The 5000 Year Leap - A Book Review

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The 5000 Year Leap is a book that has often been recommended as "required reading" for Tea Partiers.  It was again recommended at the close of one of our meetings.  The man who recently recommended this book wrote a review to share with others.  Click here if you are interested in obtaining a copy for yourself.

A BOOK REVIEW
THE FIVE THOUSAND YEAR LEAP, by W. Cleon Skousen

Several months ago, my daughter asked me what was special about America.  She has traveled the world – Europe, Australia, South America – and really didn’t see much different here in the USA.  I gave her some lame answers.  Had I read this book, I would have had truly great answers.  The shame is that this information is not taught in American Government classes in high school!  This book has been around awhile (since 1981).  I believe it to be timeless, and priceless.

OUR REMARKABLE FOUNDING FATHERS

A striking theme of this book is the focus of our Founding Fathers on the history of governments of the world and on the causes for their failure.   The participants in the Constitutional Convention had developed a profound understanding of governments and why they had fallen. They had personally observed governments under the kings and other tyrants of Europe.  They had studied extensively (in Greek, Latin, French and English) the writings of Cicero, Polybius and Montesquieu, to name a few.  Very likely these brave men were more knowledgeable concerning government than the great majority of today’s elected officials.

A major conclusion appears to be that all governments had eventually failed, succumbing either to tyranny or anarchy – too much government or too little government.  In between they believed the “People’s Law” existed, where government was kept under the control of people.  They came to believe that political power ought to be maintained at the balanced center, with enough government to maintain security, justice and good order, but not enough government to abuse the people.   But how best to achieve this was the question.

Not only did they learn from the history of governments worldwide, they learned from their own nearly fatal mistake only eleven years earlier when they had drafted the Articles of Confederation.  Early drafts of that document gave too much power to the central government. In their final document they provided that the central government would have no powers whatsoever except those “expressly authorized” by the states – there was no executive, no judiciary, no taxing power, and no enforcement power. Some said these “Articles” created such a weak government that it almost cost us our independence!

A result of this near-disaster was that they considered the Constitutional Convention of such importance that it lasted over four months, consisting of brainstorming, open discussion, with  many alternatives debated, attacked and defended, “in order to form a more perfect union”.

AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM EXPLAINED

Instead of fumbling to explain American Exceptionalism (which I attempted with my daughter), perhaps I should have relied on the clear explanations that emerge throughout this book.  For instance, what was the significance of the three headed eagle – with heads for executive, judiciary, and legislative?  This was a form of government that had been talked about for centuries – but never acted upon.  Polybius (a Greek who lived in 204 to 122 B.C.) is recognized as the greatest of all Greek historians.  He proposed a “Mixed Constitution” for ancient Rome, combining the best elements of monarchy, democracy, and aristocracy – that was not implemented because of the collapse of democracy in Rome.  In The Spirit of Laws, Baron Charles de Montesquieu wrote extensively further developing these ideas; in his book, he proposed the practical possibility of a government based on “separation of powers.”  Montesquieu’s book was heavily relied on by the Founders to guide their work.


Here’s how George Washington described it:

“The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositories and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern, some of them in our country and under our own eyes  To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them.  If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates.  But let there be no change by usurpation;  for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.”

The author summarizes nicely as follows:  “What the Founders wished to achieve in the Constitution of 1787 was machinery for the peaceful means of self repair when the system went out of balance.”

Our Constitution was the first place in the world where such a system of government was ever put into practice.   Did it work?  Perhaps history has already been the judge of this.  Simply ask yourself “what constitution is now the oldest in the world?”  OURS!  All others have fallen – making this an incredible triumph for our Founders, who so laboriously created it.

Many today propose that our Constitution is archaic and should be discarded.  Rather than discard it, others in government look for ways around it – so that it not hinder “progress.”  That they sometimes have been successful is immediately evident if you read the Tenth Amendment, which restricts the powers of the government only to those specifically enumerated.   In this book you will learn why Jefferson fully anticipated such attempts to subvert the Constitution, stating: “In questions of power, then, let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

This book provides the reason why our constitution will never become archaic, and ties this reason directly to human nature.  Simply stated, our Constitution provides the difference between the “Rule of Law” and the “Rule of Men.”

I could go on – but the words “American Exceptionalism” have taken on an entirely new meaning for me, as a result of reading this book.  I’ve given you only a snapshot.  Give it a read, and you’ll have an entirely new understanding of this great nation.  I wish I had been better prepared when my daughter was ready to engage…

Frank Crouse

 

A FEW MEANINGFUL QUOTES

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.  As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” Ben Franklin

“I must study politics and war, that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.”   John Adams

“It may be a reflection on human nature that such devices [as Constitutional chains] should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature.”  James Madison

“If the American people ever allow the banks to control the issuance of their currency, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all property until their children will wake up homeless on the continent their fathers occupied.  The issuing power of money should be taken from the banks and restored to Congress and the people to whom it belongs.”  Thomas Jefferson

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