Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

A Constitutional People

In recognition of Constitution Day (September 17) and in response to a challenge from a foreign student attending the Constitution Day lectures at Ashland University Peter Schramm takes us to school with a concise defense of our constitutional origins. It is a very good discussion of the difference between a democratic and a self-governing people. Perhaps it might be of use, also, in helping to form our thinking about the situation in Iraq.  

Discussions - 2 Comments

It is of course a good speech. I could not help but notice this sentence: Most Americans probably can’t imagine political discourse without some reference—whether genuine or disingenuous—to the Constitution. as I think it bears heavily on recent discussion.

I would propose that most times, the vast majority in fact, that the constitution is mentioned by either party, it is disingenuous. The constitution, while perhaps noble at birth, has become and will continue to be America's big excuse. Why do we have abortion? Its constitutional. Why do we have gay marriages (soon)? Its constitutional. Why have we taken religion out of the public square? Its constitutional, always constitutional. Instead of tackling this problem head-on, most conservatives prefer to take the long way and dance around the issue. We can wait forty years until new and more favorable precedents are set up; we can claim our hands are tied by the constitution. We'd like to have prayer in schools, but its not constitutional. When conservatives glorify the constitution, they dig their own grave.

The constitution is not a stand alone document but a minor limitation on our form of government; it is not, or at least should not be, a limitation on what is substantively right or just. The enshrining of the form over the right does conservatives no good. It ties our hands, it causes problems both ideally and pragmatically. We should treat the constitution as Jefferson treated it-a document of form and a listing of the codified will of the people, to be amended and rewritten frequently, and breached by the government when justice and practice demands. To say that it means more or less, is to reference it disingenuously.

Isn't that last bit of yours, Clint, just what we do? Lawyers make constitutional arguments for and against abortion, gay marriage, prayer in schools, just about anything. Those social issues are not addressed in the Constitution. Therefore, we can all have a lovely time debating whether or not the federal government can address those issues. As to the functioning of government, from at least the Alien and Sedition Acts on, we have played around with the Constitution in creative and practical ways and argued about the legality of the same. I suggest we define consent in the arguments.

I do hope this is clear enough to argue about. Work calls.

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