In Defense of Our Document

Well, that's it.  Constitution's irrelevant.  Outdated.  Finished.  We've got Twitter, iPads, and Lady Gaga now.  We're more advanced and enlightened than the Framers could have imagined in the dandiest of drunken stupors.  Older still are the notions of individual rights and the advent of democracy -- the Greeks (we even call them ancient Greeks!) introduced a form of citizen rule centuries before their hands ever touched gunpowder.  Surely these ideas, too, are irrelevant, and our greatest minds have more sophisticated solutions to our "unique" modern problems.  Really?

It's time to dispense with the "zings" and the "gotchas."  Unscrupulous critics of the U.S. Constitution refuse to debate substance, using rhetoric to mask intellectual dishonesty.  They believe their witticisms and sarcasm can win the day if opponents have the burden of defending the character of our Founders or the history of the document.  Using an ideological bias towards American history, critics erect straw men in an effort to discredit the Constitution.  Ignored in the assault are the reasons for forming societies, the necessity of limited government, and the contract between citizens.  Before we start tossing out babies on the waves of ad hominem attacks, let's return to the very beginning.

In the theoretical state of nature, before humans formed governments, they had rights but no reliable way to ensure those rights' protection.  Individuals possessing greater amounts of force were able to ignore rights, set rules, and define justice.  Under anarchy, life in the state of nature was arbitrary and uncertain.

Self-interested individuals yearned for an equal playing field.  They formed governments and gave them a monopoly on force, which was a gamble, but they received an agreeable trade: the Rule of Law (in our case, the U.S. Constitution).  Often misused and improperly defined, the Rule of Law, for some, has come to mean a system in which a legislative body makes laws of its choosing and the noble citizenry dutifully abides without question.

Ahem.  I don't think so.

The Rule of Law is the reign of equal justice through a legal framework -- a basic rulebook.  This rulebook defines the role, powers, and limitations of a government, along with the rights and immunities of the citizens.  A good rulebook is simple and has a legal modification process (much like our amendment system) but is neither dead nor living.  This framework, a compact between the citizens in a society, is etched in stone and not subject to fluidity or selective interpretation.  Humans fled the uncertainty and coercion of the state of nature.  Why would they accept principles that morph or limitations that yield to ambitions of government?

You're right -- they wouldn't.  So why do we?

We got what we asked for.  Life remains largely uncertain -- there is no way to guarantee outcomes in a complex world of unpredictable human interactions.  Those wishing to expand the power and reach of our government, however, have never shrunk from selling hope to the hopeless.  In the midst of any crisis, a Trojan horse emerges at the gates -- a shiny, new government program, promising cuddly concepts like security and stability.  It's an attractive pitch, and it often sells.

The collective responses to our historical crises have fueled an ever-expanding government industry.  The world is no more certain than before, and we've ceded individual rights and responsibilities to the most powerful faction at the ballot box.  When rights are pitted against promises and benefits in the democratic process, the Rule of Law begins to surely and steadily decay.

When a crisis (real or imaginary) isn't on the horizon, we pass the time with games like social engineering.  The legislature uses policy and force to encourage some activities and discourage others.  The individual, also a visionary, joins with fellow citizens and pleads for officials to implement their collective ideological morality.  An ever-tightening net of conflicting goals squeezes freedom from the individual.  Groups scratch and claw to remake society in their image, discarding rights and liberty for political and social outcomes.

Freedom may make us uncomfortable at times.  We may not believe that some are capable of making decisions for themselves.  The price of freedom is trust in the freedom of another.  The Rule of Law transcends the human desire to control and demands mutual respect for freedom.  It is that reciprocity that ensures a just society.

The restrictions of freedom also have a devastating effect on our economy.  An economy is a collection of consumer and producer decisions and does not bend to the will of government.  Government, at its best, can only guess at or react to changes in the market.  Repeated government intervention into a market adds to the uncertainty government promises to eliminate.  But it's just a little regulating, and that's a good thing, right?  Most regulation injects artificial rules and facilitates booms and busts, often to protect the current ruling class and their favored constituents.  The Rule of Law demands equal freedom of choice, not a freedom dependent upon government approval or political affiliation.

Humans didn't abandon the state of nature's arbitrary control for legalized arbitrary control.  Humans sought mutual respect for rights, not a sliding scale of rights that gives way to social and political goals.  Self-interested humans didn't form societies to be used as implements in the goals of a political class.  Government derailed with our permission.  It evolved from an instrument in rights-protection to a manufacturer of false rights and privileges.  In this transition, life, liberty, and property became resources consumed on the assembly line.

Whatever your views on the Founders or the history of the U.S. Constitution (and I contend that the negativity is misinformed), we must return to our founding document and the Rule of Law.  Thomas Jefferson said, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," and our times require vigilance.  We must engage the future with a self-interested focus on liberty and not on our empty desires of government.  If our system does not endure, if we are not free, what good are lists of wishes and demands?

As we drift from our Constitution towards an unmitigated state, we lose the equal justice and the certainty of rights-protection only the Constitution can provide.  We lose our identity as individuals, and we lose our liberty.  As government expands, it becomes as anarchic as the environment we fled, and in opposition to the social compact we sought.

When I no longer know where I stand with my government, when our relationship is conditional upon class or category, is that not anarchy?  Federal officials have reduced the U.S. Constitution to a cafeteria-style document, revered or reviled when convenient, leaving our union in unsustainable peril.

Are we so far removed from the sacrifices made and the burdens borne in our founding that we are willing to throw liberty away for fleeting political goals or personal visions?  If we are indeed the American exception to a world history rife with tyranny and oppression, if our torch bends towards freedom, then let us set the fire anew and reforge our destiny.

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