These “minority checks”1 are littered throughout the document and new ones are regularly devised. In chapters 9 and 10, Parenti details the range of federal powers transferred from the states to Article I which can be activated by the Article I “necessary and proper” and Article VI supremacy powers. Certainly the framers designed the federal government to have a “negative” (what the framers called a veto) over state laws and the actions of each other branch. And this is only one article of the constitution. The roadblocks and impediments leave minority checks embedded throughout the system like cluster bombs ready to explode at any time slowly bleeding to death any well intentioned bill, law, regulation, or court ruling by either the federal government or the states.
Parenti comes up short by completely overlooking other centrally important powers in the design of the system. The Article I contract clause resulted in the passage of replevin laws blocked all efforts to interfere with contracts. Article VI also made all debts the supreme law of the land, forever tying the hands of those who might wish to someday repudiate prior debt accumulated to build the destructive and exploitive capitalist economy. While it is well known that the constitution protects slaveholding as property, it provides property itself with an array of rights, including speech (1st amendment), probable cause (4thamendment), due process and just compensation protections against expropriation (5th amendment), and equal protection (Article IV and 14thamendment). Congress even wavered for decades temporarily passing and then repealing bankruptcy laws despite it being an enumerated power in Article I.
But by consciously deciding to sidetrack “how the government was designed to function,” Parenti misses that the undemocratic design of the system remains with us today. The Electoral College, separate elections in every state, presidential veto, federal supremacy, inequality in the Senate, bicameral legislature, large single member districts for the House, and the lack of popular vote on the constitution itself (and all amendments), among countless other critical features, establish so many roadblocks as to make any change virtually impossible without the consent of its most stubborn defenders. Parenti is right that James Madison and Hamilton embraced the Latin concept of divide et impera (divide and conquer) designing the constitution to fragment the economic majority into so many groups with the intention of attempting to render working class unity nearly impossible.
But Parenti makes a false analogy between the relatively more democratic state governments under the pre-1787 state constitution and the US constitution. While it is true that the state systems had some less democratic features than the constitution, he entirely misses that most states revised their constitutions during and after the revolution. The reasons are now well documented.
The states increasingly responded to organized demands, petitions, new political parties, and riots from organized movements of subsistence farmers, mechanics, and rank and file militia soldiers – not to mention and armed rebellions by Native peoples and slaves – to democratize the economy and polity. As a result, most of the states implemented paper money and tenders laws, land banks, debt relief, removed some property requirements to vote, abolished judicial review and vetoes, and created unicameral legislatures
Even if a militant movement to abolish capitalism managed to overcome these impossible odds, the coercive power of the state underlies it all. Elites could call upon Article I and IV’s powers of the sword, deploying the army and navy and abolishing habeas corpus; Article II’s power to send Congress into recess; Article III’s power to prosecute insurgents for rebellion and treason and set up new courts to carry it out, and the 13th Amendment’s power to use prisoners as slaves.
In looking for a hero in Hamilton, Parenti inadvertently discovers the culprit for our rapid descent into crises wrought by the US-dominated global capitalist system, a picture that makes the glorification by the eponymous hit Broadway musical even more insidious. Hamilton was certainly a radical, but not the kind that deserves emulation. Parenti appears to have left the last vestiges of his socialist analysis behind in embracing the hero-worship of one of the framers: a man who designed the system imperiling the very survival of humanity and many other biological life forms on earth.
Hamilton is not a model for radicals. After all, he was the leading proponent of authoritiarian rule whether it be a return to monarchy or a military junta. Hamilton was hardly shy in his public displays of affection for monarchies in private letters and at the Constitutional Convention. He also played a central role in the 1783 Newburgh plot to use the army to overthrow Congress so that he could bypass the hated Articles of Confederation and impose his and his co-conspirator Robert Morris’s financial plan directly2. Let’s also not forget how he did the bidding of the slaveocracy to get his state capitalist system into place. Hamilton showed us where his version of state capitalism leads, and we are living with the nightmarish results.