While the hallowed doctrine of stare decisis—the rule that judges are bound to respect precedent—certainly applies to the lower courts, Supreme Court justices owe fidelity to the Constitution alone, and if their predecessors have construed it erroneously, today’s justices must say so and overturn their decisions.
The measure of our fundamental law is not whether it actualizes the general will—that was the point of the French Revolution, not the American. The measure of our Constitution is whether it is effective at encouraging just, stable, and free government—government that protects the rights of its citizens.
To understand a political scandal fully, one must take into account all of the interests of those involved. The problem is that these interests are rarely revealed—which is precisely why it is so tempting for partisans, particularly if they are at a political disadvantage, to resort to scandal to attack their opponents.
From this history we learn that it is not the nation-state, but the kinds of nation-states that matter. From the birth of political philosophy in ancient Athens, it has been understood in the West that the difference between good and bad regimes, just as between lives lived well and lives lived badly, is all-important.
I fear America may be leaving the world of normal politics and entering the dangerous world of regime politics—a politics in which our political loyalties diverge more and more, as they did in the 1850s, between two contrary visions of the country.
Historically, constitutional government has been found only in the nation-state, where the people share a common good and are dedicated to the same principles and purposes.
If we study that war and the actions of its profoundest statesman, we can find some lessons to guide us today.