Our Imbecilic Constitution

Not my title, but the title of an op ed piece in the New York Times by University of Texas law professor, Sanford Levinson.

See if you can tell what ideological camp Sandy is in:

But if one must choose the worst single part of the Constitution, it is surely Article V, which has made our Constitution among the most difficult to amend of any in the world. The last truly significant constitutional change was the 22nd Amendment, added in 1951, to limit presidents to two terms. The near impossibility of amending the national Constitution not only prevents needed reforms; it also makes discussion seem futile and generates a complacent denial that there is anything to be concerned about.

It was not always so. In the election of 1912, two presidents — past and future — seriously questioned the adequacy of the Constitution. Theodore Roosevelt would have allowed Congress to override Supreme Court decisions invalidating federal laws, while Woodrow Wilson basically supported a parliamentary system and, as president, tried to act more as a prime minister than as an agent of Congress. The next few years saw the enactment of amendments establishing the legitimacy of the federal income tax, direct election of senators, Prohibition and women’s right to vote.

You guessed it! Sandy is a fan of the two biggest progressives of the early 1900’s – Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson – and the acts that he mentions, coupled with the FDR administration later in the 1920’s cemented the central control, anti-federalist approach favored by all “progressives”.

As you probably can guess, Sandy is not a fan. Our Constitution is just too stodgy for him, too hard to manipulate for the flavor of the month. As “progressives” are wont to do, Sandy sees things through only one lens:

Our vaunted system of “separation of powers” and “checks and balances” — a legacy of the founders’ mistrust of “factions” — means that we rarely have anything that can truly be described as a “government.” Save for those rare instances when one party has hefty control over four branches — the House of Representatives, the Senate, the White House and the Supreme Court — gridlock threatens. Elections are increasingly meaningless, at least in terms of producing results commensurate with the challenges facing the country.

Do you know why the results are “meaningless”?

It is because “progressives” try to use the Constitution for things that it was never intended for. Without seeming to know it, Professor Levinson gets it right when he answers his own question:

What might radical reform mean?

We might look to the 50 state constitutions, most of which are considerably easier to amend. There have been more than 230 state constitutional conventions; each state has had an average of almost three constitutions. (New York, for example, is on its fifth Constitution, adopted in 1938.) This year Ohioans will be voting on whether to call a new constitutional convention; its Constitution, like 13 others, including New York’s, gives voters the chance to do so at regular intervals, typically 20 years.

We don’t need a new Constitution. A national constitution that had been rewritten every 20 years would be a disaster. At the national level, we need minimal regulation and maximum consistency. National continuity and legal stability is the mark of a strong society. Richard W. Rahn, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth, notes the same in his recent analysis of Belize and The Cayman Islands and the differences in growth and prosperity:

Cayman is rich, and Belize is poor. Why? Both are small Caribbean countries with the same climate and roughly the same mixed racial heritage, and both were English-speaking British colonies. Belize (the former British Honduras) received its independence in 1981, while Cayman is still not fully independent but is self-governing at the local level, with its own currency, laws and regulations…

It is obvious why Cayman is rich and Belize is poor, and it comes down to one word: governance. If Belize would clean up its courts, fully protect property rights and adopt the best economic practices of its competitors, it could quickly become rich. For instance, it takes an average of 44 days to get all of the required permits to open a new business. In some countries, such as Estonia, Singapore and even the Commonwealth of Virginia in the U.S., the required paperwork to open a business can be done online. Thus, days have been reduced to just a few hours.

There is no reason any country has to remain poor. Countries are not poor because of climate, lack of natural resources or race. Countries as locationally varied as Singapore, Mauritius, Korea, Chile, Estonia and Cayman have become relatively rich over the past few decades. Those countries that are still relatively poor are poor because they have not put in place the necessary institutions, political structures and policies.

The United States and a number of other wealthy nations are becoming less free and thus, not surprisingly, are growing more slowly.

The Constitution we have is just fine, it is just not being used in the manner intended. If it was applied in a manner consistent with the federalist principles that it was built on, we would already have the flexibility at the state level that the good Professor says should be the balm to cure all ills.

Thanks to the Originalism Blog for the point to the NYT column.

18 thoughts on “Our Imbecilic Constitution

    • Our Constitution was PURPOSELY drafted by our founding fathers to make it nearly impossible to pass legislation.

      Gridlock by design!

      “checks & balances” DUH !

      Our founders understood a govt that does less, harms less. Anytime a Government gives a benefit to someone, that “benefit/freedom to act” must be taken/stolen from someone else.

      “Equal protection under the law” ? Can there be any such thing when the law being written is designed to give an advantage to one person or group over another? When Government passes these new burdens on anyone, our liberties are erased . . . By the mere stroke of a pen; implementation of a tax and/or penalty of imprisonment occurs.

      Levinson understands this . . . Levinson now criticizes the DESIGN of the governance document (SOCIAL COMPACT) that has ALLOWED more prosperity to be created (by self interested people chasing their dreams of success) and liberties to thrive, than all other civilizations combined.

      Levinson argues “we” should adopt a form of government where “the people” are less free and less prosperous. (Levinson’s UTOPIA has outlawed the light bulb the toilet and faucet) Next Levinson will say we live in a Democracy…

      WOLVES who are THIEVES of Liberty, Freedom, the American dream of exceptionalism.

      See: “The Law” by Frederic Bastiat 1848

  1. Texas beat me to it; I was going to point out that the Constitution was intentionally made unwieldy so that it couldn’t be used to quickly make laws. If we wanted law-making to be a quick process, we’d have stuck with monarchy methinks.

  2. Question?
    It appears there are people whose goal is to subjugate others. For some reason they want to control others lives. Do they perceive the world as a “zero sum game” full of a certain amount of prosperity. A bucket full, where they must take from others, so that they may enrich themselves? Or do “they” derive some pleasure in controlling others, the mere wielding of control & power over others lives?

    • If you accept Sowell’s definition of ‘constrained’ and ‘unconstrained’ views of human nature, the ones who most often seek to control others fall into the ‘unconstrained’ camp (almost universally).

      Once you accept this, then – by large percentage – the majority of the people you mention have some sense that they possess a superior moral understanding of how things should be and, thus, a moral directive to ‘save us from ourselves’ that transcends normal moral constraints.

      In other words, the rules do not apply to them and the ends justify the means because they have a duty to save all mankind.

      To them, they mean well. To us, we see evil. Which is which greatly depends on where you stand with God.

      • Your philosophical study shows…
        “us” ; thank you for the complement.

        Sowell is good. Frankly tho, his explanation is intellectual masturbation for his “unconstrained” camp.
        Those in the unconstrained camp are not intelligent, they will not, or cannot, learn wisdom.
        To be truly intelligent, one understands, the more you learn, the more you realize you do not know. . .

        INFINITY = (limits of knowledge)

        So how could one ever possibly know what is best for all others ?

        Simplistically: bad or evil. They choose to force their will, not “our creator’s” will on others, even though they do not care, or are unable to understand the consequences of their actions. . .

        • They suffer from ‘self-worship.’ The constrained view often are their own idols. But then, isn’t this the essence of the original sin?

          Now, about you and I not being able to learn… I assume you were being facetious? 😉

          • U misunderstood my shorthand/cryptic mobile device response.
            From my understanding of your definitions, we would be on the “constrained” camp. We are capable of learning. . . We realize how “ignorant” we always will be. . . : )

            My Grandfather lectured me as a boy, “I learn something every day, and yet I grow more ignorant each day …” ; )

            • I’m slow that way, sorry.

              No, the unconstrained view of human nature is that it can be purposely directed, or manipulated into perfection much like animal breeding. This is where eugenics was born.

              The constrained view is that man is imperfect and can never be made perfect.

              I also see that I made a typo (fixed it) in my original post. I apologize profusely (and have changed the batteries in my wireless keyboard).

              Did I help any? If I just made more mud, try this link the-ultimate-demise-of-western-civilization-a-conflict-of-visions

              BTW: your grandfather was speaking of wisdom. Our society lacks that these days. We think education = intelligence and wisdom. It doesn’t. I believe wisdom comes from understanding, which comes from real learning, not ‘education.’ Furthermore, wisdom does not require a lot of intelligence, only the application of what the good Lord gave us. 😉

  3. B. In my posts above, can you please change constrained to unconstrained. Random thoughts now being thrown up on the wall…

    Our founding fathers obviously were intelligent, understood, and became wise. Right?

    Am I confusing Morals with Intelligence?

    Now I would say, that someone that can never understand that they cannot possibly know everything, by definition cannot be intelligent. Or do they understand this and do not care? Ergo they are narcissistic, and therefor evil?

    How can someone be wise and not intelligent? Is “common sense” somehow different than intelligence? I value the ability to learn, and remember, and pass on the learned experience more so than the ability to remember “facts & figures” with no relationship to accomplishing a task. I would think that one must Intelligent in order to be able to become wise.

    Some of the “smartest” people I know didn’t finish high school or go to college. Some of the dumbest/stupid people I know went to law school and/or have Doctoral degrees. So education does not equal intelligence or wisdom. (is intelligence merely the ability to remember abstract facts without the ability to connect them to survival…)

    Now I want to speak with you. . .

    • Changes made – per your request. Now some thoughts – from my personal perspective.

      Most humans are intelligent, but then, so are most animals. Intelligence is relative but, for me, it is merely a measure of ones ability to learn: to remember things.

      Understanding comes in to play when you can explain how/why things work and use them in the real world to manipulate the environment and/or affect desired outcomes. You can ‘know’ math, but applied engineering requires understanding.

      Wisdom comes from knowing how best to apply our understanding. Knowing how to use math in applied engineering does not tell you where the best place to build a bridge is, or when the best time of year to build it is. That requires an understanding of so many different specialized studies that ‘science’ alone cannot account for all the factors involved.

      Education would be teaching others to understand, not just to memorize. Unfortunately, these days, what we call education is better described as indoctrination. And the post-modernist movement has all but destroyed the notion of wisdom within our schools.

      As for morals. I am a Lockian Natural Rights/Natural Law theorist, so – for me – morality is a function of our actions as they relate to the respect we afford the natural rights of other individuals as our due to God. In other words, morality comes from respecting or violating God as he is presented in the rights He granted to every individual.

      For those who do not believe in a Creator, there can’t really be such a thing as morality because whatever system they create is man-made and, hence, subject to being negated by another man-made system. That means a man-made system of morality cannot be universal. For this reason, it is better described as a system of ethics, but ethics is not the same as morality.

      Morality is a universal sentiment impressed on the heart of every person. We all know right from wrong, I’m pretty sure that even the sociopath knows the difference, he just has a depraved indifference to that sense. This is actually an objectively observable fact. All humans have the sense that our life belongs to us, and of personal property, and of the wrongness of being forced to do something against our will. These are the moral sentiments that philosophers talk about, and which the Apostle, Paul, describes as being built into us by God in Romans. One of our modern stumbling blocks is that we tend to confuse culture with morality. We look to some cultures and we see they bury their dead, others burn them, some set them out to see and a few eat them. We see these things and declare that there is no such thing as universal morality, but what we miss is that – in every case I just mentioned – there is a common moral law: respect for the dead! If we had greater wisdom, we would realize these different ways of showing this common moral law are properly defined as culture.

      OK, another ‘verbose word vomit’ post, but I hope you get something out of it.

  4. Got it.

    Now, can I liken an “unconstrained” individual to a sociopath?

    They wouldn’t allow to be done to themselves what they want to do to others.

  5. I still believe those that attempt to control others through deceit or coercion are evil…

    As long as one doesn’t affect others they should be allowed to do whatever they like…

    Liberty for all.

  6. Pingback: Our Imbecilic Constitution – Part II | The Rio Norte Line

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