Monday, February 17, 2014

The Comfort of Eternal Things

Windy Pundit picked up on the same Greenfield post I did and wrote his own take.  The ideas are similar.  Windy is no Greenfield, and steps back from his rhetoric and invective.  But like Greenfield, he is of the opinion that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights mean what he thinks they mean.  Civil Rights are right there, in black and white, and are meant to be applied as he has come to understand them.

The Constitution is a remarkable document, and like other remarkable documents, it apparently supports everyone.  What Greenfield and Windy see as being the intention of the "founders" or perhaps, if they're thinking more accurately, the populations of the colonies/states that ratified the document, is but one view.  Their view of the Constitution is one of the more attractive because it requires little thought, there simply are forbidden things and that is that.  The government can go this far and no further.  Keeping the government on its side of the line is one of our eternal duties.

I grow tired of this view.  I see it everywhere, and it is as intellectually dishonest as it is hypocritical.  Of course the Constitution isn't eternal.  Of course it doesn't simply mean X.  First, language is not and has never been a particularly good way to capture bright lines and the Constitution was one of the most vague pieces of writing ever.  Hell, even allowing the "Congress shall make no law" bit as much strictness as you'd like (and you shouldn't give it much at all if you have any understanding of our history), half the time we're arguing about what on earth "due process" is and what a "reasonable" search is.  Second, at the time the document was being written and adopted men were of opposing views and yet it passed.  It did not pass with the ringing of the hands of those who wanted to give the feds more power.  Adams was our second president and he passed the Sedition Acts.  Jefferson did the Louisiana Purchase without the consent of Congress.  And those are just the better known examples.  What Greenfield and Windy and their ilk trumpet so blindly as the meaning of the First Amendment was a concept shaped largely by men in the beginning of the twentieth century, men like Holmes and Hand and other men who had more sense than just about anyone alive today as far as I can tell.

We are sovereign.  Not the Constitution.  We are.  The Constitution has been and will always be the plaything of the powerful.  If the best argument you can come up with is "well the Constitution said so" or "the founders thought so" then you will lose the war of ideas.  More ironically, you will have attempted to thwart authoritarians by relying on authority, pure and simple.  If your ideals have as much value as you credit them with having, then take the time to learn about that value and how to express it.  Otherwise, your simple, mindless repetition of this that or the other amendment and your waving of the shriveled ancient parchment you so love will not save you from the horde of children growing up today who think that document foolish and dated.  You are losing the war in our schools and in our courts.  Stop simply defining liberty in the negative and assume the lines you draw A. exist in the Constitution and B. that their constitutional pedigree holds them above suspicion.  Most of the ideas you love came about in the last century under the care of great men and women who, unfortunately, have mostly died out.  You do them no honor pretending that their ideas simply are the Constitution and having no idea how to defend those ideas.

And no, the majority of people will not agree that living dangerously is worth it, or that it's ok if the Constitution is a suicide pact.  Greenfield recognized that just lately in this piece on why he evidently thinks democracy is awful. Well, you can despair of democracy if you like.  But as far as I can tell, when it does finally go, the ideas you love will go with it.  The Greenfields can claim that they have "reason, logic, and the Constitution" on their side all they want.  But it will be the group with the people on their side that will decide the fate of this nation.

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