Our Constitution is an incredible document. Unique in it’s design and application, it puts the rights of the individual over the power of the state. It hearkens to the notion of natural rights-that our rights are granted by our creator, and that government cannot take them away, or otherwise abridge them. That people have a right to speak freely, worship as they please (or not at all), and bear arms in their own defense, can be secure in their papers and possessions, and many others. But, it’s greatest strength, in my opinion, is that it limits the powers of the government. As President Obama lamented, the Constitutions is a collection of negative liberties that limit the power of the government. It is those limitations on government power that allowed this nation to be the most free, and therefore prosperous in human history.
However, our Constitution, while a boon to the individual citizen, is the bane of those that desire government control over all aspects of human life. We’ve seem countless attempts to circumvent the Constitution’s prohibition against government power. Many times, the founding document is ignored outright, other times, a liberal judge is utilized to invent something that is not present. No matter the methodology, the intent is clear-bypass the Constitution to grant the federal government more and more unconstitutional power.
We’ve seen the results unfold over the past few decades. Creeping into our lives bit by bit, government takes one freedom after another, and makes it more and more difficult to enjoy others. At the time of this writing, we are in a rather deep recession caused by the government’s fiscal policies, and social engineering to increase home ownership. Both of these collided, and the common citizen is left holding the bill, and a bunch of debt certificates that we call currency. Again, had the government not meddled in things that they have no legal authority to do, we would not be in this mess we are in now.
Statists, no matter what letter comes after their name, have been increasingly critical of the Constitution. But I saw two more in recent days, both of which display the disdain of our would be “progressive” masters. The first comes from the NY Times, the liberal media mothership…
“The turn of the twenty-first century, however, saw the beginning of a steep plunge that continues through the most recent years for which we have data, to the point that the constitutions of the world’s democracies are, on average, less similar to the U.S. Constitution now than they were at the end of World War II.”
There are lots of possible reasons. Our Constitution is terse and old, and it guarantees relatively few rights. The commitment of some members of the Supreme Court to interpreting the Constitution according to its original meaning in the 18th century may send the signal that it is of little current use to, say, a new African nation. And the Constitution’s waning influence may be part of a general decline in American power and prestige.
In an interview, Professor Law identified a central reason for the trend: the availability of newer, sexier and more powerful operating systems in the constitutional marketplace. “Nobody wants to copy Windows 3.1,” he said.
Here, they are resurrecting a common argument. Essentially, to avoid discussing the rights, and more importantly, the limitations on government in the Constitution, they state that it was written for a 18th century, agrarian, slave owning, nation. Rather than discuss that powerful governments always end up in tyranny, they stress that the document is outmoded, and not fit for the 21st century.
The rights guaranteed by our Constitution are parsimonious by international standards, and they are frozen in amber. As Sanford Levinson wrote in 2006 in “Our Undemocratic Constitution,” “the U.S. Constitution is the most difficult to amend of any constitution currently existing in the world today.” (Yugoslavia used to hold that title, but Yugoslavia did not work out.)
That is the point, is it not? The fact that it is not easy to amend is not a flaw, but a feature. It is built to be changed, but there are many safeguards to protect us from sudden and “fashionable” changes.
Here is one of the core issues for the statist crowd:
These days, the overlap between the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and those most popular around the world is spotty. We recognize rights not widely protected, including ones to a speedy and public trial, and we are an outlier in prohibiting government establishment of religion. But the Constitution is out of step with the rest of the world in failing to protect, at least in so many words, a right to travel, the presumption of innocence and entitlement to food, education and health care.
The last sentence is the crux of the matter, and where we see the greatest difference, and the greatest threat. There are reasons that entitlement to food, education, and health care are not in our Constitution- the federal government has no role in them! And, when government has gotten involved in issues, have they not gotten worse? We’ve spent billions on education, yet graduation rates and illiteracy rates are flat-lined, if not to the negative. We have welfare programs to fight a “war on poverty.” The result is that poverty won! We have more poor people, and the system has created a permanent dependent class, who almost always vote for the party that keeps the benefits coming.
Besides government intervention being ineffective at best, and destructive at worst, there is another problem. When government grants these rights, the government can take them away. That gives the government incredible power over the populace. Who wants to rock the boat, and risk losing their food, health care, or education? Of course, if the government can give you food, housing, and education, they then have the power to dictate every single detail of your diet, dwelling, indoctrination, and what treatment or medications that you can receive. Then, I might remind you of the 20,000 British citizens that were killed by their government when bureaucrats decided that their cancer treatment was too expensive. They didn’t have a right at all, once the government decided that the treasury was more important than their lives. In the end, government power is the goal of these so called rights, not the freedom of the individual.
I have often said that tyrants do not announce themselves. The Constitution of the USSR was a beautiful document. Their government made many promises as to the rights of the people. Of course, since government controlled everything, those alleged freedoms were never seen. Hitler and Mussolini portrayed themselves as champions of the “little man.” We all know where that led. All over the planet, and all through history, dictators have used soaring rhetoric and promises of “peace, land, and bread” to lull a populace into a false sense of security. Once the tyrant is in power, however, there is often little of all of these.
In the final analysis, the critics of our founding documents lead from a false argument. They ignore the strengths of the US Constitution, and embrace an all powerful state that, in the end, will control all aspects of human life. I then have to ask, if government controls everything that you do, are you free, and do you have rights at all?