Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Constitution Matters

A reply to Time magazine’s Richard Stengel.
By Thomas Sowell

The Fourth of July may be just a holiday for fireworks to some people. But it was a momentous day for the history of this country and the history of the world.

Not only did July 4, 1776, mark American independence from England, it also marked a radically different kind of government from the governments that prevailed around the world at the time — and the kinds of governments that had prevailed for thousands of years before.

The American Revolution was not simply a rebellion against the king of England, it was a rebellion against being ruled by kings in general. That is why the opening salvo of the American Revolution was called “the shot heard ’round the world.”

Autocratic rulers and their subjects heard that shot — and things that had not been questioned for millennia were now open to challenge. As the generations went by, more and more autocratic governments around the world proved unable to meet that challenge.

Some clever people today ask whether the United States has really been “exceptional.” You couldn’t be more exceptional in the 18th century than to begin your fundamental document — the Constitution of the United States — with the momentous words, “We the people.”

Those three words were a slap in the face to those who thought themselves entitled to rule and who regarded the people as if they were simply human livestock, destined to be herded and shepherded by their betters. Indeed, to this very day, elites who think that way — and they include many among the intelligentsia, as well as political messiahs — find the Constitution of the United States a real pain because it stands in the way of their imposing their will and their presumptions on the rest of us.

More than 100 years ago, so-called “Progressives” began a campaign to undermine the Constitution’s strict limitations on government, which stood in the way of self-anointed political crusaders imposing their grand schemes on the rest of us. That effort to discredit the Constitution continues to this day, and the arguments haven’t really changed much in 100 years.

The cover story in the July 4th issue of Time magazine is a classic example of this arrogance. It asks of the Constitution, “Does it still matter?”

A long and rambling essay by the magazine’s managing editor, Richard Stengel, manages to create a toxic blend of the irrelevant and the erroneous.

The irrelevant comes first, pointing out in big letters that those who wrote the Constitution “did not know about” all sorts of things in the world today, including airplanes, television, computers, and DNA.

This may seem like a clever new gambit but, like many clever new gambits, it is a rehash of arguments made long ago. Back in 1908, Woodrow Wilson said, “When the Constitution was framed there were no railways, there was no telegraph, there was no telephone.”

In Mr. Stengel’s rehash of this argument, he declares: “People on the right and left constantly ask what the framers would say about some event that is happening today.”

Maybe that kind of talk goes on where he hangs out. But most people have enough common sense to know that a constitution does not exist to micro-manage particular “events” or express opinions about the passing scene.

A constitution exists to create a framework for government — and the Constitution of the United States tries to keep the government inside that framework.

From the irrelevant to the erroneous is a short step for Mr. Stengel. He says, “If the Constitution was intended to limit the federal government, it certainly doesn’t say so.”

Apparently Mr. Stengel has not read the Tenth Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Perhaps Richard Stengel should follow the advice of another Stengel — Casey Stengel, who said on a number of occasions, “You could look it up.”

Does the Constitution matter? If it doesn’t, then your freedom doesn’t matter.

— Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. © 2011 Creators Syndicate, Inc.


Ducky's here said...

Joe's one of those "states rights" guys who wants us to go back to the Articles of Confederation and abolish central banking.

Enjoy going back to the good old Baroque days folks.

Ducky's here said...

When the Constitution was framed, the idea of medical insurance was unknown. In fact insurance was a pretty limited idea.

Now should we defer to the founders who had very limited ideas of sharing risk outside commerce?

Leticia said...

I believe many people have failed to realize the importance of the Revolutionary War and how the United States become a free state.

The courageous men who signed The Declaration of Independence faced death as they signed it. The majority of them lost their fortunes so we could, as Americans, could experience a world free of tyranny.

And the Constitution of the United States was meant to keep "We The People" from being thrown back under a dictatorship.

I wish more people would study the history of this great nation and realize the great many sacrifices that were made so that we could all be free.

Joe said...

Ducky: So, who baroque the good old days?

Leticia: They pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor, and that's exactly what it cost them.

Good comment.

Lone Ranger said...

The Constitution is the single greatest barrier to "progressive" policies. "When the Constitution was framed, the idea of medical insurance was unknown." Yeah, because Americans were not a bunch of parasites back then who expected the government to care for them from cradle to grave. They provided for themselves.

The Constitutional Convention was very probably the greatest gathering of minds since the Last Supper. Yet, liberals scoff at the Founders because they didn't have flush toilets and microwave ovens. And that brings up Immutable Truth About Liberals #3. Liberals have an inflated sense of self-worth. They are like house flies that criticize the air-worthiness of a Stealth fighter.

Ethics and morality don't expire with the passing of time. "Thou shalt not steal" is just as true today as it was when the 10 Commandments were revealed nearly 3,000 years ago. And the right to self-defense by bearing arms is just as much a necessity as it was in 1787. In fact, people back then clashed with "savages" usually only when the trespassed on Indian land. Today, you can encounter savages on any street in any city.

If liberals had their way, the Bill of Rights would be scrapped.

Joe said...

LR: Bill of Rights? There's a Bill of Rights? Where on earth did those rights come from?

Lone Ranger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lone Ranger said...

I BELIEVE they come from God the Creator. At least that's what the Declaration of Independence says.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Democrats spit on the right to life. Just as they once believed it was their right to whip a slave to death, they believe they have the right to terminate life if birth is inconvenient to the mother or terminate life when someone is old and a burden to society. They get you coming and going. Of course, since this is not a Christian country (pfft), those words must have been hacked into the Declaration by some 18th century computer whiz -- no doubt a democrat time traveler.

Lone Ranger said...

Gee, we seem to be thread killers on your own blog.