Wesley Allen Riddle is assistant professor of history at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York, where he teaches Advanced American History and the American Political Tradition. He is also a Salvatori Fellow with the Heritage Foundation for the 1996-97 term.
The Kennedy brothers of Louisiana have followed up their successful title The South Was Right!, winner of the Southern Heritage Society’s 1995 Literary Award, with a new book—even more likely to raise eyebrows and a din of vituperative commentary from the liberal press. Why Not Freedom! is a clarion call to wage political battle, sounded for Southern nationalists and states’ rightists of all sections. The visionary aim is to reinstate antebellum constitutional construction, minus slavery or legally enforced segregation and race-based discrimination.
The authors blame both major political parties for betrayal of the American middle class, notwithstanding the fact that they vent hottest anger at the Democratic party—which, after all, was the Solid South’s political home for so long. But while the Kennedy brothers apparently agree with conservative Republican positions on most issues, they refuse to take much comfort, and they provide a sobering and decidedly Southern assessment of the so-called “Revolution of 1994.”
If there is a problem with the historical case the authors make, it is that they credit the Civil War too much for the kind of consolidation that has taken place this century—really only since the Progressive Era. Indeed, recent historical scholarship by Earl M. Maltz, professor of law at Rutgers University, indicates that the original intent of the drafters of the Reconstruction amendments was to keep essential federalism intact. The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments most certainly were not conceived to grant sweeping new authority to the federal government to enforce open-ended concepts such as equality.
Be that as it may, the Kennedy brothers demonstrate that Americans at the end of the twentieth century live in a country that meets outright the definition of tyranny used by the Founding Fathers. The Constitution no longer operates in accord with the Founders’ original intent. Rather, the federal government has become Leviathan and views the middle class as a “cash-cow” to be milked—taxed for the benefit of others.
One of the most lucid theoretical points the Kennedys draw from the Founding Federalists, including even Hamilton, is the role of the states in vertical balance of power. In particular, the sovereign state bears responsibility in the federal system to police the actions of its agent, the federal government, to insure that liberty and property of its citizens are not curtailed.
The authors provide excellent examples of how citizens do not possess the necessary resources or power to fend off wrongful prosecution by the federal government. The relatively weak individual needs state government to intercede or interpose on the individual’s behalf. Today that function is all but inoperative, and individuals are left to the mercy of big government. Unfortunately, “Big Governments make for small citizens” (p. 239). In Section II, 20 chapters are dedicated to documenting contemporary abuses of the middle class by the federal government.
Why Not Freedom! is not for the timid conservative. It is radical. This book is one more compelling piece of evidence about the momentary groundswell in Louisiana, as well as in Alabama, Texas, Virginia—and Montana, among other places. The South, along with the West, is leading a revolutionary political movement that seeks to overturn not only the New Deal, but potentially, some precedents that date back to 1861. So far, neither political party seems fully in tune with it.