CALawMama's Blog


Experiences at the interface of life, law, and motherhood in Cali

Book Review: The U.S. Constitution and the 196 Indispensable Principles of Freedom by Oliver DeMille

I want to start out this review by engaging you in a visualization technique. I want you to close your eyes, concentrate, and think back to when you were in elementary school. Think back to the days of paper friendship chains, and cornucopias, and when you remembered which President’s birthday it was when you got a day of school off. Now, focus, and remember a thing called a “Citizenship Award?” or something with a similar name. Remember what it stood for? Perhaps helping out class mates, doing things without asking, being nice to other people, in some way being a good person, just for the sake of it.

Now open your eyes and be an adult again. When you hear the phrase, do your civic duty, what does that make you think of? I’m guessing you are thinking of voting, or jury duty, and how you dread it. THAT juxtaposition of what being a good citizen as a child and what it means as an adult are what I believe this book, at its core centers on. It is a call to true citizenship, in the full meaning of the term.

This book came into my life at an interesting time. I was recently asked to be a part of the HomeSchool Association of California‘s legal team, and have been returning to a more rigorous study of the various homeschool methods out there. If you read my Homeschooling for Lawyers blog, you’ll remember I’m a fan of Charlotte Mason and Classical Education, although we don’t follow either or any to a T. Additionally, as a blawger, I am always interested in opportunities to engage my “legal brain” so to speak.

So, when I saw a solicitation to read over this book in a Thomas Jefferson Education discussion group, you can bet I jumped at the chance. At its core, the book The U.S. Constitution and the 196 Indispensable Principles of Freedom, by Oliver DeMille, is about freedom. What it looks like, what erodes it, and why we need it.

I personally believe that a solid understanding of Natural Law and the Enlightenment as it relates to government, is key to understanding some of the concepts that DeMille is discussing. And I personally cannot engage in a conversation about Natural Law without hearkening back to Hobbes in Leviathan, where he says:

“Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry… no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Therefore, in nature, we begin in a state of every man for himself, in which case, life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Clearly, no one wants that, or to borrow the phrase, “no man is an island.”

With that as the starting point, the question that presents itself is, what sort of government DO we want? DeMille recounts an impressive history of the Founders, and discusses in depth the sources from which they drew their inspiration in order to frame our Constitution and federal government system. (At first I was going to list them, but I think its better to not, so that you will be further incentivized to read for yourselves.)

He does this for three primary reasons: 1) in an attempt to put the reader on a level playing field in terms of common knowledge for the terms of discussion; and 2) in order to encourage the reader to delve into a study of them; and 3) to demonstrate how important these various ideas and writings are both historically and in modernity.

I’m not sure why, but as I was typing that last sentence, the story of Icarus came to mind, but alas perhaps my TJEd 7 Keys Certification brain is getting muddled with my review, so I will move on 🙂

DeMille gives an extensive overview of the various texts in order to arrive at a sort of open ended answer to what it means to truly be free. For example, one concept that will certainly appear radical to the reader, is the notion that the government is only responsible, in very broad terms, of protecting people from each other, only in as much as they might kill each other, so to speak. See the Leviathan quote above to get a better sense of what I mean. He also mentions specific limited governmental responsibilities, but beyond that, it is the OTHER factions of society that are responsible to carry out various tasks.

For example, imagine this:

  • Churches, families, and communities rallying together to boycott an artist.
  • A community voluntarily cleaning up a polluted waterbed.
  • Communities, churches, and families rising up to cloth the naked and feed the hungry, etc.

This is just a very basic overview of his discussion of these 7 separate spheres, and I highly recommend reading it for yourself to get a better understanding of this view of limited, balanced, government. There is also a very compelling discussion of the problems with a political party based system. I would venture to guess that DeMille and I might be at opposite ends of the Liberal to Conservative spectrum, demonstrating that political affiliation is irrelevant in drawing wisdom from this inspirational text, and in fact can obfuscate the heart of important matters in governing a truly free society.

Another concept that was very compelling to me, was his discussion of lawyers. It is always interesting to me to hear what other peoples’ perceptions are of the profession from the outside, and in this case, I tend to think he was dead on.

For example, most current American lawyers define the term “constitutional law” as a study of the historically important Supreme Court cases and development of the U.S. judiciary, but a more accurate meaning of the same phrase is a study of how constitutions are written.

This concept is often lost to current legal thinkers…”They speak as if they were bound.” The contemporary legal systems to which they are bound seem to leave an ever-shrinking area to individual freedom.

Not once during law school do I recall ever thinking, I cannot wait to get out of here and CHANGE the laws or how they work. Granted, MUCH Socratic discussion was given to why certain laws seemed poorly written or ineffective, but the manner of the day in each discussion was how to use the current system to argue that the law does not apply, or to use it to your client’s advantage, whether that be an individual, a business, governmental branch, etc.

There is no call to action to revitalize the legal system itself, in my opinion, in the current law school classrooms. There is also an important discussion of the problem with having too many laws, laws that are too complicated (hello tax code!), laws and sentencing rules that are applied unfairly, and laws that are not well known. You will find yourself nodding all the while.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the concept of a vicinage jury. You’ll have to read this for yourself and let me know what you think! I thought it was fascinating. I think most people will agree that there is much room for progress in our current criminal law system– or within our litigious society in general, for that matter. Ideas abound.

Relatedly, he engages in a brief discussion of political scientists, saying that they, “often appear to be inclined to think of politics as a sort of technique, comparable, say, to engineering…The engineering idea of political science has, in fact, little, if anything, in common with the cause of individual freedom.”

I cannot lie, my senior seminar paper in Political Science, In Defense of: In Defense of a Political Court, based upon the book written by one of my mentors, was VERY science-y. In fact, all majors were required to take an Applied Quantitative Methods course where we learn how to apply statistical analysis to political facts. My paper focused on the statistical significance of drug laws on drug related outcomes (emergency room visits, etc.). However, to my professor’s great credit, the purpose of the seminar, was to read, discuss, and analyze the writings of many of the foremost scholars in the field on the topic of judicial review. These included Ely, Black, Segal & Spaeth, Bork, and many many others that I am embarrassed to admit I just can’t remember nearly 10 years later. In retrospect, I also was amazingly blessed to have a very inspiring and thought provoking Political Philosophy professor, who assigned as required reading many of the sources referred to in the text.

So what is the point of this borderline narcissistic discussion of my back story as it relates to this book? It is that this book is critical, in my opinion, for awakening the slumbering beast that is an apathetic citizenry in this country.

Complacency is not new. In fact, as a senior in high school, one of our assignments was to write to a local congress person on an issue that we thought was important. I wrote about my concern that none of my contemporaries CARED. Perhaps many will recall the scene in Network, where the protagonist puts his head out the window and shouts: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

A Thomas Jefferson Education was inspiring to me because I want to give my children an education such that they are intimately familiar with great works and big ideas, AND I want them to be leaders. I want them to be informed. I want acting honestly, and with integrity to be second nature, and I want them to be able to make decisions in difficult times. I want them to make our country a better place, and they cannot do it unless they are exposed to authentic sources, the least of which include writings by our founders.

This book comes into play because it is up to us as parents and adults to lead the charge. If we are so preoccupied with the American Idol finale– gosh what a fitting title that show has– then who will be available to discuss the Declaration of Independence with our children? Who will be around to teach them why we feel Supreme Court decisions were unfair or unjust, and what to do now? Those are very singular and focused examples of what may get our family going, but the opportunities for learning and teaching about freedom abound, as this book specifically elucidates. (Some might say that is what grandparents and the older generations are for, but if our generation is not investing in learning about those things now, who will have that wisdom to share when we become grandparents?)

The book closes with DeMille’s list of 196 principles which he has drawn from the various sources he discussed. They are thought provoking and exhaustive. Further, each individual section ends with a list of study questions and recommended reading, true to DeMille-ian form.

My brain was literally bursting when I finished the book, to the point that I had to take nearly a week to digest all of the big ideas. This book will re-awaken a sense of importance and mission and purpose in you if you are willing to let it in. You may not agree with everything DeMille has to say, but that is not necessary, nor even suggested.

Finally, I would like to close with a quote that really spoke to me, and I believe perhaps best captures what DeMille was going for here:

A free people must be generally courageous. A free people must be generally resilient. A free people must exhibit the general habit of initiative. A free people must be generally virtuous. A free people must be generally and voluntarily self sacrificing for freedom.

Even as it is written, I feel as though this review doesn’t nearly touch upon all of the points I would like to cover or thoughts that it made me think, but as they say, these continual well of wisdom is the mark of a true classic. This book should be on your Holiday wishlist, you will not regret it. This is a book that you will definitely want to buy a physical copy of so that you can highlight and annotate to your heart’s content. Click here for ordering information. Please share your thoughts with me after you get a chance to read it as well. Cheers!

Filed under: A Thomas Jefferson Education, Book Review, Classics, Constitutional Law, First Amendment, Freedom, Judicial Review, Law, Natural Law, TJED, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Book Review: “Let’s Avoid Uncle Dale”by Dos Bad Dads

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing Dos Bad Dads’ most recent work of satirical children’s literature. As proclaimed in their forward, this book is for children who are essentially incapabable of understanding what you are saying yet, or in any event cannot parrot your words back to you. Let’s face it, it’s basically for snarky sarcastic parents, like me.

I thought it was hilarious. It centers on the paradigmatic experience of parents everywhere that comes along when dealing with people who are totally full of it. You know, the ones who claim to have gone to the same college as mommy and daddy on their facebook profile, when you know full well they didn’t go to college at all. Or the ones who claim to be sitting on a tidy sum, yet subsist entirely on a diet of Ramen noodles, ringing any bells?

It’s funny because in real life, social norms usually dictate that the polite thing to do, the “proper” thing, is to not call out these total liars, especially not to children. That damn Bambi Golden Rule and everything.

The book centers on the themes where people are mostly likely to lie/those areas of life with which our society grants the highest respect: educational achievements, investment prowess, marital status, military service, etc. The things which earn respect, but are increasingly difficult to accomplish are also those which are increasingly easy to lie about or fib, especially on the internet and through the use of social media.

It’s also funny because, let’s face it, as parents we take everything so Goddamn seriously, we have to, or we get judged by the parenting police. Not that such a thing exists, but you know what I mean. Our everything related to parenting is under constant scrutiny by everyone we encounter, and yet we aren’t supposed to say anything mean you know because manners. Well whatever.

However, it does come back to the underlying theme, which is that their uncle loves them, even if he is never to be trusted with any child related responsibilities, ever.

Children’s satire books are good for parents. Hopefully DBD can continue to fill that void.

I think it’s the funniest thing you can buy for $2 for yourself, and I would personally HIGHLY recommend it for a good PABSy (PABS= Passive Aggressive Bull Shit– best acronym I ever did read on the interwebz) gift to someone you know who may engage in the same lines of work as Uncle Dale. Especially since Father’s Day is coming up.

Happy reading!


Twitter: @dosbaddads

Filed under: Book Review, Children's Books, Parenting, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Book Review FYI: Great Grandma is Racist

I was recently approached by some of my tweeps (@DosBadDads) to review their latest “baby” book, entitled FYI:Great Grandma is Racist. Being that uno of the dos is an English Lit professor, or something, perhaps he can remind me what the rule is regarding how to properly denote that you are discussing a book. I seem to remember you are supposed to underline it, whereas an article is italicized, but underlining isn’t an option in WordPress, and the title should clearly indicate that it’s a book. So there you go grammar police! Anyway…

FYI: Great Grandma is Racist

cover page

I really like this book. The only reason I can’t say that I love it is because I think that people who fall within the racial categories discussed might take offense at the fact that it is essentially making light of the fact that our majority culture (read: white people, though this is slowly changes to a glorious amalgam, or melting pot as we’re taught in elementary school) accepts racism rather than addresses it, in order to make it through the uncomfortable moments when it rears its ugly head. However, keep in mind that I live in one of the most radically liberal areas, and thus I’m probably oversensitive. Also, it’s not like the authors created the phenomenon, it just exists. With that in mind, we shall continue.

There are several things that I love about this book, and I mean that broadly.

  1. It accurately centers on the awkward relationship between parents (though this could apply to any individuals, since it is a book intended to be read to babies that don’t quite understand what you’re saying to them, I’ll assume it is aimed at parents) and older relatives and their inappropriate behaviors. While the broader message is that we must subvert our impulse to control or correct others’ behaviors due to their racist tendencies because of the fact that there isn’t much longer we must put up with them, it isn’t only racism that parents have to deal with, and it isn’t always restricted to people who are nearing the end of their living spectrum. Subverting feelings of rage towards relatives for their inappropriate, unwelcomed, or otherwise unhelpful advice, input, or unsolicited information is one of the most common recurring problems parents face in the real world, IMO. Close relatives and even complete strangers will give you advice on your parenting when you didn’t even realize you were inviting their input–because of course you weren’t. (I have a good friend that lives near the Haight and regularly gets advice from transients who are most likely probably under the influence, bless her heart!) Additionally, it highlights the struggle between using an example of undesirable behavior to teach your children what’s right (for example if they called someone a racist term you would correct them and explain all the reasons it’s hurtful, etc.) versus the fact that you should respect your older relatives’ feelings, and not embarrass them or attempt to speak for their behaviors. Hopefully you are still following me at this point 🙂
  2. The overall style of the tone is incredibly evocative of Carrie Bradshaw’s pitch to Mr. Big’s ex in the Sex and the City series. Ladies are you with me? She goes into the meeting knowing that the woman is a publisher, but not realizing that she exclusively publishes children’s books. So she comes up with an idea off the top of her head regarding a girl named Cathy that can travel anywhere in the world when she lights up one of her magic cigarettes. A children’s book for adults, Carrie musters to explain. The publisher loves the idea and praises her ingenue. FYI GGIR falls squarely within that genre.
  3. It exposes the incredible hypocrisy prevalent in American culture that individuals are comfortable being racist in any number of facets of their lives, yet accept entertainers (or those in other professions) that fall within a race that they would ordinarily hate on because of some plus factor. The book describes how GG loves Eddie Murphy, presumably for his Shrek movies, but shows her being rude to an African American librarian. I bet GG would be shocked to learn of Eddie Murphy’s roots and how he earned his claim to family fun fame. Also, in researching the name of his first standup show (it’s Delirious, in case you didn’t want to follow the link, which you should it’s HILARIOUS, though incredibly vulgar), I read in his Wiki entry that he is the second highest grossing actor in the U.S.! I was too short on time to discover who number one was, but OMG, I would NEVER have thought Eddie Murphy was so high up there.
  4. Lastly, this is sort of a tangent, in case I haven’t already taken enough of those in this post, this book highlights the importance of discussing race with children. I’ll take this opportunity to recommend another book to parents, called NurtureShock by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman, which has an entire chapter dedicated to talking about race with children. Apparently, the common tactic taken by us “cultured” liberal accepting parents is to not address race for fear of putting artificial labels in our childrens’ heads. We think that by hanging out with muliticultural families or sending our children to “diverse” preschools that they will learn acceptance by osmosis, but apparently this is not the case. Children have an inherent need for everything to fit neatly into its own category, and when we don’t supply them with these labels and tell them that just because their friend has dark skin, he still likes the same things, feels the same feelings, etc. they will automatically assume that those who look like them must like the same things, whereas those who look different must not be the same as them. (The exact term for this is escaping me.) Thus our attempts backfire, and sometimes kids can run into problems. There is a fascinating discussion about the parents of children who were involved in a study that was attempting to gauge the effectiveness of diversity teachings, you’ll have to read about that one on your own if you’re interested.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book, if for no other reason than it will only cost you $2, little more than the price of a song on iTunes (they raised their prices to $1.25 a song, in case you didn’t know!), and a little less than $2 Chuck (which by the way has also had its price raised, to $2.49).

In addition to buying a copy for yourself, because you know you’ll need a laugh to accompany your copy of Go the F**k to Sleep, I would DEFINITELY buy a copy for all of your friends when you attend their baby showers. It’s my personal feeling that modern parents can be too uptight and serious, and not laugh at the incredible unreasonableness that parenting can sometimes entail. Let’s keep it real and take a break in between the debates of EBF, rear facing car seats, homemade baby food, eliminating food coloring, corn syrup and GMOs, and poke fun at some of the realities we have to deal with.

Also, go follow @DosBadDads, they’re funny for realz.

Filed under: Book Review, Parenting, , , , , ,

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