Beyond the Constitution

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Wilson, in your latest
on you state that the 1787 constitution
cannot be counted on to ensure liberty. Point taken! However, what
should we then strive for? A return to the Articles of Confederation
or an even more decentralized league of polities that looks more
like the Holy Roman Empire than the EU? Personally, I’d say make
Washington the equivalent for the lower 48 to what New York is to
the UN members. What would you propose?

nation, including the USA, is ruled by men, not by laws or constitutions.
Liberty is protected by the people, to the extent that they desire
liberty. And that is, ultimately, a cultural, rather than a merely
political, question. The people of today will interpret the Constitution
to mean what they want it to mean. But that is not to say that the
Constitution has not itself profoundly influenced our culture. The
institutions of authority into which we are born affect our worldviews.
A lapsed Catholic would see the world differently than a lapsed
Lutheran, who would see it differently than a lapsed Moslem. A child
raised with an abusive father would see things differently than
a child raised with no father at all.

the laws of the land will influence our view of the world. As I
wrote yesterday, the Constitution did not invent liberty, and will
not protect it if the people want to give it up for something else.
But I shouldn't discount the Constitution too much. When the people
seek to overturn injustice and the encroachments of the State, they
invoke the Constitution and especially its Bill of Rights, not an
abstract ideal of liberty. The Constitution has been admired not
just by Americans, but also by classical liberals and libertarians
throughout the world. Indeed, it is hard to conceive of a libertarian
movement without it. Although not a libertarian document, it provides
the legal standard by which we oppose the Welfare State, the Police
State, and Imperial Warfare State. So while the Constitution did
not invent liberty, it has helped shape libertarian beliefs and
values – our conception of liberty in and for America. Laws tend
to do that, for good and for ill: they help shape our worldviews.

I don't think we should do, however, is go "back" to a
political tradition which respected the Constitution, for reasons
stated yesterday. More than that, it is impossible. We go forward
in time, not backward. The nature of the Republic and its people
have changed. Phases in a life, or in a country, do not revolve.
As time marches on, we enter new phases; we do not re-enter old
ones. We will not go back to the beliefs and practices 1912, 1884,
1836, or 1776. Nor would we want to. Previous generations may have
preserved the Constitution better, but they also preserved a lot
of other beliefs and values we find reprehensible. To advocate "going
back" to the Constitution is "politically incorrect"
in its truest sense: it is unfeasible, counter-productive, and foolish.
Many people think we still live under the Constitution and will
wonder what we're talking about anyway. Many others do not even
care about the Constitution at all, or view it as an obstacle to
their ideological agenda.

alternative is to move beyond the Constitution. This is what my
correspondent asks. What would that look like? I don't know, exactly,
and no blueprint drawn up today will ever come to fruition exactly
as planned anyway. But freedom is our value, our highest political
end, and we ought not confuse means such as democracy, separation
of powers, and federalism, with that end.

key is to preserve our best traditions and values as we move forward,
to promote those things that once made us feel lucky and proud to
be Americans: a commitment to peace and the avoidance of entangling
alliances and needless disputes with foreign nations; the preservation
of our traditional civil liberties (speech, religion, self-defense,
due process of law); democratic, decentralized, local government;
free, unregulated trade within a large common market. These are
desirable no matter the form of our political arrangements, and
our political arrangements will be shaped by these values.

move "beyond" the Constitution means to frame debates
in moral terms, not Constitutional legalese. For values shape culture,
and culture shapes politics. Who should control the schools, parents
or federal 'crats? Who should prescribe grandma's pain medication,
her doctor or the Attorney General? If a hurricane devastates a
state, why is its National Guard thousands of miles away "liberating"
strangers who despise our occupation? Why are our women fondled
by federal security at airports?

the people, or the states, say, "Enough is enough!" then
we will see change. We just don't know what it will look like. It
may mean dissolution of the Union and the creation of independent
states and/or regional confederations. Or maybe the Union will stick
together, with Constitutional balances restored. It doesn't particularly
matter to me.

you could say that I am striving for peace and freedom. If these
become our nation's values once again, then the politics will take
care of itself.

17, 2005

Leroy Wilson [send him mail]
is a columnist for the Partial
and blogs at “Independent
.” He currently resides in eastern Washington State.

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