from the Congress Action newsletter

Why a Constitution?

by: Kim Weissman
July 18, 1999

Our Constitution is under incredible assault today, and many people question why we need such a document at all. After all, of what relevance to multicultural America in the 21st century is a dusty old document written with quill pen on parchment, by a group of white men over 200 years ago? That document was written when America was a rural conglomeration of villages and a few small cities concentrated along the Atlantic seaboard, weak economically and militarily, mostly disconnected from the rest of the world. Today America is the world’s economic powerhouse, and a military power far beyond the capabilities of our most powerful potential rivals. We span a continent and beyond, and are intimately connected to the world in every way. How could those who wrote, debated, and ratified our Constitution have the slightest idea of the conditions that America would face at the end of the 20th century?

Obviously, on a superficial level, they could not. But the Constitution is not a superficial document. It penetrates to the core of the human condition, and addresses the fundamentals of human nature which have not changed in any meaningful way over these past 200 years. If anything, the history of the past 200 years, particularly the history of our own century, proves that our Constitution is even more vital and more necessary today than it was when it was ratified.

The "Why" question is really not that difficult to answer. All governments are concentrations of power. The question we must answer is whether we want the exercise of that power to be limited, or unlimited. A government either has limitations on what it can do, or it has no limitations. There is no third alternative. Referring only to the century in which we live, we have seen quite a few governments with unlimited power: Nazi Germany, Czarist Russia, the Soviet Union under Stalin, North Korea, Cuba, and Iraq, to name just a few. All of those governments had two things in common, the latter flowing as a necessary consequence of the former. First, the people in charge of those governments wielded unlimited power; second, they were, and are, unmercifully oppressive of their own citizens.

The alternative to a government with unlimited power is a government with limited power, a government with restrictions on what it can permissibly do. When our government was created in 1787, it was of this limited variety. There are strict limits to what our government is permitted to do. Those limits were established by a Constitution, with the explicit understanding that if the Constitution did not grant the government the authority to do something – the enumerated powers -- then the government had no such authority. Following closely after the Constitution was another document, the Bill of Rights, which affirmed and reinforced those Constitutional limitations of power, and specifically defended a number of individual rights against government encroachment.

So we now come to the end of the 20th century, and we must again answer the same question which the Founders answered: Do we want to live under a government with unlimited power to do whatever it wants, or under a government with limitations on its power?

If we want the power of our government to be limited rather than unlimited, as the Founders intended, we need to ask where those limitations are contained. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights are nothing more than a set of rules which our government must obey. It must abide by all the rules, all the time, not just those it deems appropriate, whenever it deems those rules to be convenient. Those rules may be changed, if need be, and the mechanism for change is provided by the document itself, the amendment process. But until those rules are changed by the designated procedure, they remain rules that are firm and fixed.

And like any other rules, they do not change and "grow" in whatever way those who are bound by them decide at any given moment. Malleable rules, what the so-called "enlightened" among us call a "living Constitution", are no rules at all. If we adopt the meaningless charade of a "living Constitution", we have in reality abandoned our Constitution, our rules which limit our government, and we have by definition transformed ours into a government of unlimited power. A government which is no different in fundamental structure from those totalitarian regimes which have infested this century.

This will be dismissed as hysterical hyperbole. Of course our government is not like any of those totalitarian regimes mentioned. Not yet, anyway, and some people might disagree. But the government created by our Founders, established by our Constitution, was very different from those totalitarian regimes, different not just in degree, but of a fundamentally different kind. It was a government in which power flowed from the bottom up – the consent of the governed -- rather than from the top down. But when we abandon our Constitution, that difference is no longer in kind, but in degree only. When we abandon our Constitution and Bill of Rights, there are no longer any limits and there can no longer be any pretense of consent of the governed.

If we doubt the trend toward totalitarianism, consider imperial presidential decrees called Executive Orders; or the growing control over society exerted by judicial edicts and policy-making by litigation; or the increasing number of laws not enacted by Congress but which are simply regulations written by federal agencies; or the constant calls for a "czar" (Energy Czar, Drug Czar, and now a Nuclear Security Czar) to solve various problems, with the attendant concentration of expansive power; or consider the proliferation of multinational agreements imposing global governance by unelected and openly socialist international bureaucrats. Or just talk to someone who has lived under totalitarianism and who sees how dangerously close we are to throwing away our freedom.

If we allow our Constitution it to be modified and reinterpreted out of existence by unelected bureaucrats, and continue to allow our nation to be directed by domestic and international demagogues, we will establish the very authoritarian government that our Founders sought to prevent. There will no longer be any limits to the exercise of raw power.

Following World War One, Germany was a republic under a Constitution. A demagogue stirred up the passions of the people, and scapegoats were found to blame for national troubles. People did not take the demagogue seriously until, triggered by economic collapse, they woke up one day to find their republic replaced by a dictatorship. Today, we have political demagogues who rule by passion and emotion, and who call such demagoguery "leadership". They are not taken seriously as the threats to our republic that they are. Today we scapegoat gun owners, religious people, and "the rich". Only the names have changed. The process is the same. Our Founders would have understood it well.

"The time to guard against corruption and tyranny is before they shall have gotten hold of us. It is better to keep the wolf out of the fold, than to trust to drawing his teeth and claws after he shall have entered." -- Thomas Jefferson



United Nations Commission on Global Governance:  

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The above article is the property of Kim Weissman, and is reprinted with his permission.
Contact him prior to reproducing.


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17 July 1999