Skip to comments.The perils of constitution-worship
Posted on 09/25/2010 1:04:09 PM PDT by Palter
One of the guiding principles of the tea-party movement is based on a myth
Wouldn't it be splendid if the solutions to Americas problems could be written down in a slim book no bigger than a passport that you could slip into your breast pocket? That, more or less, is the big idea of the tea-party movement, the grassroots mutiny against big government that has mounted an internal takeover of the Republican Party and changed the face of American politics. Listen to Michele Bachmann, a congresswoman from Minnesota and tea-party heroine, as she addressed the conservative Value Voters Summit in Washington, DC, last week:
The Declaration of Independence and the constitution have been venerated for two centuries. But thanks to the tea-party movement they are enjoying a dramatic revival. The day after this Septembers constitution-day anniversary, people all over the country congregated to read every word together aloud, a profoundly moving exercise that will take less than one hour, according to the gatherings organisers. At almost any tea-party meeting you can expect to see some patriot brandishing a copy of the hallowed texts and calling, with trembling voice, for a prodigal America to redeem itself by returning to its founding principles. The Washington Post reports that Colonial Williamsburg has been crowded with tea-partiers, asking the actors who play George Washington and his fellow founders for advice on how to cast off a tyrannical government.
Conservative think-tanks have the same dream of return to a prelapsarian innocence. The Heritage Foundation is running a first principles project to save America by reclaiming its truths and its promises and conserving its liberating principles for ourselves and our posterity. A Heritage book and video (We Still Hold These Truths) promotes the old verities as a panacea for present ills. America, such conservatives say, took a wrong turn when Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt fell under the spell of progressive ideas and expanded the scope of government beyond both the founders imaginings and the competence of any state. Under the cover of war and recession (never let a crisis go to waste, said Barack Obamas chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel), Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and now Mr Obama continued the bad work. Thus has mankinds greatest experiment in self-government been crushed by a monstrous Leviathan.
Accept for arguments sake that those who argue this way have identified the right problem. The constitution, on its own, does not provide the solution. Indeed, there is something infantile in the belief of the constitution-worshippers that the complex political arguments of today can be settled by simple fidelity to a document written in the 18th century. Michael Klarman of the Harvard Law School has a label for this urge to seek revealed truth in the sacred texts. He calls it constitutional idolatry.
The constitution is a thing of wonder, all the more miraculous for having been written when the rest of the worlds peoples were still under the boot of kings and emperors (with the magnificent exception of Britains constitutional monarchy, of course). But many of the tea-partiers have invented a strangely ahistorical version of it. For example, they say that the framers aim was to check the central government and protect the rights of the states. In fact the constitution of 1787 set out to do the opposite: to bolster the centre and weaken the power the states had briefly enjoyed under the new republics Articles of Confederation of 1777.
The words of men, not of gods
When history is turned into scripture and men into deities, truth is the victim. The framers were giants, visionaries and polymaths. But they were also aristocrats, creatures of their time fearful of what they considered the excessive democracy taking hold in the states in the 1780s. They did not believe that poor men, or any women, let alone slaves, should have the vote. Many of their decisions, such as giving every state two senators regardless of population, were the product not of Olympian sagacity but of grubby power-struggles and compromisesexactly the sort of backroom dealmaking, in fact, in which todays Congress excels and which is now so much out of favour with the tea-partiers.
More to the point is that the constitution provides few answers to the hard questions thrown up by modern politics. Should gays marry? No answer there. Mr Klarman argues that the framers would not even recognise Americas modern government, with its mighty administrative branch and imperial executive. As to what they would have made of the modern welfare state, who can tell? To ask that question after the passage of two centuries, says Pietro Nivola of the Brookings Institution, is to pose an impossible thought experiment.
None of this is to say that the modern state is not bloated or over-mighty. There is assuredly a case to be made for reducing its size and ambitions and giving greater responsibilities to individuals. But this is a case that needs to be made and remade from first principles in every political generation, not just by consulting a text put on paper in a bygone age. Pace Ms Bachmann, the constitution is for all Americans and does not belong to her party alone. Nor did Jefferson write a mission statement for the tea- partiers. They are going to have to write one for themselves.
I think we should repeal all of the amendments since the 12th Amendment.
Wow. This anonymous author truly doesn’t “get it”.
He or she is wrong about so many things and on so many levels, its hard to even pick where to start.
At least the article serves as a reminder to me why I stopped reading the Economist years ago.
Obviously, not my view, just posting for more fuel.
Screw you, limeys. We know the Constitution are the word of men...men brilliant enough to rescue millions from tyranny and forge a country that is now the most powerful, successful democracy in the history of the world. We now have traitors among us who would “transform” this great nation forever. The Constitution is the guiding principle we need to get us back on the right track.
Oh, he gets it.
It’s the editorial view.
This guy totally misses the point. “Should gays marry?” He is correct that the Constitution doesn’t address gay marriage, and that is why it falls back to the State authorities.
The most revealing part of the article are the comments.
I will never understand the thought process of a liberal/socialist.
Couldn't get past the first paragraph without finding idiocy. No, the list is problems is MUCH longer than the Constitution...but the solution is the constitution. Faulty premise, false claims...faulty conclusions are almost always guaranteed.
“Wouldn’t it be splendid if the solutions to Americas problems could be written down in a slim book no bigger than a passport that you could slip into your breast pocket? “
BS! The fundamental principle of the TEA Parties is that Government aint the solution. Only a leftwing schnitzensocket would assume otherwise.
Same with that cartoon. Mocking the reverence of freedom. F’ing pathetic.
Very clever. The founding fathers are deified by tea partiers, therefore the ACLU now has authority to remove the founders and the constitution from government.
Its a good idea to post a (Barf Alert) when you post the thread.
Some questions may be beyond answers, the "progressive" solution to these seems to be application of government coercion, no wonder they hate the Constitution.
Oh, I guess you missed it. The 9th and 10th Amendments were repealed, I believe during either the Roosevelt or Johnson administrations. My memory is a little foggy on just when. /s
ESAD, ya limey poofter.
Constitution worship...that would be rule of law and natural rights, wouldn’t it?
It seems those things ought to be respected and, yes, that respect would fix most of our problems.
Thanks for posting this. I was spitting mad when I read it.
“The Washington Post reports that Colonial Williamsburg has been crowded with tea-partiers, asking the actors who play George Washington and his fellow founders for advice on how to cast off a tyrannical government.”
The Washington Post invented the lie, this jerk passed it on, and morons everywhere will believe it.
Who is more contemptible, I wonder. Or does it matter?
Our founders wrestled with the issue of the presidency more than any other part. That is why they saved that fight for last.
It is the president who has the most responsibility in the defense of the Constitution. As Americans we vote for the president to protect, support and defend our mission statement.
The British author of this piece does not understand how important the Constitution really is. It is the personification and the encapsulation of the idea of liberty.
To him the TEA Partiers are just a bunch of dolts and yahoos. But we understand why those words are so important and why they should be honored and protected.
Our problem is that a president was elected who sees no difference between the Constitution and a roll of toilet paper.
Maybe this Brit should really be asking about Obama's ideas of liberty.
But, then again there would be nothing to write about.
The recent "journo-list" scandal calls all these anonymous columns into question.
There was a fiction that they represented the considered sense of the magazine or some experienced old wise man.
But now we know that they're churned out by propagandists.
Britain most certainly DOES NOT have a Constitution.
Why would you even post this pile of dung? It is not “thought-provoking” or “worthy of discussion”. It’s just, plain CRAP.
The UK does have an ‘unwritten’ constitution made up ‘basic laws’ that are less subject to unnoticed change than our ‘written’ constitution, which has become tabula rasa for lefty judges.
I am reminded yet again of why I no longer read “The Economist”.
The yobs and the elites of Merry Olde England have become indistinguishable.
This is high school level gibberish.
How true. It’s hard enough to understand a woman (not saying the author is, but jus sayin...), but a liberal woman...hopeless. I have to deal with two. Pray for me.
Ditto. This reads like a David Cameron-Tory party take on the Tea Party. Talk about irrelevant.
The perils of ignoring it are far worse. You end up with an oligarchy of people who firmly believe that they can do whatever they want regardless of what the mere mortals want or think.
Brussels doesn’t bother with changing Britain’s laws, they merely disregard them.
I kind of like the one that limits the number of terms a president can have and the one that eliminates slavery. But I definitely believe that the 16th and 17th should be repealed.
...kind of like what we have here now...
Yep. It’s kind like wearing blaze orange on opening day of the hunt.
Wouldn’t it be splendid if all human morals could be summed up in 10 commandments?
Brevity does not indicate any unsuitability of purpose.
Atheists often will point out that the bible doesn't address drug use, nuclear weapons or some other modern-day problem, so using it as your guide to life is pointless. They just don't get it. As the bible offers a guide to dealing with all these issues in a general way that can be easily directed into concrete action by the reader so the U.S. constitution is a guide as to how to conduct our representative democracy.
We've gone far afield from those principles in the last 100 years, something the author tacitly admits. The title of the piece "The perils of constitution-worship" pretty much show the author's British bias and render the rest of the article both predictable and relatively useless, except as an example of why leftists will never understand the Tea Party and the U.S. constitution it is based on. Their loss.
The Economist is a Brit rag. They can’t stand that our forefathers won this nation’s Independence from their sorry asses!
A number of judiciaries claim otherwise - I won't say they believe it, but they claim it nonetheless. In any event, either such judges are correct, and the Constitution really does grant a host of hidden rights nowhere mentioned by name or they're incorrect and are subverting their positions for their personal goals. Either way, it's an issue that must be addressed; and what's truly infantile is the author's thinking he can just brush the question aside based on his own preferences.
Major tailspin into an uninformative thud.
>> Indeed, there is something infantile in the belief of the constitution-worshippers that the complex political arguments of today...
Possession where? The infantile editors at the Econimist?
Absolute left-wing marxist trash. What’s this writer’s IQ, 50?
he can got to hail
figures he’s from hah vuhd
“Wouldn’t it be splendid if the solutions to Americas problems could be written down in a slim book no bigger than a passport that you could slip into your breast pocket?”
It could fit on a slip of paper “Get rid of those who hate America and support the Conservatives and entrepreneurs. Study the Bible throughly and follow its wisdom.”
Now - how much space did that take?
We (as Americans) must believe in the "consent of the governed." That consent is embodied in the founding documents, and is protected by the limitations put upon our government within them.
It isn't a matter of government worship - It is a liberal mind that even conceives that notion. It's all about enforcing the original contract.
Bzzzt. The 14th amendment ruined all that.
There is something infantile in the belief of half-educated British media poofs that human nature has changed at all since the 18th century.
It can be criticized as crap but it is also part of the other guys agenda i.e. our Constitution is a living document and is and should be subject to change. It is wise to know if not understand what we are up against. They are out there.