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The Panamanian Papers And Trump In Colorado . . . Input From Willmoore Kendall And G.K. Chesterton

May 10, 2016 Frontpage No Comments


I have been hoping that conservatives on the talk shows would bring up Willmoore Kendall and G.K. Chesterton during discussions of two major topics of the last few weeks: Donald Trump’s complaints about the Colorado Republican Party primaries and what the press is calling the “Panamanian Papers.” Kendall and Chesterton were among the most admired writers in conservative circles in the mid-20th century and have a lot to offer regarding these issues.
Trump’s complaint, you will recall, was that the Colorado Republican delegates cast their votes for Ted Cruz without a primary vote by the people of Colorado beforehand; he said it was a “rigged system,” one that was “undemocratic” and permitted the “Republican establishment” to prevail over the “people,” that it “stunk.”
The Panamanian Papers are the leaked documents revealing that many of the world’s wealthiest people had used a Panamanian law firm to set up shell companies to hide their income and avoid taxes. As I write these words there appear to be few Americans on the list. Most of the accounts were held by Europeans, Latin Americans, and Russians.
But not any old Europeans, Latin Americans, and Russians. A surprisingly large number of the accounts were held by government officials and their relatives, including officials from countries that preach income equality and socialist ideals. Mauricio Macri of Argentina, a former government minister from France, a former commander-in-chief of Venezuela’s armed forces, the daughter of a former Chinese premier, the president of Iceland, and numerous associates of Vladimir Putin were on the list.
Michael Tanner, writing in the online edition of National Review on April 13, sees a connection between government officials hiding their wealth overseas and the phenomenon of “five of the ten counties with the highest median incomes in America” being found in the “suburbs of Washington, D.C.” He concludes “that many of those who spend their time lecturing us” on income inequality “turn out to be using, or misusing, the power of government for their own benefit.”
Enter stage right: Kendall and Chesterton.
Let’s start with Trump and Colorado. Was it “undemocratic” to permit the delegates in Colorado to vote as they thought best, without the validation of a popular vote? It was. But one can picture Kendall arguing it was also as American as apple pie; that it is why we originally had U.S. senators chosen by state legislators, why we permit the two senators from small states to exert as much influence as those from states with much higher populations, why we have an Electoral College.
“Our system,” wrote Kendall in his 1964 book Dialogues in Americanism, “was devised by men who feared and disliked above all things, the operation in politics of sheer, naked will (men therefore who were not given to using language like ‘the will of the people’). We have no tradition here in America for the kind of majority rule that is prepared to say to the minority that you are going to obey our policy directives because we are the majority.”
“The American political system is not and never has been a system for the automatic acceptance of majority mandates by the minority.”
What the Founding Fathers sought instead, Kendall continues, was a system “devised to effectuate not the will of the people, but rather, as The Federalist puts it, the deliberate sense of the whole community.” They feared temporary numerical majorities stirred up by demagogues in the manner that was taking place in the French Revolution.
Does this mean that members of the Republican establishment that collaborated to deny Trump the Colorado delegates were acting as the Founding Fathers intended, that they were seeking to prevent a temporary numerical majority stirred up to pursue goals that do not reflect the “consensus” and the “deliberate sense of the whole community”? You could say that. Or not.
Certainly Republican leaders in Colorado would make that claim. Would Kendall agree if he had not yet shuffled off this mortal coil? That would depend upon whether he concluded that the Republican leaders were reflecting the deliberate sense of the community, or thwarting it. Trump would argue the latter.
It is on that question, not on whether the Colorado Republican leaders were being “undemocratic,” that the debate should proceed, if we analyze this question from Kendall’s point of view. We are not — as is often said — a direct democracy, but a republic, a representative democracy.
The Panamanian Papers? One can picture Chesterton and his ideological ally Hilaire Belloc struggling to not be too smug, fighting off the temptation to say, “I told you so.” It was precisely what they were warning about. Their economic theory — distributism — was designed as an alternative to the excesses of modern capitalism. Their goal was to break up the unjust concentration of power and wealth that we see in full flight in the Panamanian Papers, but without resorting to the socialist alternative. The Panamanian Papers make clear that socialism is no answer to greedy fat cats manipulating a country’s wealth to serve their self-interests. On the contrary, it gives the fat cats the key to the vault. Socialist leaders are the fat cats.
Many of con men setting up the shell accounts in Panama were left-leaning social democrats, champions of socialist ideals, pious frauds spouting rhetoric about social justice for the masses while working in cahoots with international bankers to line their own pockets.
One can only hope that the earnest young people backing Bernie Sanders will think deeply about their socialist beliefs when they see all the government leaders listed in the Panamanian Papers. Sanders himself? It is probably too late for him. He is a true believer, what George Orwell called a “parlour Bolshie.”
The socialist answer to unjust concentrations of corporate wealth and power is to give the property of a society to “the people” — which, for the socialist, means giving it to the government. The Panamanian Papers illustrate where that leads. Distributism, in contrast, calls for property to be given to the people by giving it to: people, to individual members of society. Chesterton once quipped, “Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.” What he proposed was a society made up of small businesses and family farms; not less private property, but more private property.
How would those limits on the accumulation of property be brought about? Critics of “Chesterbellockian” theory contend it could only be done through a powerful central government, the opposite of what Chesterton and Belloc wanted.
Others will say that distributism should be seen more as poetry than prose; that Chesterton and Belloc were not offering the nuts and bolts of an economic system to bring about the reforms they wanted, but attempting to make us aware of the dangers of a concentration of money and power in too few hands. Along with the danger inherent in the remedy offered by socialists.
These are fair criticisms. But the Panamanian Papers illustrate that the problem Chesterton and Belloc focused on was real. What to do about it is a question we will have to deal with ourselves as members of our national economies.

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