The Constitution Is over 100 Years Old, too Old to Understand

Zak Slayback
Dec 31, 2010 at 8:23 AM

So says Ezra Klein.

Clearly we cannot understand things that were written a long time ago. I mean, it's obvious that we can't understand the Magna Carta, the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Federalist Papers, oh, and don't forget the Koran, and the Bible. Uh huh...

MAdison

H/T Josh Blackman.

I think he misspoke a bit and you guys have taken his words a little out of context.  I don't think he meant it's age causes misunderstanding.  The point he was trying to make and that he finished with is that politicians interpret the constitution differently.  This has always been true.  Since its writing, the founders themselves couldn't come to complete agreement on its wording and meaning.  Overall, it is the best written compromised political document in American history.  

's picture

Language, like culture, is constantly negotiated and renogotiated. Today's English is half French. Qur'aanic Arabic is not understood by most speakers of modern Arabic. Contemporary languages are not what they were a millenium ago. Espagnol, Francais and Italiano are no longer Latin.

's picture

Another problem confronting readers of old documents besides the evolution of language is intentional doublespeak. History is strange, but historical information warfare is stranger yet. For example, there were more foul smells at Articles of Confederation amendments meeting at Philadelphia I'm 1787 than those coming from the adjoining stables. But a reading of the anti-federalist "Federalist Papers" was Romanphile propaganda for an elitist Roman government reveals little of their hidden motivations.

's picture

These commentators speak of the Constitution like it some foreign concept.  A constitution is meant to setup a system of government and set out the boundaries of that government; without one there would be no clear limits to government power.

mrbasil0's picture

Just another reason to never set up a State and then try to "restrain" it by writing words on a page. Do you think you will ever get everybody to agree on what the bible says? No. That's why establishing any true religious beliefs only shows an affinity for what any one person already wants to believe. 

If a person wants to believe that the government should be able to give universal healthcare, it will twist the Constitution around to say it can. If you refuse to offer your allegiance to a king, where is the glory in offering it to a document that sets up a tyrannical State disguised in the rhetoric of liberty? 

True liberty requires no State to be secured. It can only be provided through voluntary interaction.

 

's picture

"True liberty requires no State to be secured. It can only be provided through voluntary interaction."

I whole heartedly agree with you. As Lysander Spooner stated the constitution has either allowed for this current government or it has done nothing to stop it.

"If you refuse to offer your allegiance to a king, where is the glory in offering it to a document that sets up a tyrannical State disguised in the rhetoric of liberty? "

While I agree with the first part I would have to disagree that the document "sets up a tyrannical state disguised in the rhetoric of liberty" To be fair you must take into account the lack of philosophical and historical occurences of liberty during the times of its drafting. Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations wasn't published until 1776 and even then its not like they had amazon.com to distribute. Your blameing people for ignoring concepts that hadn't yet been widely available let alone popularly accepted and claiming it was done in malice. As a Stephan Molyneaux example would go, demonizing the founders for not building a stateless westernized society in 1776 is like demonizing a doctor in 1265 for not using penicillian.

While it is true that all they did was scrap one state for another, you have to applaud them for at least trying to put explicit limits on its powers. Until this period kings were still declaring divine right and had no limits on their powers.I would say, considering the leaps in technology we have had since 1776 in communication, that the constitution has done a pretty good job protecting our liberties. We today have alot of personal freedoms (speech, thought, association, etc.) though they are now recedeing. Are we completely free? No, but I would argue that we are more free today thanks to the constitution than any other form of societial structure being discussed at the time.

Shaun Bowen's picture

My only main point here is that I disagree that they didn't have Free-Market rhetoric at their hands at the time our gov't was crafted. Remember, the Constitution was designed, drafted, and signed between 1785ish-1787. Eleven years after the Revolution. 

Furthermore, many of the individualistic ideas embodied in our founding were a product of our founding itself. Take, for example, Madison's essay on Property (titled "Property"....), which declared that even thought and religion ought to be considered property and that property ought to be protected at all costs, that is the end of this government.

Heck, we even had the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers, the two greatest contributions to political science that the American States ever contributed.

Zak Slayback's picture

"that is the end of this government."

I don't deny that the beginnings of true free market thought was emerging around the time of our founding, but from the quote above you proved my point. The design of the constitution was founded on the Lockean theory of government, that its sole institution is there to protect liberty.

What J was stating and what I was talking about was political theory of a stateless society. Anarchist free market philosophy and economic thought were not prevalient at that time let alone a topic of discusson at any of the town meetings. If you read the Anti-federalist arguements almost nothing is stated that would hint at any type of true free market thought. They don't deny the "necessity" of government, they just don't trust the one that the constitution would create.

From my studies it wasn't until the 19th century that any major arguements against the state emerged. According the Wikipedia, the term Anarchist wasn't even around until the English Civil War in the late 17th century as a pejoritive against revolutionaries. Of course I could be wrong, and if so please correct me.

Shaun Bowen's picture

The Romanphiles who overthrew our government (Articles of Confederation ) wita coup d'etat at Philadelphia cared not for liberty or free markets. Their constitution talks only of a strong central government on the Roman model. The Articles survived as afterthoughts , amendments. These Romanphiles were not those enamored with Jefferson's 1776 Declaration of Independence; they were reading another 1776 writing - The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which they have recreated.

's picture

Shaun: I agree with you on most of all of what you are saying, but I disagree with what I perceive to be your view that a stateless society is practical. In all philosophical terms, I agree that a stateless society would work and would be the most morally correct thing. Unfortunately, I do believe that some kind of government (even if it was the kind in the Articles) is necessary to preserve justice.

Bob: While I agree that the Federalists (ie: Jay, Hamilton, Madison to an extent) did create a government much larger than that created under the Articles (and even bigger if Hamilton, America's First Bastard, had his way), you have to take a step back and realize that the system of government established in our Constitution (and protected in the Bill of Rights) is by far the most efficient and morally-correct systems ever instituted by man. 

Zak Slayback's picture

"Unfortunately, I do believe that some kind of government (even if it was the kind in the Articles) is necessary to preserve justice."

The state, both philosophically and practically, is antithetical to justice. It does nothing to preserve justice and makes futile attempts to implement justice. 

Brian Beyer's picture

"you have to take a step back and realize that the system of government established in our Constitution (and protected in the Bill of Rights) is by far the most efficient and morally-correct systems ever instituted by man."

Morally correct in that it has allowed for an imperialist foreign policy that has resulted in the slaughter of countless people? In that businesses are kept afloat with tax dollars (read: stolen money)? In that Americans have their communications indiscriminately snooped on? In that Americans must undergo sexual assault in order to travel? In that police unaccountably use excessive force on anyone who "threatens" them?

Efficient in that it has produced thousands of bureaucracies and miles of red tape? In that our economy has monetary policy dictated by central bankers, accountable only in writing to Congress? In that our economy is becoming more and more centrally planned? 

If the Constitution were rigidly followed, America today would look much different and much better, in my opinion. Politicians and judges have undoubtedly twisted the Constitution to fit their viewpoint. However, that is not so much the problem as it is the lack of a legal mechanism to hold those accountable who misinterpret and manipulate the Constitution.

Brian Beyer's picture

You have proven all of my points with your own counterpoints. The government created in Philadelphia is not the government we exist under today. The imperialist foreign policy is unconstitutional, as are the bailouts, the secret wire-tap courts, the TSA's treatment of American citizens, and police brutality.

There are some necessary ends for government. Those all look to preserve property (being primarily defense (not war, defense), judicial justice, and coinage of money (note the use of the word coinage, not printing)). The legal mechanism to hold people accountable is the system of democratic republicanism instituted under said constitution. We can elect (and in turn, "unelect") leaders who continually violate the constitution, or our interpretation of it. Furthermore, we can have these elected officials impeach judges for disregarding the constitution (the term "good behavior" is very ambiguous, and can be used to our benefit). In the end, these officials can appoint new judges who have a history of not violating the Supreme Law.

Zak Slayback's picture

Zak,

You find it "impratical" to not have a government, but I have to ask why you endorse violence? You state that government is there to protect property, but what if I don't want their services? What if I feel I can protect my property better through a different service?

If I own my property, including the land, then shouldn't I be able to opt out? If the cops do something I don't like, like shoot a dog for no reason, can I end my contract with them?

Governments claim the right to rule because they supposedly have the conscent of the governed. Only about 30% of people vote and thats in a big presidential race. What about town council or mayor? Can this really be called concent? The truth is that government is more like a mafia protection ring than a renters agreement.

Shaun Bowen's picture

love the cartoon!

Megan Duffield's picture