From the earliest years of the fledgling American Democratic
Republic, there was great uncertainly about the limits of the authority of
Congress. While the federal
government was considered to have limited and enumerated powers, even in these
early years, there were concerns that the authority of the federal government
would grow. On September 22, 1832,
John Marshall, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, confided to a colleague:
“I yield slowly and reluctantly to the conviction that our constitution cannot
last.” Having written the unanimous
decision in Marbury v. Madison
an act of Congress as “unconstitutional” for the first time in history, Chief
Justice Marshall was among the first to truly understand the threats to the
Constitution from our own government.
We can only imagine what Marshall might have thought of the
regulations issued by the federal government requiring religious institutions’
health insurance plans to cover contraceptionincluding sterilization and
abortifacientsunder the current federal health care law. The mandate is something that the Founders
could never have imagined. To understand how this transformation of the power
of the national government occurred, we can turn to The
Transformation of the American Democratic Republic, a new book by Dr. Stephen M. Krason, professor of political
science and legal studies at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
Krason’s analysis builds upon two key questions: “To what
degree are the principles of the Founding Fathers either maintained or
changed?” And, “To what degree
does the surrounding culture either support or oppose the original
vision.” Coupling an historical overview with a
sociopolitical analysis of specific periods throughout history, Krason
identifies pivotal historical periods in contributing greatly to what he
the “transformation” of our democratic republic. The eras included: the
era of Jacksonian Democracy; the era of Civil War and reconstruction;
the gilded age, the progressive era and World War I; the roaring
great depression, and World War II; the Cold War; the Welfare State
upheaval of the 1960-1980s; and the upsurge of conservatism, economic
transformation and post-Cold War America of the present.
Coupling an examination of the political, constitutional and
legal developments of each era with an analysis of the economic, technological,
political and philosophical developments of each era, including the religious
developments, Krason provides readers with a rigorous analysis of how the
events of each era contributed to the dramatic transformation of the
This book could not have arrived at a better time for all
Americansespecially Christianswho are struggling with threats to our freedom
from public policies like the HHS mandate. The early chapters of Krason’s
historical analysis help us to understand how the origins of the politics of
the past continue to influence the decisions of today. He demonstrates that from the earliest
days of the Republic, as the courts began in a small way to exercise the power
of judicial review, the politicians “flip-flopped in their view of court power
depending on whether they agreed with the outcome.” And if this sounds familiar
to contemporary readers, Krason points out that this attempt to politicize the
courts began the practice of treating the courts as basically a political
institution. Even in these earliest days, Krason writes that politics
“compromised the integrity of the notion of rule of law.”
In some important ways, Krason’s analysis mirrors that of
Talcott Parsonsa prominent sociologist of the past who used a
macro-sociological approach to understand how institutions and structures
function in a society. Like
Parsons, Krason argues that the disparate components of society contribute to
the operation or the functioning of the system as a whole. Krason attempts to explain how the
relationship of these different parts of the systemincluding the family, the
polity, the Church, the educational system, and the economic systemall relate
to each other and to the whole.
Krason’s book helps us understand how change in any one part of
societylike the breakdown of the family, or the decline in the authority of
the teachings of the Churchaffects others, requiring other parts to take
account of the changes, modify its actions, and adapt to any changes necessary.
Krason’s book helps us understand how this has occurred.
While Krason presents a sobering analysis of our current
plight, he holds some optimism for the future. As the longtime President of the Society of Catholic Social
Scientists, Krason argues that Catholics have a special contribution to make to
the revitalization of the country.
Krason knows that faithful Catholics understand natural law, and they
understand that the government cannot just “redefine” the family or expand
reproductive rights without having an impact on the dignity of the person and
the functioning of society. Catholics recognize that the government is
attempting to diminish the role of the Magisterium through the healthcare
mandate requiring Catholic employers to provide services counter to the
teachings of the Church. They also
recognize that the Church is one of the last institutions left which has not
been “transformed” to conform to the cultural zeitgeist.
Catholics know (or should know) there is a natural law basis
for the teachings of the Church on the family, for the dignity of the
individualincluding the unbornand for an increased commitment to
morality. There is a need to
respect legitimate authorityincluding the authority of the Magisterium. Catholics can and should continue to
have an impact on the culture.
And, according to Krason’s analysis, Catholics and other Christians are
uniquely suited to contribute to a revitalization of the country.
Krason has done a great service because his new book reminds
us that each of us have a role to play in protecting the political order and
the governing of our citizenry. Krason maintains that a democratic republic can
exist, be sustained, and flourish “only when there is a deep commitment to it
in the minds and norms of its people.” Focusing on concerned public-spirited
citizens, Krason argues that contemporary law and public policy might be
reshaped in accordance with the religious principles and cultural norms of the
past. Some readers may find this argument unpersuasive because we have moved so
far from those cultural norms. But,
the Tea Party, for example, has already had some influence and Krason maintains
that such grass roots endeavors can continue.
Despite the “call to action,” Krason is not an ideologue.
Rather, like Parsons, he argues that each individual occupies an important role
within the structure of society.
By identifying the periods throughout our history when we seem to have
forgotten that, he reminds us that as long as we recognize our need to take
responsibility for carrying out our functions and roles, allowing a minimum of
interference from the government, our country can again be revitalized.
The Transformation of the American Democratic Republic
by Stephen M. Krason
Transaction Publishers, 2012
Hardcover, 538 pages