The Corner

Re: Get Your Own Damn Constitution

Mark – very well said. I’m more than happy to start the field day. (Or at least transfer my horror from Twitter to the Corner.)

In addition to the flaws Mark has already highlighted, the NYT’s piece is marinated in the false — though wildly popular — supposition that “newer” equals “better.” It is one of our modern tragedies that statements such as the following are presented as if an axiomatically Bad Thing:

“Our Constitution is terse and old, and it guarantees relatively few rights.”


This “but-it’s-old!” attitude finds its purest expression in a later comment from the deliciously named Professor Law:

“Nobody wants to copy Windows 3.1.”

If this is true, it’s irrelevant. The Constitution is not Windows 3.1. A computer operating system is an inherently ephemeral, improvable thing; human nature is pretty much constant. The Constitution was designed to temper and accommodate the vices and virtues of human behavior in order to create a framework for power that maximizes liberty and keeps tyranny at bay. The word “constitution” comes from the Latin verb constituere, which means to arrange or decide. It can thus contain good or bad prescriptions and true or false insights — make bad arrangements and decisions, if you will — but surely such judgement cannot be made with reference to age? One can happily criticize the document’s match with society, but to rely on its being old for one’s critique as if this were an argument in and of itself is to range into absurdity. After all, man did not lose his ambition when he stopped wearing hats.

The other main criticism seems to be that the Rest of The World Doesn’t Like It Anymore. Again, so what? America is an outlier on many issues. That’s why people move here. Instead of taking shots, the New York Times should be proud of this. America is the only nation in the world, for example, in which one can more or less say whatever one likes, and in which the individual’s right to free expression trumps all other concerns. Here we are not subject to arbitrary government balancing acts, at least when it comes to speech. NR’s own Mark Steyn knows as well as I do what happens when otherwise democratic countries incorporate more “modern” attitudes into their charters. If America is different from the rest of the world, then we should say Good. We do not need the approval of Saudi Arabia.

Coming from abroad, I react with a particular horror to the casual way in which many dismiss America’s backbone. If this country should fall, those of us who believe in American values simply have nowhere else in the world to go. It is highly unlikely that a constitution like America’s will surface again. By virtue of Providence or a quirk of history or whatever you will, the United States has been afforded a uniquely brilliant document. The Philadelphia Convention of 1787 provided history with perhaps its only instance of Platonic philosopher kings doing what Plato suggested they might. That the revolution — more of a restoration, really — was hijacked by a small, salutary clique of brilliant men who did not have to refer too closely to public sentiment (publics are not very good at drawing up constitutions) and had an extremely solid understanding of history and political philosophy should be celebrated. It gave America a work of art, and we would do well not to presume that we have such painters among us today, or that, even if we do, they would be given access to the canvas

Put bluntly, the founders put in a framework that simply could not be democratically constructed. If held today, any constitutional convention would be taken hostage by every special interest group in the country and the Bill of Rights would be 2,000 items long. It would likely not be a charter of liberty but of entitlements. Imperfect as it is, we are infinitely better off with what we have. Whether the New York Times likes it or not, the Constitution is still supreme. It is our duty to ensure that it stays that way.


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