Americans need common sense to save the Constitution and the nation

In a recent posting here at American Thinker, I wrote: "What you and I know by common sense is ... most of what we need to know to be a sovereign people, a people capable of ruling ourselves."  We can't do a good job of governing ourselves without common sense, but common sense is not enough.  To fulfill our obligations as citizens, we also must understand the American idea.

In America, we citizens are the sovereign, and the rights and responsibilities of sovereignty are ours.  In each election, we exercise our sovereignty by selecting, for strictly limited periods of service, fellow citizens to conduct the work of government for us.  As Professor Randy Barnett wrote in his book Restoring the Lost Constitution:

[T]he appropriate legal construct is not the surrender of rights to a master, but the delegation of powers to an agent[.] ... When a principal engages an agent, the agent can be empowered to act on behalf of and subject to the control of the principal, while at the same time the principal retains all his rights.

In the American idea, in the vision of the Founders, we never surrender our sovereignty.  But bit by bit, we have been surrendering it.  We have been doing that by electing to office people who are hostile to the Constitution or indifferent to it or ignorant of it.  By electing and re-electing these people, we have been allowing ourselves to be moved progressively into a Progressive, post-Constitutional America. 

As citizen-sovereigns, we have a responsibility to understand how the system works in order to be able to make certain that our elected agents are upholding the Constitution.  We need to have the kind of understanding that was once taught in civics classes — the three branches of government, the different roles of the Senate and the House, and so on.  But a simply descriptive knowledge of the design is not enough.  We must understand why it has that design; we must understand its purpose.

Take, for example, the election of senators.  In the original design, senators were chosen by the legislatures of each state.  This has been called "the bargain that made America."  It was also a key element of America's truly incredible social and political success.  Foreign observers went from confidently predicting that America would fail to living through the collapse of their own regimes made illegitimate by America's shining example.  

Then, in 1913, during a great upsurge of Progressive "reforms," the Seventeenth Amendment replaced the Founders' design with the Progressive one we have today in which senators are elected directly.  It was a watershed moment.  Nineteen thirteen was the birth year of the Progressive Leviathan headquartered in Washington, D.C. that today so greatly troubles lovers of American liberty.

The Founders would have opposed the change.  They would have understood that making that change would throw the system out of balance, as it has in fact done.  The change was essential to the Progressive project of putting an end to limited government in America.  The Progressives knew what they were doing — they knew they were essentially overthrowing the Constitution with this change — but the important point is that the Progressives could never had gotten away with it if the people had remembered the purpose of the Founders' brilliant design.  (For a discussion that goes into greater detail about all this, please consider taking a look at my American Thinker article "The Forgotten Bargain that Made America.")

So a merely descriptive understanding of how the system works is not enough.  It is easy to re-write the civics text to say senators are directly elected instead of chosen by the state legislatures, but voters back then needed to understand the purpose of the original design so as not to be duped by people in politics dedicated to replacing the Constitution with a new regime in which the people are ruled and the Progressives rule.  Today, the need for voters to understand the purpose of the Founders' design has never been more urgent as elected and appointed officials in government routinely ignore the Constitution — and a mob in the street assaults a statue of George Washington, the man who is rightly called the father of our country.

In a general sense, you could say the twentieth century saw the rise of the public intellectual and the decline of American self-government.  As I discuss in "Intellectuals versus Common Sense," public intellectuals who believe that their special expertise trumps the commonsense wisdom of the Founders and the common sense of the American people keep getting us in trouble and fouling up the Founders' beautiful and magnificent design. 

The commonsense admonition we need to follow with regard to public intellectuals pushing what they call reforms is "beware."  Ask yourself what they might be up to, and be sure to ask yourself if you feel certain they are wiser and better than the Founders.

Robert Curry serves on the Board of Directors of the Claremont Institute.  He is the author of Reclaiming Common Sense: Finding Truth in a Post-Truth World and Common Sense Nation: Unlocking the Forgotten Power of the American Idea.  Both are published by Encounter Books.

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