T Nation

The Inviolate Constitution


#1

In reading the gun-toting protestor thread, Push said "I believe the members of Congress as well as the executive and judicial branches are compelled to follow the blueprint of the Constitution regardless of what the people or the lobbyists or anyone else on the face of the earth tells or allows them to do."

...and as sort of a thought exercise (meaning not precisely representative of my views on the Constitution) I wanted to ask exactly why the Constitution is so inviolate. Should any given generation have the right to shape our country based on modern times? Of course we all know the Constitution can be changed, but that idea is almost heretical to the American way of thinking. Is our current America subject to an entropy which makes the founders vision, while still enviable and wise, impossible to adhere to? We can try to maintain a vision of the America of old, yet we can never be that country again.

The Constitution is the very framework under which our government has become so out of control. Also, it has to be taken into consideration that the growth of government has been a very very slow process, when previous generations, even more little-c conservative generations, have been at the helm. The generations that we currently look towards as examples of where we want to be as a country, still inflated things. As times progress this growth can only become more exponential.

In short, I'm just wondering if the Constitution is still as capable as we want it to be.


#2

It's foolish to discard collective wisdom in the name of progress, but it is equally foolish to insist that we have the holy grail already, and refuse to continue learning and evolving as a society.

The U.S. Constitution was based on the Roman government, and if we don't kill ourselves first, in another couple thousand years we will have an even better Constitution than we have now.

Staunch defenders of literal interpretation and application of the Constitution are similar in temperament and mindset to religious fundamentalists who insist on a literal interpretation and application of the bible. Respect the wisdom of your ancestors, but realize that we don't know everything yet, and will hopefully become even more wise with time.


#3

An even better question: why does the constitution have any relevance to anyone alive today considering we had no say it it's adoption.

How can a contract be forced on people who were not alive when it was enacted?


#4

Well, if the constitution isn't going to be upheld, then the contract is broken. Seccession is legal, and the federal government no longer has constitutional legitimacy. Why honor a contract the other party is fudging on?


#5

It isn't forced on anyone. Emigration is open to everyone.


#6

Absolutely. Only at the state and local level, though. You are missing the most significant point of the constitution. It is to prevent the Federal government from becoming so large that people lose the right to shape their own communities based on the times and the necessities of that area. If we would treat the Constitution as inviolately as we should, you would still have the right and the resources to shape your state and community however you wish, so long as you don't infringe on the rights of the people laid out in the first 10 ammendments.

The biggest reason that the constitution doesn't seem to you as capable as we want it to be is because of the evolving translation of it. Ironically, if we had adhered to it a bit more strictly over the last 100 years, you would still have the freedom to evolve your own local government at your choosing within the realms of your state constitution.

The whole beauty of the consitution is that it allows your state to be as liberal as you want it to be and mine to be as conservative as I want, and I'm not responsible for any of the failures you have nor am I entitled to any of your benefits.


#7

One may as well ask the same about the Social Contract.


#8

Thomas Jefferson actually believed the Constitution should be rewritten every 20 years or so...it's what worked for them at the time. It was never meant to be permanent. I don't know if we could throw the whole thing out and start fresh, way too many people involved, but it should be severely overhauled.


#9

And no, it isn't. "General Welfare" has been so badly abused, even after leaving warning to future generations about doing so, I'd have it stricken from the document.


#10

Actually, what he said is that we should rise up against against the government every 20 years or so.

Here's the quote.

[i]God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion.

The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty.

And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of
resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two?

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.[/i]


#11

There is no social contract, literally speaking.


#12

SO then it is forced if I want to live in the estate my family has spent 4 generations amassing?

Great!


#13

One may indeed.

The answer is the same.

Unless you rape the word "contract"


#14

Oh, and Borrek? I think the word you wanted here was inviolable, not inviolate.

The nuance between them is very slight, as with liberty and freedom, but whereas inviolable carries the meaning of "untouchable," inviolate means "safe from harm."

Judging from your original post, you seem to take issue with people who perceive the document as unchangeable and untouchable, not that it is safe from being violated.

Ergo, The Inviolable Constitution.


#15

I think the real question is, "What standards do liberals actually think should be upheld?"


#16

Every generation has the right to shape its country the way it sees fit - the Constitution doesn't stand in the way of that general approach.

But the Constitution sets aside priorities that should not be subject to the ordinary political fray. And, if it wasn't supposed to serve that role, we would have never bothered writing the thing down on paper.

After all, if we wanted a "fluid" Constitution, we would have just skipped the memorialization of it in writing. If subsequent generations were to have the ability to remake constitutional priorities anew as the times changed, there would have been no need to put any words on paper.

Further to your point - you say the amendment process perhaps stands in the way of letting a modern society shape the law to its modern needs. Setting aside the fact that that is entirely intentional, without specifically amending the Constitution, how can we know what parts of the Constitution are irrelevant relics of the past and which parts are needed?

A law maintains its force and authority until it is otherwise abolished. Whatever standard of adherence to a law you would use for a local law or personal contract is the same standard you would use for the Constitution. Anything other than that is the Rule of Man, not the Rule of Law.

Some level of government growth was inevitable as commerce grew at exponential rates. The Constitution is flexible enough to accommodate this. What it doesn't accommodate are unilateral rewrites that (1) ignore fundamental law and (2) invent new fundamental laws where there were none before.

It is, and always has been. What troubles "progressives" is the difficulty in using the democratic machinery the Constitution commands - the Constitution is classically conservative in that it mandates that change is slow, deliberate, and fully vetted. Further, a great many things were set aside in the Constitution (rights, limits on federal power, etc.), and the rest was left to be handled at the legislative level. "Progressives", frustrated with the "pace" of progress and making insufficient progress at the legislative level, invented a new concept when their ideas continued to be ignored in the democratic arena - a "living" Constitution permitted and in some cases commanded certain policy results that couldn't pass muster at the republican level.

It is as lazy as it is unprincipled.

The Founding Fathers weren't "un"-progressive - they simply designed a system that preserved important rights and made sure that whatever "progress" was decided upon in a given generation went through the appropriate channels.

Most importantly, the Constitution didn't necessarily decide what "Progress" was as a substanttive matter - it simply decided the question of who decided what "Progress" was as a substantive matter. While the Constitution certainly has some values embedded in it - appreciation of property rights, rights of speech, press, and religion - it primarly forces "Progress" to march through legislatures.

Modern "Progressives", however, can't be bothered with such procedural difficulties, and would sacrifice all of that to get what they want.


#17

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#18

You should not be perplexed. You should instead try and understand what a contract is and what it is not.

A contract can only be between specific parties who have voluntarily agreed to it. I suspect that is why the framers called it a "constitution" and not a "contract". Still, it is implied that it is a contract, nonetheless.

So yes, I still think contractual society is a civilized society -- when the contract is followed explicitly. But I also still ask how can this contract pertain to me since I never explicitly agreed to it (barring the fact that I took an oath to it prior to joining the USMC; however, that contract has been fulfilled).

Is it not a dead contract? Politicians only pay lip service to it when it is convenient for their causes. Why should we take it or them seriously?


#19

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#20

Lifticus, why not think of the Constitution not as a contract, but as a corporate charter, which delineates the duties of the corporation vis-a-vis the rights of its shareholders.

The charter can certainly be reviewed from time to time, and amended (according to the process stipulated in the charter), but a new charter needn't be drawn up every time one of the shareholders dies and a new one is born, or when a board member, or even a CEO, is replaced.