Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Constitution: A fantasy from the beginning?

Thomas J. DiLorenzo offers a depressing, yet probably correct, observation about enforcement of the Constitution. I'm sure many people have considered this idea, that is, the Founders' Constitution didn't stand a chance against government tyranny. James Madison talked about human nature and how hard it is for most of us, once in power, to behave ourselves. In fact, we cannot be expected to behave ourselves.

In "Doomed from the Start: The Myth of Limited Constitutional Government in America," DiLorenzo writes about John Calhoun's speculations:
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After spending a lifetime in politics John C. Calhoun (U.S. Senator, Vice President of the United States, Secretary of War) wrote his brilliant treatise, A Disquisition on Government, which was published posthumously shortly after his death in 1850. In it Calhoun warned that it is an error to believe that a written constitution alone is “sufficient, of itself, without the aid of any organism except such as is necessary to separate its several departments, and render them independent of each other to counteract the tendency of the numerical majority to oppression and abuse of power.” The separation of powers is fine as far as it goes, in other words, but it would never be a sufficient defense against governmental tyranny, said Calhoun.

Moreover, it is a “great mistake,” Calhoun wrote, to suppose that “the mere insertion of provisions to restrict and limit the powers of the government, without investing those for whose protection they are inserted, with the means of enforcing their observance, will be sufficient to prevent the major and dominant party from abusing its powers.” The party “in possession of the government” will always be opposed to any and all restrictions on its powers. They “will have no need of these restrictions” and “would come, in time, to regard these limitations as unnecessary and improper restraints and endeavor to elude them . . .”

The “party in favor of the restrictions” (i.e., strict constructionists) would inevitably be overpowered. It is sheer folly, Calhoun argued, to suppose that “the party in possession of the ballot box and the physical force of the country, could be successfully resisted by an appeal to reason, truth, justice, or the obligations imposed by the constitution.” He predicted that “the restrictions [of government power in the Constitution] would ultimately be annulled, and the government be converted into one of unlimited powers.” He was right, of course.

Read complete article and learn more about those other colonials, the ones DiLorenzo calls the "Founding Fathers of Constitutional Subversion" here.


Susan Klopfer said...

While we "...cannot be expected to behave ourselves" we must expect ourselves to behave. This is what free will is about. We have options, and one is to behave with the highest morals and intentions. The founding fathers gave us a good document to work with -- now it is up to us.

Elizabeth Wright said...

Susan wrote:
We have options, and one is to behave with the highest morals and intentions.

Yes, the operative word being "intentions." The point made by Madison and Jay, in some of their letters, was that blind trust in officials would be foolish. No matter how good man's intentions might be, there had to be protections against plain, old human nature. Even with the documents the Founders left behind, we don't seem to be able to keep our government out of the hands of tricksters. Look at all the downright anti-constitutional laws fomented by the civil rights lobbyists and the feminist lobbyists -- just as though there had never been a Constitution.