Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thoughts on the Constitution (Part 1)

I’m starting this series of my examination of the Constitution of the United States for a couple of reasons. 1) This has been on my mind since I started this blog. The Constitution was written as a way to legitimize a country and a government in a way that hadn’t been done before. We talk of the President of being the leader of the USA, but he/she isn’t. The Constitution is the authority of this country. 2) The first thing I said when I heard that Obama was running for president was, “Well, I can finally feel confident that at least one person running has actually read the constitution.” I still feel that way. Palin’s continual responses to describing the job of the Vice President shows me that she doesn’t have a clue what’s in the constitution. And that is frustrating considering that section directly matters to her possible future. It might be excused if I don’t know specifically what the constitution says about the VP, but she is running for VP... 3) There is an ideology behind the Constitution that deserves to be explored. There is sometimes a divide between idealists and pragmatists, but the Constitution is really the best of both. An ideal of a government that is run by the rule of law and not the whims of power hungry maniacs that is tempered by pragmatic compromises and steps to make that ideal a reality. So, I’ll start at the beginning, giving the passage and then my thoughts and I would encourage anyone who has any comments to please add it to the comments section below. Think of it as like Oprah’s book club, only, you know, important. (At the very least let me know if you think I'm wasting my time.)

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Right from the start we see the ultimate authority for this document: the people. Not, as past monarchies and such had, divine right or genetic lineage, but rather the people who will be ruled by this document allow themselves to be ruled by it. I recognize in this the ideals of the social contract theory most well known by Thomas Hobbes. The idea of a social contract theory works like this: Imagine a state of no government and no authority (so no family members in charge either). In this state of nature, as Hobbes refers to it, we would all ultimately be in a constant state of war against each other because we would all have wants and desires that would be limited by either resources or other’s wanting the exact same things. In this state we simply cannot trust one another to make deals or keep pacts. It is every person for themselves. What happens in this state of nature however is while we are free to pursue whatever end we need or want, we are simply never going to be able to get anywhere near all of the things we could possibly need or want. This is because no matter how strong or intelligent one person may be over others, they are never so far ahead that any other person can’t find a big enough rock to bash their brains out. Lucky for us we are capable of reason and recognizing that it is in our best interest to try and make peace with others to be able to have any chance of achieving our own ends. To achieve this peace requires us to give up some of our freedoms (at least as much as we expect everyone else to give up) to an authority whose sole purpose is to help ensure peace. The people, because it is rational and the only way to ensure we can achieve any of our ends, give their authority over themselves to a governing body.

Many politicians remark that their real boss is the American people, but that is only true to a certain degree. In one way it is true because we can vote, even a step removed, on offices of government and in another way it is true because we are the one who ultimately give up our authority to the Constitution. But once we give up that authority, as we did when the Constitution was ratified, we are no longer the main entity in charge. The Constitution itself becomes the sole authority of the government. 

And the reasons why we would ratify the Constitution are given in a very social contract ideal way: to establish justice, to insure domestic peace, for common defense, for the promotion of general well being, and to keep ourselves as free as we can understanding that perfect freedom leads to us pragmatically having little to no freedom. 

The Rational Moderate


Peter said...

I definitely think you should keep at this. Anyway, The Constitution is a living document, and we do trust our well being to it's ability to function. I would have to say that the Bill of Rights, as they amend the Constitution, may in some cases actually weaken the Constitutions power. But I think that when the writers of this very important document were putting their ideas together they probably considered the changes that would inevitably be necessary.

Just as laws get weighed down by pork and earmarks so can a nation's charter. We need to be very vigilant at those who would want to change the words in their favor and make sure the Constitution can continue to speak for all of us.

Rational Moderate said...

well said, Peter