The United States Constitution is one of the most well thought-out works ever created by mere mortals. As the Federalist Papers make clear, America’s Founding Fathers carefully considered nearly every aspect of human nature, the demands of freedom, and the nature of government when drafting it, and created a system of government designed to effectively carry out its duties without imperiling liberty, and calibrated to properly balance society’s competing commitments to self-rule and objective morality, to liberty and security, and more. Under the Constitution, the United States became the freest, most prosperous, and most consequential nation in history.
But to the Left, this magnificent document is at best a relic of a bygone era which has outlived its usefulness; at worst the product of long-dead, bigoted elites. Philosophically, they have inherited President Woodrow Wilson’s view that the Constitution was based on a theory of government mankind has since evolved past:
The makers of our federal Constitution followed the scheme as they found it expounded in Montesquieu, followed it with genuine scientific enthusiasm. The admirable expositions of the Federalist read like thoughtful applications of Montesquieu to the political needs and circumstances of America. They are full of the theory of checks and balances. The President is balanced off against Congress, Congress against the President, and each against the courts. Our statesmen of the earlier generations quoted in no one so often as Montesquieu, and they quoted him always as a scientific standard in the field of politics. Politics is turned into mechanics under his touch. The theory of gravitation is supreme.Accordingly, the needs of their agenda dictate a variety of approaches to the Constitution, depending on the issue. When America needs to be reminded of its irredeemably-evil history, the Constitution is an abomination. When a certain passage seems useful out of context, it becomes an example of the Founders’ wisdom (and pay no attention to that history book behind the curtain). And when a passage seems to get in the way, it’s time to break out the historical relativism.
The trouble with the theory is that government is not a machine, but a living thing. It falls, not under the theory of the universe, but under the theory of organic life. It is accountable to Darwin, not to Newton. It is modified by its environment, necessitated by its tasks, shaped to its functions by the sheer pressure of life. No living thing can have its organs offset against each other as checks, and live. On the contrary, its life is dependent upon their quick cooperation, their ready response to the commands of instinct or intelligence, their amicable community of purpose. Government is not a body of blind forces; it is body of men, with highly differentiated functions, no doubt, in our modern day of specialization, but with a common task and purpose. Their cooperation is indispensable, their warfare fatal. There can be no successful government without leadership or without the intimate, almost instinctive, coordination of the organs of life and action. This is not theory, but fact, and displays its force as fact, whatever theories may be thrown across its track. Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice.
Fortunately, the definitions and prescriptions of our constitutional law, though conceived in the Newtonian spirit and upon the Newtonian principle, are sufficiently broad and elastic to allow for the play of life and circumstance.
No more. This weekend, we’re highlighting ten of the most distorted or ignored passages in the Constitution, listed in the order in which they appear in the text. Let's get started.
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