind of thing. Hot-blooded Latins and all.

But wait—as Americans, why should we mind if Washington conquers the world? Isn’t it awesome, always and everywhere, to rule?

Not at all. The doctrine of ultra vires exists for a reason. Every institution, private or public, is chartered to serve the interests and purposes of its beneficiaries. If it decides it has the right to trade off the interests of those beneficiaries, purportedly for the purpose of serving other beneficiaries to whom it is not contractually responsible, but has decided to love simply out of the goodness of its gigantic and perpetually hemorrhaging heart -

When USG decided it had the right not to serve the people of America, to whom it was exclusively responsible, it set the precedent that it could abuse American interests for any purpose it desired. And what other precedent could tyranny demand?

USG certainly was never responsible to any other party. Operating ultra vires as a world government, like any regime it worked assiduously to curry the favor of its foreign subjects. But how could it possibly be responsible to the mango farmers of Pakistan? No—in its capacity as planetary benefactor, USG could only be utterly irresponsible and autocratic. In time it probably would have followed the example of Rome and extended the citizenship of the metropolis to the entire empire. Not that this would have given foreigners any more real authority over “their” government than Americans already enjoyed. But at least it would have fixed the optics.

And why? Why this amazing planetary empire? Ostensibly, we were told, the motive was the benefit of humanity. What a purpose! What benefit! The progressive global leadership that at home produced Clockwork Orange Detroit also gave us Clockwork Orange France, Clockwork Orange South Africa, Clockwork Orange Haiti, Clockwork Orange Syria, etc., etc., etc. Nor may we forget its earlier patronage of Clockwork Orange Russia and Clockwork Orange China. All told, the murders on USG’s tab run well into 9 figures. Hitler was an amateur and Mao was a cheap local punk.

No, there is a simpler reason. Washington loved it. It was not America that got to rule the world, but Washington. This amazing global empire was responsible neither to Americans, nor to foreigners; neither did it serve the interests of either. The interests it served were its own. How fortunate we are that this monster is at the bottom of a river! Happy the crabs that feast on its corse! May never drought undrown its bones! Roll on, great Potomack, roll. In spring’s floods the bricks do tumble, the waterman hears clicks and clacks and smiles broadly as he casts his net. To trumpets and great pageant the kings are home; the television’s dead; the globe exhales in peace at last.

In the mouths of Washington’s worm-tongued professors, not all of whom were truly bad people, many of whom later found real meaning and excellence in plumbing, landscaping or driving a cab, the strawman was easily raised that if USG considered only the interests of Americans, it should logically use its planetary dominion to (for example) slaughter the entire population of Brazil for its fresh young transplantable organs. Not so, because Americans were and are not collectively evil and have no intention of committing any such crime. Neither will any institution responsible to them. It is not their interests only that a responsible government is bound to follow, but their purposes. In an international capacity, the purpose of a sovereign people—or any other sane sovereign—is to protect their own rights and respect the rights of others, as laid down by Vattel and other great scholars of the classical European international law. Like so many sound old principles, the good name of international law was perverted by the unspeakable 20th century into a system of transnational domination. Yet the law of nations is a natural law, and under the rubble it remained true; and shone with the glint of real gold. And outside the stables, flowed the patient river by.

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