Summary: Part two of four part series. Here is part one, part three, and part four.
Forecast #3: the death of the US Constitution
The Constitution was originally designed to specify the duties for each of America’s three branches and to limit their powers. Its ability to do the latter function has faded rapidly since the New Deal. Already most of the Bill of Rights remain de jure in force but are de facto void, as can be seen by a Lexis search of successful attempts to use them in litigation – you’ll find almost none.
At some point soon the Constitution will become a purely procedural document, much like that of the former Soviet Union, and equally effective at preserving our liberties. Our rights will exist only on the sufferance of our government and our ruling elites. This is already true in the UK, as the “unwritten constitution” protecting the “rights of Englishmen” has blown away like smoke in the wind.
One can see our future in the fracas over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review. Judicial outrage over the Bush administration bypassing of the Court of Review cannot result from concern over our civil liberties. The Court of Review apparently seldom if ever denied requests for government action. The Supremes’ horror is understandable, however, as this cut the judiciary out from a role in the rapidly expanding national security apparatus – an obvious violation of the balance of power among the three Branches.
Roman history shows how recognition of these things lags behind the facts. Generations passed before people recognized that the Republic was truly dead. America has violated the initial conditions the founders considered necessary for a republic.
A small government
A citizenry of farmers, self-employed craftsman, and business owners
An educated citizenry, knowledgeable about the republic’s history and operation
A people jealous of their liberties and willing to fight to preserve them.
We have traded liberty for promises of equality, security, and prosperity. The cost is our Constitution. Everything has a price.
The predominate reaction of the Romans to the death of the Republic was resignation, as seen in the popular philosophies of the Empire: Stoicism, Epicureanism, Hedonism, and Christianity.
How will Americans react when they realize that the Constitution has died? For a deeper analysis of this, see
- Forecast: Death of the American Constitution
- Diagnosing the Eagle, Chapter III — reclaiming the Constitution
- The Constitution: wonderful, if we can keep it
8 thoughts on “The Future of America – Why wait? Read tomorrow’s news … today! (part 2)”
A view from Europe: People were amazed and puzzled back in 1998, when president Clinton was impeached for lying under oath for having – uhm – oral sex with Monica Lewinsky. Since 2001 Bush has lied the USA into war with Iraq, committed mass killings (some claim 1 million dead in Iraq, others “just” 150.000), allowed torture and widespread extraordinary renditions to countries allowing torture and build up a large surveillance state. All in the name of national security.
The reaction: None. People actually voted against Bush’s policy back in 2006, but very little has changed. The US government has become just like a supertanker – it can’t respond or only respond very slowly to change. It can change the captain (Bush) with another one (Obama), but even if a new captain wanted to change course it would be very difficult and risky.
I lost something like 20 family members during the Second World War. One was a Polish officer shot by the Soviets at Katyn. People in Eastern Europe looked at America as the great country that stood for freedom and liberty. My own mother loved the Kennedys and named me after one of them. We all used to admire America.
I can’t tell how angry and saddened I became when I learned a few years ago that one of the secret CIA prisons were located in Poland. And just to complete the picture it was located at a facility that formerly served a Soviet military base and before that as a headquarter for the Nazi military intelligence. Democracies might not wage war against each other, but what can prevent a democracy from destroying itself?
Fabius Maximus replies: Nothing should be able to prevent a democracy from destroying itself.
But lets not exaggerate the danger. As Adam Smith and Lord Keynes said, There is a lot of ruin in a country. America’s roots run deep, as does its ability to regenerate. Look at some of these articles for the Good News about America.
I’m sorry for your loss. Poland is a country with an eventful history. CIA prisons are now part of that history.
Even if Lewinsky was a spy (as I believe her to have been) I agree that the Lewinsky impeachment proceedings were a histrionic bit of political theater. I think W.S.Lind compares it to “kabuki” theater.
I fear that impeaching Bush and even Cheney would make little difference. I suspect the U.S. political apparatus has been so thoroughly corrupted that even impeachment wouldn’t accomplish much. Of course, I would love to see it put to the test.
How will Americans react when they realize that the Constitution has died?
Well, I don’t know how Americans may react; all I can do is state how I am reacting and share this with you.
For reasons that are too complex and too problematic to go into right now, I differ from Fabius Maximus’ analogy with the Roman Empire’s replacing the Roman Republic. Rather, I think we are facing something like the rise of the Renaissance principalities. ( Roman history – and Cicero in particular played a major role in Renaissance humanism, so this distinction is tricky. ).
The significance of this distinction is that it points towards a strategy that I find intriguing and which any one of us might find to be useful.
I call this “Deconstructing Machiavelli.” Machiavelli, a student of the Roman Republic, of course also wrote The Prince, which is the manual for anyone who wants to pull off the post-constitutional tyranny the Fabius Maximus apprehends.
However, for complex reasons relating to the decline of the nation state, I assert that no such tyranny could be soundly based. Which, in turn, allows us to approach it ironically. Using The Prince as a guidepost, we can assert that it must objective standards which, here, there, now, and then, it nevertheless would invariably fall short.
And thus we would gain an element of maneuver which the resigned Roman populace apparently lacked.
How will Americans react when they realize that the Constitution has died?
I’ve given quite a bit of thought to this topic and believe I have a partial answer.
It depends on what people believe they are getting in exchange. If the government is perceived to be non-constitutional but meets the goals originally set out in the preamble people will likely tolerate it with a fairly large amount of grumbling about the “good old days.”
If the government is perceived to not meet preamble’s goals then people are going to switch their support to some other body that does what the federal government is supposed to do and pay the federal government less and less lip service until it becomes as irrelevant to them as the decrees made in Rome were to the people of Britannia 50 years after the last legion left.
The current set of trends do not seem to support larger governmental organizations (witness the breakdown of Yugoslavia, the ex-Soviet Union, etc.) so I suspect that the federal government is probably doomed in the long-run solely because it will not be viewed as nimble enough to meet peoples needs in a changing era.
I may have to get a new name, so I’m not confused with Pluto!
Fabius says: “We have traded liberty for promises of equality, security, and prosperity. The cost is our Constitution.”
Does anyone else really believe this glib formulation? I dont think it would stand up for a minute in a beginning philosophy or political science class.
Fabius Maximus replies: This formula is so elegant it must be true.
Well, perhaps elegance is not truth. I have a draft in the pipeline that attempts to explain this.
But I am certain you are kidding in your last sentence. Many of us (probably you too) have sat through quite a few beginning philosophy and pol sci classes and heard things more absurd than this. For that matter, have read things in class — both readings and student papers — far more absurd!
I apologize for the impolite tone of my comment above. (I must have been channeling one of my old philosophy professors!)
But seriously, isn’t giving up liberty for prosperity and security precisely the choice we all have to make, according to Hobbes, for any kind of civil society?
Further, what is the implication of liberty without equality? The comment seems to imply that equality is a lesser, or sham, virtue. And what specific examples of equality have been so detrimental to our society — ending slavery, universal franchise, the draft system?
Isn’t it counter-factual to claim that the US Constitution is dying when, in fact, its priveleges of habeous corpus have just been extended?
The Second Amendment, which I believe is the second most important ammendment, seems to be getting stronger (more protection against genocide); altho the slightly more important First Ammendment rights of Free Religion and Free Speech are being threatened by unconstitional Hate Speech laws.
(1) The “size of gov’t” is best measured by its spending, some 49% of GNP(?) — altho additional regulations and powers are undercounted. As this number goes up, the problems will go up.
(3) A huge problem has been the uncritical voting for Unreal Perfection, with a real America and its real imperfections being judged as lousy in comparison to a vague, unreal, ‘better America’. Citizens seem to be increasingly uneducated about the tough choices made, and the pretty good results for America from most of those choices.
(4) Few on the Left seem actually willing to fight. Instead, they redefine “Talking” as “fighting”, and pretend that when they protest against something or for something, they are fighting.
Real fighting means killing, dying, and even killing innocents. It does seem that Amnesty and Human Rights Watch are unable to say how many innocents can be killed to stop genocide in Darfur — and that any non-combatants killed is too many to make fighting for freedom worth it.
It ain’t really dead yet, tho I don’t doubt that more big-gov’t Leftists would make more bad decisions that would weaken American liberty or security or both. That’s why I’m for McCain, despite his imperfections.
Robert, I think you are lying: writing false statements that you know are false.
Unlike Bush, who made false statements about Saddam’s WMDs while fully believing those statements to be true.
Like Clinton, who said “I did not have sex with that woman”, knowing he was lying. Of course, lying isn’t always a crime, but if it is repeated under oath in court case, like the sexual harrassment suit that Clinton was fighting, the lie becomes perjury.
“Since 2001 Bush has lied the USA into war with Iraq,” — this is false. Bush wrongly estimated the threat of Saddam, but that wasn’t a lie.
Part of the destruction of the Constitution is to demonize those we disagree with, and then to exagerate their misdeeds or mistakes. Bush haters do it to Bush; capitalism-haters do it to America.
“committed mass killings (some claim 1 million dead in Iraq, others “just” 150.000)” — most deaths in Iraq, especially of women and children, are the evil work of the evil terrorists that Bush is trying to beat. Had the Anbar Sunnis sided with America in 2003, as they began doing (before the surge) in 2006, most of the deaths would have been avoided. It was the sad choice of the Sunni leaders to oppose Bush, democracy, and human rights.
Anti-war folk are problematic on (4), thinking imperfect American supported human rights aren’t worth fighting for, but ARE worth arguing against. Hypocritically, since I’d guess Robert wouldn’t agree that he supports terrorists taking over in Iraq. I know that few anti-war folk from Vietnam accept that they supported commie victory and Killing Fields — yet that was the real outcome they supported in opposing American involvement and domination/ support for human rights after the 1973 Peace Accords. Hypocrites like judasnoose call impeachment for criminal perjury “histrionic”, then call for impeachment of Bush because of policy disagreements on the implementation of regime change — the US policy from Clinton in 1998.
Using majority mob power to punish the political opposition is the true threat to the Constitution, and this thread shows, as I believe is real, that such a mob power danger comes more from the Left.
Gov’t is force. If force and violence aren’t needed to solve a problem, gov’t isn’t needed either — altho the gov’t/ forced solution might be much quicker than other options. Impatience seems to be driving Americans to support faster gov’t force to solve every problem, and dictators are faster than democratic compromise.
Update: ohh, bad spelling. sorry.
Fabius Maximus replies: You spelling is no worse than mine! Note: at 682 words this is far too long for a comment. Please keep them to 250 words or less. Thanks!
“Since 2001 Bush has lied the USA into war with Iraq,” — this is false. Bush wrongly estimated the threat of Saddam, but that wasn’t a lie. ”
Very interesting, I’m not out to start anything, however.
If you’re willing to think that, much let put in print, the one obvious conclusion is the man is incompetent, surrounded himslef with incompetence, had no bussiness running, running for re-election, or being president in the first place. Furthermore, what does that suggest of the US Electorate ? When do rationalisations about half truths, wishfull thinking, carefully selected, edited, and manipulated information make to cross over to blantant lies ?
I think the law is pretty clear on all that. To take a country to war, on that basis is irresponsible, and criminaly negligent.
In the larger context, all that, including your opinion in my estimation underscores the moral decay in US scociety, and the abrigation of RESPONIBILITY for anything.
God help us. God save America. M
Fabius Maximus replies: This has been debated a million times in other places. By now it is just tossing chaff at each other. Nothing more about the “bush lied” and Iraq War posted here, please. Strong action will be taken with violations!