Monday, January 13, 2014

Commentary: Is the Constitution’s purpose to advance life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

Conor Friedersdorf published an article that reflects the thinking that has gotten us so far away from constitutional government.

The title of the article is illustrative: “Preserving Liberty Is More Important Than Making a Fetish of the Constitution: Though important, the document isn't an end in itself—advancing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is the end.” The title could have as easily read, “The Constitution should never stand in the way of lofty goals.”

James Madison
Conor Friedersdorf

(I trust my liberty to the guy on the right.)

As a writer, I’m familiar with the effect of selecting emotion-laden words. For example, the article would have been different if titled, “Preserving Liberty Is More Important than Adhering to the Constitution.” The change from fetish to adhere makes the argument clear and allows the opposing side a measure of respect. Now, readers would dig into the article to find out whether adherence to the Constitution is dangerous to liberty.

(By the way, at the risk of being accused of “making a fetish of the Constitution,” it annoys me when someone uses a quote from the Declaration of Independence to make an argument about the Constitution.)

Friedersdorf pretends to be engaged in an intellectual debate, but he is actually a rather crude propagandist. This can be seen by his straw dog arguments, false flags, co-option, and belittling word choice. Here is an example of all four.
“You'd think … "constitutional conservatism" is an end in itself. It isn't. Advancing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—that is the end. I, like many conservatives, believe that for the most part those ends are best advanced by working within the constitutional framework. Like many liberals, I also believe that slavery and Jim Crow were such abominations that, if the choices were to strictly construe the constitution or to free the slaves and end Jim Crow, to hell with originalist notions of states rights.”
The accusation that advocates for constitutional government want slavery reinstated is a grievous slander, unworthy of honest debate. The constitutional framework includes the amendments. In fact, constitutional conservatism calls for change to be enacted through the amendment process. Growth in government powers from any other source is usurpation. And constitutional conservatism is not an end in itself, the coopted goal of liberty is the goal.

The threat to liberty is excessive concentration of power. Period. That is what constitutional conservatives rail against, that is the original intent of the Constitution we want preserved.  

Friedersdorf rightly argues against excessive police powers, but sees no threat from politicians who make citizens dependent on government for all of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. A great portion of the population now looks to the Washington for food, shelter, healthcare, and numbing technology. In this, Friedersdorf sees no threat to liberty.
Friedersdorf says, “it is not a fraud by design, it need not be incompatible with a prosperous society, and it need not destroy our liberty. That is so even if it is unconstitutional.” 
He is wrong. Dangerously wrong. 
He states that constitutional conservatives believe “The truth is in the text, so why grapple with the world as it is?”
In this or any other world, there are always a few who crave power, absolute power. Concentrate power in a single center, and you have held out the brass ring to be grasped by the most ruthless. 

That is “the world as it is.”

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