When revolutionary fever was raging across Europe in the 19th century, when atheist, egalitarian communists were writing new political constitutions without hesitation and according to every whim and fad, conservatives like Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre brought attention to a very important concept: the unwritten constitution. The unwritten constitution is the temperament and predispositions of a society that give it its unique features. Any written political constitution will be a reflection of this deeper part of a people’s life. At its best, the written constitution will be a true reflection of it; at its worst, a distorted reflection of it.
Louisiana, like every real ethnos, has her own unwritten constitution that shapes her political institutions. Because of her deep French influence, Louisiana’s unwritten code differs from that of many other states in the union, whose ancestry is largely English. Before the revolutions, most countries in Christian Europe generally had the same political institutions: a central authority in the king as well as regional and local authorities, some elected, others hereditary, that governed conjointly with him – though the powers exercised by each varied from country to country. In France, the national executive was stronger and the other authorities weaker. In England, it was the reverse: The local authorities were stronger, and the national king weaker. This does not make one country better than another; it is simply a manifestation of the inner life of each people, which, thanks be to God, is not a dull uniformity across the globe.
The French political system, as we said, works best when there is a strong central executive authority overseeing the whole of it – an Iberville, a King Louis XIV, a Charles de Gaulle. Since this French element is the primordial one in Louisiana’s unwritten constitution, we need to harmonize our written constitution with it. A fight against nature is one doomed to failure. But it is just this sort of fight that many are engaged in here in Louisiana by trying to establish a legislature that is independent of, hostile to, or supreme above the executive. The results are easy enough to see in the dysfunction of Louisiana’s Legislature over the years (especially glaring this year, with the Clay Schexnayder debacle).
Rather than fighting a losing and costly war against nature, we need to work with it. For years, the unofficial practice in Louisiana was for the governor to choose the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate. Rather than abandoning this practice and thus warring against Louisiana’s unwritten constitution, it needs to be made official, in keeping with our Frenchness, while hedging it with some checks/protections, in keeping with our Englishness (of which there is a good deal here in Louisiana).
Ideally, we would see the necessary clauses added to the State constitution empowering the Governor to name the leaders of the two legislative chambers, while at the same time vesting the two chambers with the ability to oust the Speaker or President by a vote of 3/5 of the members of the respective chamber (a simple majority seems too low a threshold for such an extraordinary motion).
This vote would be initiated at the request of ¼ of the members of the chamber, who would be required to submit a report detailing their reasons for bringing the request (if they fail to produce such a report, the request for a vote would be denied outright); the vote should be required to take place quickly, 3 to 7 days after the request and submission of the report.
Likewise, the ability to oust the Speaker or President should be limited to once a year, in order to keep it from becoming a weapon against the Governor or other political enemies by keeping the Legislature in a constant state of turmoil, unable to conduct its normal business; in order to promote stability in the government; and to emphasize that such a vote is not to viewed as a normal part of political life but an extraordinary act carried out to put a stop to some egregious violation of the political order. If the Speaker or President is removed, the Governor will retain the power to name his replacement.
Adopting such a change would help put an end to the embarrassing backroom deals to gain leadership positions in the House and Senate that create such problematic, vitriolic divisions amongst the members, which, in turn, keep good legislation from passing. A more transparent selection process combined with a clear understanding of who is responsible for those choices, will help the Legislature to function better for the common good, rather than for a small political faction or party.
Even something as simple as a predictable chain of leadership as envisioned in the above can improve the function of an organization. Conversely, when the choice of leaders descends to shadowy, Machiavellian power struggles in which the contestants are afraid of the hidden political/metaphorical daggers and brass knuckles their opponents are ready and willing to use to secure high position, that body of men will be rife with disorder (which, again, is what we see in the Louisiana Legislature).
This will mean, necessarily, that the Governor has a slightly larger official role to play in State government, but that is not to be feared. What is frightful is the continued spiral down into chaos that results from transgressing our unwritten constitution year after year. But if any voters are still frightened by this proposal, that too could be beneficial, as their fear might cause them to be more careful about who they choose for the governorship.
Nevertheless, many of Louisiana’s political reformers persist in their desire for a stronger legislature and a neutered executive (and in some limited cases this is warranted, as with executive overreach and legislative timidness during COVID). But by ignoring the larger reality, by fighting against Louisiana’s unwritten constitution, they are repeating the mistakes of the Revolutionaries of France, Russia, China, etc., who viewed human nature as infinitely malleable because (for them) it is detached and separate from any historical roots or customs.
Ignoring historical reality means living in a delusion, in a dream world. And refusing to accept reality will land a man, at length, in a psychiatric ward, like Jack Nicholson and his chums in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. That, unfortunately, is a pretty good description of Louisiana’s Legislature nowadays, and pretty solid proof that such proposals are not fitting for la Louisiane.