December 10, 2010
Why Constitutional Conservatism Is AscendingBy Mark J. Fitzgibbons
If 2009 was the year of birth of the Tea Party movement, 2010 was the year of ascendancy of constitutional conservatism. In many ways, the movements are the same -- except, perhaps, that the Tea Party is a movement of political activism by people who weren't traditionally activists, and constitutional conservatism represents an awakening about the way back to American exceptionalism.
For conservatives to emphasize constitutionalism is nothing new. The greater emphasis, however, is a bit of branding that helps distinguish them from establishment Republicans who stole the brand "conservative," or those whose policies are constitutionally limited only some of the time.
You know constitutional conservatism is on the right track when the liberal literati (Lincoln Caplan) and dimwiterati (Randi Rhodes) criticize it.
More than ever, people now sense that the country is in decline because America has moved away from its true constitutional structure of government. As stated previously, the Constitution is the law that governs government. It is a limitation on government power as much as a grant of certain power.
It is the limitation part that is the Constitution's core, which is why liberals and the ruling class can't or won't wrap their heads around constitutional conservatism. The Democratic Party, taken over by social Democrats, and the Republican Party, whose leaders like to call themselves Reagan conservatives but became the old Democratic Party, failed to honor the limitations.
Federal agencies were given power to intrude on private property rights in the name of regulation for the public good. Free markets ceased to exist and were replaced by crony capitalism partnered with big government. The nonprofit sector, religious organizations, and other institutions became additional partners with government, and they had little or no regard for the Constitution except as it protected them -- and even then, they were willing abettors in its erosion.
The ascendancy of constitutional conservatism is a result of people's belief that restoring the Constitution is the only way we can save the country from becoming like the European nations.
Gordon Wood's The Creation of the American Republic, 1776 - 1787 is a marvelous depiction of the formation of the American Constitution as a response to the ruling-class nature of Europe at the time. Angelo Codevilla's brilliant book and article, America's Ruling Class, show that we've become much like the Europe of the time of our nation's constitutional creation.
We have watched more or less passively for decades as government has broken the law that governs it. Constitutional conservatives understand that America's exceptional nature is a direct result of the principles of our Declaration of Independence and the structural safeguards of our Constitution. We now understand that many or most of our national deficiencies can be attributed to the government's having broken our paramount law.
The divisions of power created by the Constitution were designed to provide a system of order that protects freedom. As importantly, the divisions of power were intended to protect private property rights and the bounty that flows from private property. The erosion of the Constitution as a strict structure has resulted in a loss of rights that are the key to our moral and financial well-being. A return to American exceptionalism requires a return to our constitutional structure.
Constitutional conservatism means that powers not delegated expressly to the federal government are indeed reserved to the states or to the people, which means that even conservatives must be restricted in the agendas they wish to accomplish at the federal level.
It means that constitutional conservatives will look to scale back government that has exceeded its legal limits -- first by reducing the powers of federal branches and agencies to their rightful places, and then by eliminating agencies not consistent with powers authorized by the Constitution and returning those controls back to the states.
Conservatives, including our best leaders, may not always articulate these notions perfectly, which is why the liberal literati are tempted to be derisive. With the national debt and the decay of our institutions, however, we are insolvent. The solution to insolvency is to restructure. The Constitution provides the structure for a return to exceptionalism.
The steps won't always be clear, certain or without dispute and debate, but as long as the direction is true, it can be done.
Fortunately, discussions of constitutionalism are no longer restricted to the writings of law professors or debates among lawyers. Books like Mark Levin's Liberty and Tyranny and Who Killed the Constitution? by Thomas Woods and Kevin Gutzman helped popularize the notion that the country's current downward path is directly attributable to the deterioration of our constitutional structures and protections.
Americans are reading, discussing, and emphasizing the Constitution like never before. They are, so to speak, forcing it upon elected officials, who despite their oaths to uphold the Constitution, often considered it as an afterthought or inconvenience.
Liberals and social Democrats understand, of course, that constitutional conservatism threatens their paradigm, which is why they attempt to mock it as akin to and, in their world, as dangerous as religious fundamentalism.
This is why we need even more elected officials who articulate the vision of constitutional conservatism and what impact it will have. The 2010 election was a bit of a hastily designed test run. If in the 2012 election conservatives become more facile in their explanations of constitutionalism and how it will help America return to exceptional status, then we will truly see an autopsy of liberalism.