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The Founding Fathers’ Fiscal Crisis

PRINCETON – Americans are fond of speaking in reverential tones about “the wisdom of the Founding Fathers” – that is, the men who wrote the United States Constitution. But the manner in which the House of Representatives has been able to bring the government – or, at least, its non-essential services – to a halt is making the Founding Fathers look rather foolish.

The fundamental cause of the fiscal crisis lies in the Founding Fathers’ belief in the doctrine of the separation of powers. That doctrine has always been philosophically controversial.

Thomas Hobbes, writing during the English Civil War, opposed the separation of powers, believing that only a strong and unified central government could ensure peace. John Locke, for his part, was more concerned with curbing monarchical power and regarded the separation of legislative and executive powers as one way to do that.

Having fought against what they regarded as the tyranny of George III, the American revolutionaries wanted to ensure that no such tyranny could arise in the new nation that they were establishing. To do so, they wrote the doctrine of the separation of powers into its constitution.