Sunday, June 26, 2011

Time Magazine Is Wrong About The Constitution

Time magazine's main article, One Document, Under Siege which created quite an uproar among conservatives because the main thrust of the article was that the Constitution is a document that is no longer relevant because of changes in technology and culture and that it is an obstacle to political, social and economic progress. 
Almost every line in the article is absolutely wrong. here are just too many things that I would like to refute in the article. However, there is one claim in the article that I cannot restrain myself from blasting to pieces. Richard Stengel, the author of this article, asserts the reason that the Constitution remains the most powerful document in the world is because the American people love liberty and freedom:
A constitution in and of itself guarantees nothing. Bolshevik Russia had a constitution, as did Nazi Germany. Cuba and Libya have constitutions. A constitution must embody something that is in the hearts of the people. In the midst of World War II, the great judge Learned Hand gave a speech in New York City's Central Park that came to be known as "The Spirit of Liberty." It was a dark time, with freedom and liberty under threat in Europe. Hand noted that we are Americans by choice, not birth. That we are Americans precisely because we seek liberty and freedom — not only freedom from oppression but freedom of speech and belief and action. "What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty?" he asked. "I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it." 
While Americans do love liberty and freedom, that is not the reason why the U.S. Constitution remains the most powerful document in the world. In Timothy R.Clark's  Desert News article, What My Grandma Taught Me About The Constitution, points out that rampant corruption, which is how most societies operated throughout human history, prevents liberty and freedom from occurring:
The United States Constitution is perhaps America’s most important export. It has influenced the chartering documents of many nations, beginning with France and Poland in the 1780s. But the long-term results are not so good. Although a stack of constitutions has been erected after the American model, corrupt leaders almost always chew up and spit out the ink and paper of high ideals. Most attempts to imitate or reproduce the world's most important charter, penned by the then 31-year-old James Madison, have been dead on arrival.
Why? Because most societies are endemically corrupt. Like a cancer, corruption influences, alters or stops basic processes such as commerce, capital flows, the expansion and delivery of education and the making of public policy. It shuts down civil society.
Timothy Clark goes on to point out that the Constitution is only as good as its leaders and citizens
At root, civil society is based on preconditions of ethical leadership and public virtue. We believe in the rule of law, but the rule of law is only enforceable through the unenforceable support of private citizens — a line of defense that is easily swept aside when corruption becomes endemic.
A constitution is nothing but a set of institutional arrangements. Yes, there is genius in the arrangements of the U.S. Constitution. But they don’t hold themselves up. We do. It’s the character of the citizens. It is the unapologetic support of Judeo-Christian values. It’s equal emphasis on both rights and responsibility.
In his inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson said, “Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others?”
In other words, society depends on the integrity of each and every individual. John Adams famously explained that the Constitution was made for a society that promoted and cherished the integrity of the individual:
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Foreign Policy Magazine, in writing about the collapse of the Soviet Union, explains that the real reason the communist country fell in 1989 was because everyone was tired of the corruption that was rampant in society. They wanted a more moral society. Gorbachev's Prime Minster made the shocking admission that Soviet Union was not great because because it relied on corruption to maintain power: 
To Gorbachev's prime minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, the "moral [nravstennoe] state of the society" in 1985 was its "most terrifying" feature:
[We] stole from ourselves, took and gave bribes, lied in the reports, in newspapers, from high podiums, wallowed in our lies, hung medals on one another. And all of this -- from top to bottom and from bottom to top.
Although the Soviet Union fell many years ago, Russia is still struggling to figure out how to make freedom and liberty work. Many Arab nations are now  trying to figure out how to make freedom and liberty work in the Middle East. Why are they struggling to make freedom work in their own lands?
The reason why they are struggling is because they assume that freedom comes when you eliminate corruption in the nation's economic, social, and political institutions by revising the policies, programs of the various institutions or even rewriting the Constitution to mirror the American constitution. In other words, they think that if they make the institutions good and moral, freedom will come.  
However, the Founding Fathers wisely realized that it was the other way around. If you make the people moral, virtuous and religious, then the public and private institutions of society will be morally good and in turn, it will create a free, democratic and good nation.

I fear that we are in danger of falling for the same erroneous assumption  that freedom comes if we only can make the institutions of society good. When you look back in history of how governments used oppression and corruption to keep the state going, America is the exception to the rule. That is the idea of American exceptionalism.

In the end, The United States Constitution matters, not because we love liberty and freedom, but that liberty and freedom comes only if the individuals themselves remain good and virtuous.

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