The View From 1776
Restoring The Unwritten Constitution
Liberal-progressivism, exemplified in President Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, is aimed at destroying the essence of constitutionalism that gave birth to the United States.
- Mr. Brewton,
Your references to a secret "pre-existing unwritten constitution," which one needs to understand to be a good American, are baffling, to say the least. Where can this document be found? Or is this some unwritten wisdom that only those on the inside are aware of?
One of the strengths of our system is that it is a "government of laws, not of men," so we do not, in fact, rely on the kind of unwritten understandings that you refer to.
A characteristic of despotic governments (China, Egypt, Iran, etc.) is a tendency for the men in power to ignore the written law because the leaders claims to have special status which allows their edicts to supersede all else.
- Mr. Jay has again created a straw horse to attack, lifted with a sly sleight of hand from the post under discussion. That post does not argue that there is some secret document that underlays our Constitution--it merely states that there exists a set of core beliefs and principles to which almost everyone subscribed during the incredibly successful first couple hundred years of our history. Those beliefs are what gave birth to the Constitution, which was a uniquely American creation, built on the experience of dozens of Republican experiments in government dating back to ancient Greece, Carthage, and Phoenicia.
In most of those prior Republics, the society succeeded for a while because the people shared a common vision and were willing to work hard and, if necessary, to fight for that vision. Many had a written Constitution that shaped the formal structure of the government, but it was always the peoples' understandings of their role under the official framework that determined whether the nation succeeded or failed.
The need for an empowering set of constructive core beliefs among a people is made clear by the fact that you can't create a viable society by merely giving them a Constitution. Recent efforts to nation build around the world indicates that more is needed than a written Constitution. Indeed, we can see that some belief systems and cultures are deeply resistant to any peaceful, law-abiding form of governance.
During the last 400 years, the most successful nations, the ones that provided peace and prosperity to their people, and maintained the safety of their lives and property, were in Northern Europe, America, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Virtually everywhere else on earth the people in other nations suffered, starved, stagnated, and were subjected to constant violence and privation.
The post correctly points out that Western "Intellectuals" have gradually undermined our formerly empowering cultures over the last 100 years. They seek the power to make things better and this requires the "progressive" expansion of government control of their citizens' lives. It also means modifying the Constitution to allow them more power. If history tells us anything, it is that mature successful societies eventually attract and support just such a parasitic elite that undermine the cultural strengths that built success.
Now, granted, it is very wise to fundamentally transform a failed society--to rebuild it on a sound footing with the well-known institutions and culture essential for success. But is is folly to force huge changes on a winning combination. And yet that is what is happoening. If our present administration owned the New England Patriots, they would undoubtedly fire Belichek and Brady!
Each of the Western nations mentioned have different Constitutions and forms of government, but the common denominator for their success is that their people were shaped by the customs of English common law, the God given rights of man, the sanctity of each individual, the repect of private property, open economies, and the accumulation of Case Law developed over hundreds of years exclusively for the protection of individual rights.
You can call this supporting culture and the related benificent institutions an "unwritten Constitution" or simply a positive environment, but the point is that no written document will ever be adequate to create a vibrant society unless the people are united under an ennobling set of beliefs and a restraining moral code governing their conduct.Posted by bill greene on 02/21 at 11:22 PM
Thank you for your thoughtful response, to which I generally agree. The possible exception is your broad brush condemnation of "intellectuals" who have allegedly undermined our cultural. I would argue two points:
1) The "intellectuals" who have been outspoken in the past 100 years fall on all sides of the conservative - progressive divide. "Intellectual" is not, I hope, a synonym to be applied only to thoughtful people on the left. There are an equal number of intellectuals on the conservative side of the ledger, with whom you would presumably be more sympathetic.
- Jay, in answer to your post, the soft-science intellectuals of the last 100 years, whether on the left or right politically, have done little to advance America's well-being. Those on the Left have tried to transform America toward a big controlling government with a socialist agenda. Those intellectuasl believe they should run everyone's life, regulate them, and dictate how each of us lives our lives. That is the harm they have done. Note that for our first 300 years, from 1620-1920, when there were no significant role for intellectuals, we made our huge advance to become the supreme power and economy in the world.
Unfortunately, the conservative intellects such as Buckley, Von Mises, Friedman, etc., have devoted their time to rebutting the theories of the liberal intellectuals. But since the liberals hand out goodies, and promise to make things better, and the conservatives preach austerity, many voters opt for the handout. It is important to note that intellectuals, by their nature, do not do anything except spout second hand ideas. They make no products, start no businesses, do no physical work of any type, and build nothing.
The key fact is that the leftist intellectuals are destroying the culture and attitudes that made America strong. The conservative intellectuals are losing that battle because the hedonistic, free spending, welfare programs are more attractive to a growing number of voters than working hard to care for themselves. A nation's strength comes from its people, and their success comes only from self-reliance, initiative, thrift, resilience, deferment of gratification, persistence, emotional restraint, imagination, and hard work. Today's liberal intellectuals have waged a war against those characteristics that shaped the first ten generations of settlers who built America.
Thus, while I may sympathize with conservative intellectuals, I have no hope they will change anything. What determines success is happening totally outside the intellectual class, but they are a diminishing breed, and are subjected to more and more stifling conditions. They have trouble finding employees who can function usefully due to our failed schools and increasingly permissive culture.
Posted by BILL GREENE on 03/02 at 08:36 PM
- Jay, I note that you have trotted out the idea that our Founders were the "intellectuals of their day." Those who seek to defend today's intellectuals love to fall back on that faulty argument.
Most of the Founders, those who started the revolution, pressed for the Declaration of Independence, and attended the Constitutional Convention, were businessmen, farmers, teachers, and tradesmen. There were a couple who were well educated for those days-- like Madison, who studied at Princeton, under the devout president Witherspoon, but even he did not rely on abstract theory in shaping the new nation. Most of the participants had a mere couple years of formal schooling, and were self-taught from a life working in the real world. Adams and Jefferson were two others with a learned outlook--but Adams was a practicing lawyer and farmer, and Jefferson ran a busy plantation. They read a lot, but their days were full of active involvement in practical matters.
I have studied the Federalist Papers and Madison's 600+ page Notes on the Constitutional Convention, and the Founders' opinions and activities were almost completely based on the actual prior experience of Republics from ancient times to their time. They refer repeatedly to the structure of those prior governments, and sort out the good and bad points from the experience history revealed. They rarely refer to political philosohers--I believe in Madison's Notes there are only three such references-- one to Locke and two to Montesquieu--and these references are actually inserted to rebut those philosophers' arguments!
Remember that Locke merely argued (in over 1,000 pages!) that people should have rights and a say in government--which had been known and made famously public repeatedly since Pericles delivered the "Funeral Oration" some 2,300 years earlier. Jefferson has been quoted concerning Locke, "That his little book is alright, as far as it goes, but not too useful in designing a government."
Perhaps the major strength of our Constitution is that it was based on the actual demonstrated results from earlier experiments in the varied structure of Republics. There was no theory, no abstract ideas, no visionary or utopian promises, and no intellectuals involved. The Founders acted as mechanics, building a detailed structure that would divide and balance the awful power of goverment. The driving force behind today's intellectuals has been to undermine that division of power and a balanced approach to legislation, all so they would be free to dictate from on top without the restraints the Founders sought to impose.
Posted by BILL GREENE on 03/02 at 09:14 PM