One of the most specious and inane arguments in politics today is that the Constitution is an arcane, anachronistic document created by imperfect men, and that it is therefore illogical to interpret it literally. They assert that the founding fathers didn’t have a “crystal ball” and couldn’t have foreseen issues like privacy in the 21st century, and so those of us who believe the Constitution to be a social contract limiting the powers of government must be “out of our minds.”
The first of those arguments is a logical fallacy. The tu quoque fallacy asserts that since the founders were imperfect, whatever they may say or do is equally imperfect or questionable. That would be tantamount to saying that because a certain physics instructor is specious, illogical, and misinformed about history and our system of governance, that he’s equally inept and tenuous in physics. Such a conclusion is obviously faulty logic, and based on a false premise.
The second argument is equally misguided. The founders didn’t need a “crystal ball” to foresee 21st century challenges. A constitution is by definition, “a body of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state is to be governed.” Consequently, the founding fathers didn’t need to be aware of “privacy” issues, or the internet, or any historically contextual development that may prove intellectually taxing to those who presuppose in their unwarranted arrogance, that they should have.
The structure established by the Constitution created legislative bodies that could adapt to changing times, by passing laws to deal with such vicissitudes, while the foundation, or fundamental principles, could endure, protecting the individual over the presumed and evolutionary expansion of the “rights” of the state. Plus, provision for changing the text of that social contract was made through the amendment process, which has been done 27 times to date.
Our Constitution established a system of governance that could stand the test of time, as long as citizens valued freedom more than tyranny. A system that, if held fast to, would assure that no one person, or oligarchical self-anointed leaders, could become totalitarians in a republic so structured. And it included guaranteed rights and privileges, for the first time in history, not granted by a monarch, ruler, magistrate, or benevolent dictator, but acknowledged to have originated from deity for all men. This is perfectly illustrated by our current president’s admission that, “I am constrained by a system that our Founders put in place,” although there’s precious little evidence of such constraint.
Is it a perfect system? Obviously not, especially in light of our contemporary crony-capitalism, that corrupts government and capitalism. The founding fathers maintained that for the republic to endure, we must have a moral people, which is the only real anachronism from our founding era, casting the most ominous clouds of doubt over the perpetuity of the republic.
When it is argued that the Constitution is a “living” document, implication is made that the precepts and principles of the Constitution are not applicable to today and provides an excuse for all types of scurrilous and specious assertions for expanded government largesse at the expense of our freedom and our money. To say that the Constitution is a “living document,” hence, not to be taken literally, is akin to asserting that the Ten Commandments are really just “Ten Suggestions.” It also affords proponents of the “living document” theory latitude to pick and choose cafeteria-style, which rights established by the Constitution are legitimate or applicable today. Some like freedom of speech for themselves but not for those they disagree with, for example. And some absolutely detest the freedom to bear arms.
Judicial precedent and daily judicial decisions are judged against the basic principles and rights specified by the Constitution and statute to provide applicability to today’s milieu. In that way alone is it a “living document.” Statute is how the fundamental principles of the Constitution are codified in a changing social structure, but the Constitution provides the baseline.
James Madison, regarded as the Father to the Constitution, said, “There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” We have witnessed this over the generations since the founding of the country, and we see that process of “silent encroachment” of government on the freedom of the people accelerated over the past few years in a way never before witnessed. We see government dictating terms of property ownership, dictating terms of access to health care, and dictating terms of energy use and private consumption, for starters.
The Constitution is not a “living” document. The Founders were specific in their language and did not mince words. They meant what they said. It was written precisely to prevent the incursion of government into our lives to the extent that we see it occurring today proving it is not an anachronism. It is a social contract to assure and guarantee fundamental freedom and liberty for all generations of Americans, and its relevance is reasserted every time a new official is sworn into office, vowing to “uphold and defend the Constitution.”
The survivability of our republic is dependent upon a knowledgeable and informed electorate, committed to liberty. We need to be intimately familiar with our founding documents, especially the Constitution, and hold those accountable who seek to subvert the freedoms of those who are intended to have ultimate power in this republic: We the People!
AP award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho, and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at [email protected].