Thoughts – National Security and Double Government (Madisonians vs. Trumanites)

Harry Truman Signs The National Surveillance Act - 1947

Harry Truman Signs The National Surveillance Act – 1947

In a recent publication of Harvard’s National Security Journal, Michael Glennon, Professor of International Law at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy published an essay titled, “National Security and Double Government”.(1) The premise of the paper is to address how National security policy in the United States has remained largely constant from the Bush Administration to the Obama Administration.(2) He writes that this continuity can be explained by the “double government” theory of the 19th-century scholar of the English Constitution, Walter Bagehot.(3) In applying this theory to the United States, Bagehot’s theory suggests that U.S. national security policy is defined by the network of executive officials who manage the departments and agencies responsible for protecting U.S. national security policy and who, responding to structural incentives embedded in the U.S. political system, operate largely removed from public view and from constitutional constraints.(4) The public believes that the constitutionally-established institutions control national security policy, but that view is mistaken.(5) Judicial review is negligible; congressional oversight is dysfunctional; and presidential control is nominal.(6) Absent a more informed and engaged electorate (Public Virtue), little possibility exists according to Glennon for restoring accountability in the formulation and execution of national security policy.(7)

How does National Security policy remain constant even when one President is replaced by another who as a candidate repeatedly, forcefully, and eloquently promised fundamental changes in that policy?(8)

A disquieting answer according to Glennon is provided by the theory that Walter Bagehot suggested in 1867 to explain the evolution of the English Constitution.(9)  While not without its critics, Bagehot’s theory has been widely acclaimed and has generated significant commentary.(10)  In fact, it is something of a classic on the subject of institutional change generally, and it foreshadowed modern organizational theory.(11)

In brief, Bagehot’s notion was as follows.(12)  Power in Britain reposed initially in the monarch alone.(13) Over the decades, however, a dual set of institutions emerged.(14) One set comprises the monarchy and the House of Lords.(15)  These Bagehot called the “dignified” institutions – dignified in the sense that they provide a link to the past and excite the public imagination.(16)  Through theatrical show, pomp, and historical symbolism, they exercise an emotional hold on the public mind by evoking the grandeur of ages past.(17)  They embody memories of greatness.(18) Yet it is a second, newer set of institutions – Britain’s “efficient” institutions – that do the real work of governing.(19)  These are the House of Commons, the Cabinet, and the Prime Minister.(20)  As Bagehot put it:

“It’s dignified parts are very complicated and somewhat imposing, very old and rather venerable; while its efficient part ….. is decidedly simple and rather modern…..Its essence is strong with the strength of modern simplicity; its exterior is august with the Gothic grandeur of a more imposing age.” (21)

Together these institutions comprise a “disguised republic” that obscures the massive shift in power that has occurred, which if widely understood would create crisis of public confidence.(22)  The crisis has been averted because the “efficient” institutions have been careful to hide where they begin and where the “dignified” institutions end.(23)  They do this by ensuring that the dignified institutions continue to partake in at least some real governance and also by ensuring that the efficient institutions partake in at least some inspiring public ceremony and ritual.(24)  This promotes continued public deference to the efficient institution’ decisions and continued belief that the dignified institutions retain real power. (25)  These dual institutions, one for show and the other for real, afford Britain expertise and experience in the actual art of governing while at the same time providing a facade that generates public acceptance of the experts’ decisions.(26)  Bagehot called this Britain’s “double government.”(27)  The structural duality, some have suggested, is a modern reification of the “Noble Lie” that, two millennia before, Plato had thought necessary to insulate a state from fatal excesses of democracy and to ensure deference to the golden class of efficient guardians.(28)

As it did in the early days on Britain’s monarchy, power in the United States lay initially in one set of institutions – the President, Congress, and the courts.(29)  These are America’s “dignified” institutions. (30)  Later, however, a second institution emerged to safeguard the nation’s security. (31)  This, America’s “efficient” institution (actually, as will be seen, is more of a network than an institution) consists of the several hundred executive offices who sit atop the military, intelligence, diplomatic, and law enforcement departments and agencies that have as their mission the protection of America’s international and internal security. (32)  Large segments of the public continue to believe that America’s constitutionally established, dignified institutions are the locus of government power; by promoting that impression, both sets of institutions maintain public support.(33) But when it comes to defining and protecting national security, the public’s impression is mistaken. (34)  America’s efficient institution makes most of the key decisions concerning national security, removed from public view and from the constitutional restrictions that check America’s dignified institutions. (35)  The United States has, in short, moved beyond a mere imperial presidency to a bifurcated system – a structure of double government – in which even the President now exercises little substantive control over the overall direction of U.S. national security policy.(36)  Whereas Britain’s dual institutions evolved towards a concealed republic, America’s have evolved in the opposite direction, towards greater centralization, less accountability, and emergent autocracy. (37)

Before examining the origins and contemporary operation of those national security institutions, the adoption of more neutral terms that better describe their historical roots is necessary.(38) The terms “efficient” and “dignified” have taken on somewhat different implications over the years and, to put it delicately, imply qualities that not all contemporary American institutions fully embody.(39) James Madison was perhaps the principal architect of the constitutional design.(40)  Honoring Madison’s founding role, Glennon substitutes “Madisonian” for “dignified”, referring to the three branches of the federal government formally established by the Constitution to serve as checks on the instruments of state security.(41)

These constitutional provisions thus divide power over national security.(42)  Animating the separation of powers is a well-known theory.(43)  Madison believed that dividing authority among the three branches of government would cause the members of each of the  three branches to seek to expand their power but also to rebuff encroachments on their power.(44)  An equilibrium would result, and this balance would forestall the rise of centralized, despotic power.(45)  But more than mere institutional design was required;  the government Madison envisioned was not a machine that would check itself.(46)  Essential to the effectiveness of these checks and the maintenance of balance was civic virtue – an informed and engaged electorate.(47)  The virtue of the people who held office would rest on the intelligence and public-mindedness of the people who put them there.(48)  Absent civic virtue, the government equilibrium of power would face collapse. This is the “Madisonian” model.(49)

President Harry S. Truman, more than any other President, is responsible for creating the nations “efficient” national security apparatus.(50)  Under Truman, Congress enacted the National Security Act of 1947, which unified the military under a new Secretary of Defense, set up the CIA, created the modern Joint Chiefs of Staff, and established the National Security Council (“NSC”).(51)  Truman also set up the National Security Agency, which was intended at the time to monitor communications abroad.(52)   Friends as well as detractors viewed Truman’s role as decisive.(53)  Honoring Truman’s founding role, Glennon substitutes “Trumanite” for “efficient,” referring to the network of several hundred high-level military, intelligence, and diplomatic, and law enforcement officials within the Executive Branch who are responsible for National security policy making.(54) Some very credible scholars also refer to the “Trumanite” network as the deep state.(55)

With this knowledge in hand the focus of my activism came into clear focus. In layman’s terms, the U.S. “Madisonian” components of our version of double government  act  like a intellectual drone controlled by the “Trumanite” national security network.  As you may have read in Part 2 of my research blog which discusses the nature of technology and governance, in the battle of ideas both the “Madisonian” and “Trumanite” networks get their ideas from Universities, Think Tanks, and special advisers.  As it relates to public policy, if the “Madisonian” institutions are primarily controlled by the “Trumanite” Network, I needed to focus my advocacy on those people, universities, and think tanks who are the core providers of prestige and ideas that are infringing on our constitutional and natural human rights as it relates to privacy and security.

As it relates to the creation of the “Trumanite” network in 1947 and its effectiveness at mitigating risk for the U.S. population. I highly recommend reading a recent article published by Noam Chomsky on “America’s Real Foreign Policy” which persuasively makes the case that since the creation of what is known as the “Trumanite” network, America’s Foreign policy and National Security Policies have only increased risk for the U.S. Population.(56)  Thus, in the U.S. our “Madisonian” institutions have been subjugated by the “Trumanite” network and the policies of the “Trumanite” national security network have only over time increased risk to the U.S. population.

In the next series of posts, I will commence the story of my own advocacy, how I did it, what I learned, and the results.

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6 Responses to Thoughts – National Security and Double Government (Madisonians vs. Trumanites)

  1. jgreen7801 says:

    A good read with much food for thought. Especially for a recently aroused radical such as me.


    • chrisallsup says:

      Thank you for contributing. The over arching question this entire research blog is addressing is how technology has changed politics in the modern information age. Find out more here

      You may also be interested in my research comprising Part 1 and Part 2 of this research blog. Part 1 explores the question:

      Is the U.S. a Democratic or Authoritarian national surveillance state with respect to the natural law treatment of human civil liberties?

      Part 2 explores the question:

      What is the nature of technology and governance with respect to their impacts on constitutional rights, natural human rights, and economic advancement?



  2. Pingback: Thougths – What does Obama & His NSA Review Panel really think about security & Surveillance? | @The Heart of Big Brother

  3. Pingback: Thoughts – What do America’s top liberal legal scholars think about surveillance, governance, and their own ideas? | @The Heart of Big Brother

  4. Pingback: Thoughts – A Reasonable Articulable Suspicion Regarding Conspiracy Theories and Government Surveillance of U.S. Citizens | @The Heart of Big Brother

  5. Pingback: Thoughts – How can the U.S. Government restrict our First Amendment Rights? | @The Heart of Big Brother

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