Category Archives: Founders

The Constitution Myth

One reason for the failure of the modern conservative and libertarian movements to scale back, in even a miniscule way, the now gargantuan US welfare/warfare state has been the misinterpretation of the US Constitution.  Many conservatives have a slavish devotion to the document, placing it on a par with the Ten Commandments and New Testament.

A typical misunderstanding of the Constitution’s history and content appeared in this recent op-ed:



The Constitution was intended to limit 1) the power


of government over the citizenry 2) the power of each branch of


government and 3) the power of political/financial elites over the


government and the citizenry, as the Founders recognized the intrinsic risks


of an all-powerful state, an all-powerful state dominated by one branch of


government and the risks of a financial elite corrupting the state to serve


the interests above those of the citizenry.*

The author, like so many “Constitution enthusiasts” has also been hostile to the Medieval era, denigrating its institutions and social constructs – feudalism, aristocracy, crusading – when, in fact, the Middle Ages, in many respects, were far freer with less government than the present epoch. **

When the founding fathers decided to meet in Philadelphia in 1787, they did so at first to “amend” the Articles of Confederation which had guided the young country through some perilous times.  While the Articles had some defects (some libertarians even contend that they were too statist***), the delegates, at first, did not want it scrapped, however, it was the “leading lights” of the convention which connived to completely do away with it.

By superior political maneuvering, the pro-Constitution forces were able to ramrod their plan through despite being in the minority.  Not only were the majority of the delegates initially against scrapping the Articles, but most Americans were opposed to the creation of a new central government. 

Despite this, the Constitution was ruthlessly pushed through and, as its opponents feared, America would be saddled with a highly centralized national government, the loss of considerable state sovereignty, and the eventual erosion of individual liberties even with the inclusion of a Bill of Rights.

A brief examination of the document reveals that its implicit and explicit language grants wide latitude for the expansion of state power.  In its Preamble, the ambiguous clause to “promote the general welfare” can and has led to all sorts of destructive social engineering schemes.  More ominously, for anyone that is under the illusion that America is governed by a “federal” system, they should reread Article VI which in part says

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United his Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land. [emphasis added]

An all-powerful central state went against much of Western history after the fall of the Roman Empire and the idea was always feared by philosophers.  Basic political theory and practical experience showed that a multitude of sovereign states were preferable not only for the protection of personal liberty, but for economic growth.  Numerous states and jurisdictions were a far greater check on government than the much celebrated “separation of powers” concept of constitutional government.

Under the Articles of Confederation, each individual state was autonomous while the national government had to rely on the states for most of its support.  Unfortunately, it will never be known what would have happened if the country remained as a confederacy of states, it is likely however, that there would have been less bloodshed, greater economic growth, and more personal freedom under a decentralized regime.

It is curious, therefore, why so many on the Right continue to revere the Constitution as some great bulwark against state power.  Much of it probably stems from ignorance or personal bias against the political conditions which existed prior to the late 18th century. 

Much of European history was under the sway of monarchial and aristocratic rule and the integral presence of the Catholic Church in society with a diffusion of power among kings, princes, dukes and Churchmen.  While far from perfect, the social order which existed under Christendom may not have been as materially or technologically advanced as contemporary times, but in regard to morality, justice, and individual freedom, there is no comparison.  The Christian age saw nothing of the social depravity, war making with its mass murder, the trampling of individual rights, and the existence of totalitarian government as witnessed in the supposedly “enlightened” modern age.

Decentralized Europe of 1300

Until it is realized that the Constitution is an impediment to rolling back the American Leviathan, there will be little progress in the fight for individual liberty and economic progress.

   

*Charles Hugh Smith, “Let’s Face It: The U.S. Constitution Has Failed.”  Zero Hedge.  20 February 2019. 

**One example, Charles Hugh Smith, “America’s ‘Neo-Feudal’ System is ‘Both False & Precarious.”  Zero Hedge 19 December 2018.

***David Gordon, ed., Strictly Confidential: The Private Volker Fund Memos of Murray N. Rothbard, Auburn, AL.: The Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2015, pp. 96-98.

Antonius Aquinas@antoniusaquinas

https://antoniusaquinas.com

[emphasis added]

A Constitutional Anniversary to Forget

constitutionstupid

While not a jubilee year, last week marked the 230th anniversary of the US Constitution.  Naturally, most of its devotees enthusiastically praised the document which by now is seen on a par with Holy Writ itself.  An editorial from Investor’s Business Daily provides an example of such hagiography:

The Constitution’s beauty is that it not only delineates our rights

as Americans, but expressly limits and defines government’s ability

to interfere in our private lives.   This equipoise between citizens’

duties, responsibilities and rights makes it the defining document

or our nation’s glorious freedom.

 

But America is wonderful largely because of the Constitution and

those who framed it . . . .

 

What we have is too precious to squander . . . .*

Most of the piece laments about the widespread ignorance of its sacred contents among the denizens in which it rules over and encourages the unlearned “to bone up a bit on your constitutional heritage . . . .”  The editorial fails, as do most others on the Right, to understand that it is not a lack of knowledge of the Constitution’s contents among the populace which lies at the heart of America’s social, economic, and political problems, but the very document itself.

One of the main reasons why the Constitution continues to be so widely venerated is due to the deliberate distortion of history that its “founders” promoted and that generations of its sycophants have continued to perpetuate to this very day.  The official narrative runs that the Constitution was enacted because of widespread popular support for a change to the supposed inadequacies and deficiencies of the Articles of Confederation.

This is a myth.  Instead, the Constitution was a coup deliberately schemed by the leading political and mercantile classes to set up a powerful central government where ultimate authority rested in the national state.  The use of the term “federal” to describe what was created in Philadelphia in those fateful days was a ruse much like the banksters and politicos used “Federal Reserve” to describe the central bank created in 1913.  It was neither “federal” – a decentralized monetary order – nor a “reserve” of gold, but a monetary institution which could create money out of thin air and eventually eliminate the gold standard.

It was a similar political maneuver 230 years ago as a new American national state was established and touted as a decentralized form of government where power was evenly divided between state and national levels and between the different branches of the government itself  – “separation of powers.”  In actuality, however, the “federal system” was the elevation of central power at the expense of local authority which had previously existed.  Section VI of the Constitution says it all:

The Constitution and the laws of the United States  . . .

shall be the supreme law of the land; and the

judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the

Constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.

Elementary political science has shown and plain common sense knows that any person or institution given “supreme authority” will misuse and abuse such power.  Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely is an undeniable dictum of human nature.  A truly decentralized system of governance would not contain a plank as “supreme law of the land” as part of its foundation.  Instead, real federalism would be dispersed, as it existed in the past in such political arrangements as confederacies, leagues, and, certainly, under the much maligned feudal social order.

Even the Constitution’s celebrated Bill of Rights is flawed and has proven to be ineffective in protecting basic human freedoms.  It is the federal government which enumerates and interprets what freedom individuals should possess.  Thus, the meaning and extent of individual liberties will be in the hands of federal jurists and courts who will invariably rule on cases in favor of the state.  The ensnaring of individual rights within the central government’s authority did away with the venerable common law which was a far greater defender of liberty than federal courts.

Just as important, the enactment of the Constitution, which brought all the individual states under it suzerainty, did away with one of the most significant checks on state power – “voting with one’s feet.”  When there are multiple governing authorities, if one jurisdiction becomes too oppressive, its subjects can move to freer domains.  This still happens on a local level as high tax and regulatory states such as California and New York have lost demographically to freer places like Nevada and Texas.  Yet, from the Federal Leviathan there is no escape, except expatriation.

Unless and until Americans and all the other peoples of the Western world who live under constitutional rule recognize that it is the type of government which is the cause of most of the political turmoil, social unrest, and economic malaise  which they face, there is no hope of turning things around.

*”Sturdy Constitution, ” Investor’s Business Daily, Week of September 18, 2017, A20.

Antonius Aquinas@AntoniusAquinas

https://antoniusaquinas.com