We the People

by Yuval Levin

Happy Constitution Day! This year finds our constitutional order under a cloud, to be sure, as the limits of federal power are stretched to the breaking point and the separation of powers is much under threat (especially but by no means exclusively from executive overreach). But it nonetheless finds that order functioning and, we can hope, perhaps even making its way back toward balance yet again, as it has so often after periods of excess in one direction or another. The birthday of our constitution is a time to appreciate its extraordinary mechanisms of self-balancing and its extraordinary contribution to our culture of self-government—both made possible by the document’s abiding commitment to the principles of ordered liberty and by its moderate expectations of human beings and their governments. This combination of boldness and humility about human possibilities is the essence of the American system, articulated in the Declaration of Independence, embodied in the Constitution, and pursued ever since by this almost chosen people. Now more than ever, its continuing pursuit requires a constitutional conservatism that can help us understand what we’re after in principle while also helping us better achieve it in practice.

Constitution Day is also a good time to look back at some great reflections on the Constitution. You can’t do better than The Federalist, of course, and today is a great day to read your favorites. For reflections of more recent but still worthwhile vintage, I would also recommend a look at the Winter 1987 issue of The Public Interest, dedicated to the bicentennial of the Constitution and now available online for free, with essays by Harvey Mansfield, Irving Kristol, James Q. Wilson, Walter Berns, Thomas Pangle, Jeremy Rabkin, and other greats. But above all, read the Constitution, and be grateful for the extraordinary republic it has helped make possible.

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