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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist

Carol Platt Liebau is a senior member of the editorial board. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. [go to Liebau index]


A Rich and Rewarding Roadmap
California on “The California Republic”...
[Carol Platt Liebau] 4/9/04   

The California Republic: Institutions, Statesmanship, and Policies
by Brian P. Janiskee (Editor), Ken Masugi (Editor) [Rowman & Littlefield]

With the release of The California Republic – edited by Brian P. Janiskee, assistant professor of political science at Cal State-San Bernadino and Ken Masugi, director of the Center for Local Government at the Claremont Institute – those seeking to understand California’s politics, its culture, and its history have found an indispensable source.

Made up of a wide-ranging collection of essays that originated in a scholarly conference hosted by the Claremont Institute, California Republic is complemented by additional contributions. The volume is divided into five parts: “California in a Federal System;” “Institutions;” “Local Government;” “Statesmanship;” and “Policies and Perspectives.” But running throughout is an overarching theme: The significance and impact of the rise of the Progressive movement on California, past and present.

Unlike many such compendia, California Republic’s editors approach their work from an unabashedly political position: That of full-throated opposition to Progressivism in California. Through the selection of articles, they suggest that this bipartisan movement has undermined the concepts of limited government and constitutionalism adopted first by America’s founders, and then by California’s. As a result, Janiskee and Masugi contend, the role of California’s government has evolved – and not for the better – from an initial commitment to realizing the “equality” principle through the protection of equal rights (albeit with ensuing inequality of results), to a commitment to “guaranteeing minimum levels of security and comforts for all.”

The issues of how this transformation occurred, the impact of the change, and the context through which Progressive themes still resonate in the state today occupy the bulk of the book. Particularly compelling is Claremont Institute president Brian Kennedy’s examination of the governorship of Gray Davis – a period that he asserts marked the moment in state political history when constitutional government in California became virtually impossible. Kennedy argues that Davis’ approach to governing – consisting of little more than an essentially non-ideological devotion to the interests of the state apparatus and public employees – and the deeply disturbing political consequences, are the legacy of the Progressive philosophy bequeathed to California by influential Governor Hiram Johnson.

Other essays are likewise intriguing and valuable, if not as obviously related to the stated theme of the collection. They include a piece by Ralph Rossum, a constitutional scholar, discussing the role of the Seventeenth Amendment, which provided for the direct election of senators, in undermining federalist principles and rendering state interests less important. There are likewise valuable analyses of the careers and significance of two Californian presidents, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Classicist, historian and writer Victor Davis Hanson discusses the role of the farmer as the “last check on our innate democratic excesses” in Ancient Greece and California, and ponders the implications of the California farmer’s slow demise.

Even with twenty-two essays – well-argued and carefully presented – by some of California’s (and the nation’s) most prominent thinkers, California Republic does not present itself as a balanced or even comprehensive account of California history, culture, policies and politics, nor could it. It does not purport to be a textbook. Rather, it is a guidebook – a rich roadmap to a fuller, deeper understanding of the nation’s largest, most populous, and arguably most important state. And it is a political treatise – arguing, sometimes subtly and sometimes not, for the preeminence of natural law and the limited government that follows ineluctably therefrom.

And it is certainly a necessity – both for serious students of California and for general interest readers seeking a deeper understanding of the Golden State and political theory alike. CRO

CRO columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA.

copyright 2004


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