The right-leaning populist movement embraces the Founders' vision -- except when it comes to national security, civil liberties and foreign affairs
In Yuval Levin's smart essay, "What Is Constitutional Conservatism," one paragraph stands out as an eloquent statement of what the political philosophy has to offer. "As the framers saw it, both populist and technocratic politics were expressions of a modern hubris about the capacity of human beings -- be it of the experts or of the people as a whole -- to make just the right governing decisions," he writes. "The Constitution is built upon a profound skepticism about the ability of any political arrangement to overcome the limitations of human reason and human nature, and so establishes a system of checks to prevent sudden large mistakes while enabling gradual changes supported by a broad and longstanding consensus. Experts should not govern, nor should the people do so directly, but rather the people's representatives should govern in a system filled with mediating institutions and opposing interests -- a system designed to force us to see problems and proposed solutions from a variety of angles simultaneously."
That is a message for this moment.
The populist temptation is alive on the right, channeled through the Tea Party, and on the left, courtesy of Occupy Wall Street. Either seems capable of "the passing of bad laws through haste, inadvertence, or design," -- that's Alexander Hamilton from Federalist 73, as quoted by Levin -- and the populists themselves are responding largely to the financial crisis, which among many other things is a reminder of how catastrophically America's technocrats can fail us.