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The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution: Reconstructing the Economic Foundations of American Democracy w/ Joseph Fishkin – Source – Parallax Views

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On this edition of Parallax Views, Joseph Fishkin, Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law, joins us to discuss his new book, co-authored with William E. Forbath, The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution: Reconstructing the Economic Foundations of American Democracy.

Oligarchy is a term often used when describing power players in countries like Russia. But what of the United States? And what can a look at the Founding Father and the Constitution tells us about American concerns about oligarchic wealth and power throughout U.S. history?

In this conversation we seek to answer that question and we talk about the history of progressive reforms in the U.S. and debates that have been had over the Constitution over the years. Additionally, Joseph and I discuss constitutional arguments, the problem with overconcentration of wealth into the hands of the few, and Fishkin’s belief that American liberals and the left must not ceded constitutional arguments to the right-wing.

Among the topics covered:

– Beliefs among the Founding Fathers about the need for a broad middle class for the Republic to function and how to much wealth concentrated into the hands of landed oligarchs would be disruptive

– FDR and the “Democracy of Opportunity” tradition; wealth inequality as a hinderance to freedom; how we conceptualize the idea of freedom on the right and the left of the political spectrum

– How the American right-wing seized the ground of Constitutional arguments

– The Supreme Court

– Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Alexander Hamilton, class, and divisions amongst the Founding Fathers on certain issues

– The Civil War, Reconstruction,  Abolitionists, Radical Republicans, the landed aristocracy, slavery and “Forty Acres and a Mule”

– The collapse of Reconstruction, the political system in the South, the landed aristocracy and the use of wealth to influence politics

– The landed aristocracy’s attempts to prevent fusion politics between the poor black and poor whites; fusionist pro-labor politics as a challenge to oligarchic interest in the South

– Explaining the Gilded Age of the late 19th and early 20th century; the resistance to the massive wealth concentration and monopolies of that time; the emerging American underclass in the Gilded Age; the call for better wage, redistribution of wealth, and more that informed the early 20th century labor movement

– How early 20th century courts used constitutional law arguments to put down labor strikes; how populists and progressives crafted constitutional counter-arguments against the courts’ arguments in response; parallels between the Gilded Age and today (are we living in The Second Gilded Age?)

– Constitutional arguments as needing to be within the realm of politics rather than just arguments to be made in the courts; progressive claims on the Constitution; Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s contention that the Constitution is a “laymen’s document” rather than just a lawyer’s document full of arcana to be argued over by elites

– The history of American populism and it’s importance; the hijacking of American populism; right-wing populism and how the right-wing defines elitism and elites in a way that differs from the left; “The Kingfish” Huey Long; Bernie Sanders and populism

– LBJ’s “The Great Society” and the phenomena Fishkin and Forbath refer to as “The Great Forgetting”; FDR and the New Deal; court-packing; social security and labor law; the left’s move towards making technical expertise arguments over constitutional arguments

– Campaign finance law and the need for Constitutional arguments in the U.S. today

– And much, much more!


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