Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Final Report Card on the US Constitution


If the US constitution were a school project graded against a libertarian rubric, and I had to give the framers (and whoever wrote the amendments) a report card based on the ideal criteria I laid out this summer, it would read as follows:

  • Specificity of Purpose: C+
    • Comments: They did outline a purpose, and their other writings did specify what they intended that purpose to be. The purpose they intended was as close to ideal as any government has ever come. However, the actual wording they used to outline that purpose was far too broad to be an effective check on the ends government may pursue.
  • Enumeration of Powers: A
    • Comments: They were the first in the world to clearly and specifically enumerate the things government could do, and ban it from doing anything else. They added an additional layer of protection by further limiting even these enumerated powers with a Bill of Rights. This only falls short of an A+ because some of the specific powers they chose to grant government are too expansive and/or unnecessary.
  • Separation of Powers: A
    • Comments: This was Madison’s crowning accomplishment. His three-branched division of power was unique, original, and utterly brilliant. By pitting competing interests against one another, he “enabled the government to control the people, and in the next place obliged it to control itself.” This is the glue that has kept the US government through 44 peaceful exchanges of power (45, - Lincoln), and what has made the US constitution the model for the entire world. The deterioration of some of these checks today is the fault of the people for allowing politicians to bend the rules, rather than a result of some defect in the document itself.
  • Federalism: B+
    • Comments: Great job distinguishing between state and federal powers, and using the former to check the latter. However, there are insufficient limits on state powers themselves.
  • Republicanism: A
    • Comments: Once again, groundbreaking and innovative problem solving. The public will is taken into account, but the input is indirect enough to prevent a tyranny of the majority and allow the most qualified to ultimately make the decisions.

Overall grade: A-

These grades would be even higher if the class was curved according to the other countries of the day; by the standards of the times, the framers blew everyone out of the water. It was truly revolutionary. Today, many countries around the world have caught up a bit, but none have limited the government’s powers (in theory or practice) so specifically as has the US constitution. For that reason, I still give it the best in class.

Of course, the American constitution is not a perfect document. It never has been, as is attested by its 27 amendments, initial codification of slavery, and long-time restriction of voting rights. To this day, many parts of the constitution are inconsistent with the ideal construct I described. I already complained about the lack of specificity in purpose, and there are powers enumerated in the constitution that I don’t really think the government should have*. I also think there are fairer ways to measure for the public input than the winner-takes-all electoral system, and more efficient ways to operate lawmaking bodies. I would favor many amendments to refine these purposes, restrict these powers, and reform those legislative procedures (some of which I will propose in future blogs).

But in the bigger picture, these flaws are trivial matters. Although the US constitution is not perfect, I do consider it the closest humanity has ever come. As Ronald Reagan once said “this idea that government was beholden to the people, that it had no other source of power, is still the newest, most unique idea in all the long history of man's relation to man.” This was the first governing document (and arguably, still the only document) to fully outline the three unalienable human rights of life, liberty, and property. It remains the most ingenious mechanism of securing those rights to ever be invented. And with some minor tweaks in wording and some major shifts in judicial interpretation, I genuinely believe that it is still humanity’s greatest hope for the protection of those rights. I firmly believe that the US constitution has the best chance of all governing structures yet invented to maximize the freedom, prosperity, and happiness of all people everywhere.

It is for this reason (and this reason alone) that I consider myself a patriot. When I took the Oath of Enlistment in the US Army, I solemnly swore that I would “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and that I would “bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” I did not swear allegiance to any individual man or leader. That is by design. In Ancient Rome, soldiers swore allegiance to their lord or ruler; they swore to follow one man wherever he went and fight his battles, regardless of cause, for the glory of his name and the enrichment of his kingdom. But after the colonial militia narrowly defeated soldiers who served a tyrannical king, it was decided that American soldiers would never make any such pledge to any one individual. Similarly, my allegiance is not to the territory enclosed my America’s borders. That land, though beautiful, is no more worth fighting for than the land anywhere else. And although I serve the American people, my allegiance is not to them either; indeed, American citizens are no superior in value or worth than the people anywhere else. Rather, my allegiance is to an ideal, the ideal inscribed in the document I’ve sworn to uphold. That ideal is individual liberty, and even today it is more alive and well in America than it is anywhere else. By a longshot, not even close. The people here cherish, adore, utilize and stand up for that freedom to a greater extent than they do in any other country. The moment that changes, the day that spirit dies or leaves for somewhere else, is the day I move.

“Where liberty dwells, there is my country.” B. Franklin

My primary objective is to ensure that never happens. I want to devote my life’s work towards ensuring that spirit never dies; that freedom’s last, best chance on earth shall not perish from the earth. Beyond the Army, I partake in American politics because I want to bring the government’s actual activities as closely in-line with those the constitution prescribes as possible. Next, I want to tinker with that constitution until it is as close to perfect as possible. And when I’m done with that, I want the freedom displayed in the United States to beckon as much of the rest of the world as possible too. I have devoted my life to the protection, perpetuation, and improvement of that document, in order to “secure the blessings of liberty for myself and my posterity”.

It’s a big task. This blog is how I get started.

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