Do We Need a New Constitution 021512
Fringe analysis and opinion
There is growing talk of a Constitutional Convention to restructure the guiding document of our nation. Occupy and the Tea Party both periodically favor a new Constitution, and while they don’t usually find the same solutions, they do often identify the same issues. How cast in stone is the Constitution, and what kind of changes should we expect?
The Constitution as a document of struggle
The original Constitution was drafted in 1787, and from its inception, it has been the product of struggle. Amended nearly 30 times since its ratification, even during its creation there were struggles between those who wanted a new nation modeled on the nation states of Europe, and those who wanted the people, and their aggregation, the states, to have the greatest liberty and independence from the federal government.
Those who wanted state’s rights lost at Palmetto Ranch, the last battle of the Civil War. The federal government has gained strength since.
There are several reasons the U.S. has become more U. and less S., and most of them are structural processes, by which we mean they are inherit in human social behavior and in the structure of government itself. It is the tendency of those in banking to want banks to have more power, so they encourage a federal bank. Those in the various agencies in the executive branch tend to want more authority for the branch, and for their particular agency especially. Congress people, when they reach Washington, are no longer so much residents of their home states as residents of the Capitol, and they are more consumed with power struggles between the aisles and between themselves and the president, who is to some degree beholden to them, and the Supreme Court, who can undo, or worse, confuse, the convoluted agreement they’ve reached on a law. The tendency toward a stronger federal government is literally a natural function of people behaving in roles, and as a result, everyone in a position of power generally tends towards centralization.
Their speech reflects their bias, and tends toward explanations of efficiency, standardization, universalization and all manner of rationalizations which can be assumed under the heading of “better service to the people.”
This is the internally and externally stressed balance the Constitution is intended to constrain. While initially our document was intended to restrict government, there is a growing feeling that our original founding document is too reactionary, and fails to properly accommodate the realities of the nation in the 21st Century. From this view, the defeat of the South was a good thing, since it forced the westward expansion of the nation, strengthened the power of the central government to rule, and most of all, to some, it signaled that the federal government had the power to protect individuals in states. Not everyone sees those as good things, but most do, and particularly those who spent twelve formative years daily pledging loyalty to this undivided government.
There are many today who feel we need a new Constitution. The willingness of the federal government to free slaves has spread to a willingness to wrap the populous in a cradle to grave embrace, and the feds take responsibility, directly or indirectly, for everything from maternal and child health to who pays the bills on our deathbed.
This is contrary to the original vision of the Old Patriots, who saw all free people as sovereign in their own right, free to do well or fail on their own, and relying on neighbors, not the federal government. The two different views have warred about the Constitution from the start, and some say the Civil War finally resolved what should have been resolved in the Constitution, that human bondage is illegal. The views differ primarily in where they see “freedom” springing. Those who want weak federal government tend to think freedom is the natural state of a person, “endowed by the Creator”, while those who tend to favor a strong central government tend to see freedom as springing from law, or at least is protected by law, which amounts to the same thing. In one version, every person is responsible for themselves; in the second, only government can guarantee fairness.
The New Constitution
Currently, when talk of a “new constitution” pops up, experts are called in. Not surprisingly, there are people with tons of degrees who specialize in creating documents to guide the world’s ever newly created nations. Neither will it surprise people that the United Nations is often a partner either in providing experts, or in setting forth goals for enlightened governance.
New constitutions often detail the rights of people and the role of government. Some modern constitutions guarantee many of the First Ten Amendments (the Bill of Rights) and then some. Some promise all residents a certain level of clean water and food; some protect local culture; some completely isolate government and religion. The tendency of modern constitutions is to codify health care, employment, family intervention and the rights of women, children, and the old, accomplishing in a more formal way what our government has accomplished in the process of federalizing the nation. As importantly, new constitutions tend to allocate resources to residents, and tend toward “Agenda 21” style protections of the physical nation. There is a reason for this, a good reason, and a reason a lot of us don’t like.
A New World
When the colonies declared their war of independence there were just over 2 million Europeans and their slaves. A few years later when the Constitution was framed, there were nearly 4 million. Today there are 313 million people. The continent hasn’t gotten larger.
Neither has the globe. In short, the revolutionary fervor which birthed our Constitution has given way to an awareness that humans are flooding the Earth.
A systematic study of the nature of society started several thousand years ago, soon after the birth of the bureaucrat. The bureaucrat has no personal stake in her or his office, ideally, but serves solely to regulate the use of resources of others. “Resources” includes useful things like religious tithes, and the fecundity of females.
By the time of the Roman Empire society was largely understood in the West; musings from the East, from China and Arabia and India go back farther. Our Constitution was simply a continuation of that study, and it’s 250 years old.
Plato understood that the shepherds, by clearing the forest for more meadowland, were destroying the ability of the land to make meadows. Today, we can see from space the piles of trash inhabiting the oceans.
And, the trash doesn’t make itself, it represents the temporary use of some item by a rapidly expanding world population. The globe gets smaller with every baby born.
Likewise, too many people means people starve, they die of preventable diseases, they die from dirty water and poor quality food. They die when local sustainable economies collapse and rural people are forced to move to cities.
Occupy addresses one of the most important features of the New World: the disparity between rich and poor. Class distinctions most likely go back at least 50,000 years in human history, and very likely grew up and left the plains of Africa with us. Never, though, has there been such a large and sharp distinction between the haves and the have nots. There is no way to pay for the basic necessities of every person if a small number of us hog all the resources. There has been a slow, general trend in modern history toward recognizing the debt of the wealthy to the poor.
The New World demands a New Constitution, one where government recognizes that there are too many people, and too few resources, and that, if let alone, people will devour the planet until our population crashes, just as rats will, or any social animal.
There is also the recognition that all people are humans and deserving of the same freedoms. There are countless places in the world today where a woman’s body is literally not her own, where sons are sold into labor and daughters into household service, factory work or prostitution. Even the U.S. isn’t immune to the trafficking of humans. New constitutions often want to constrain development and give power over development to indigenous peoples. Because modern nations have populations of many different religions, and because religions so often constrain the rights of people and especially women and children, freedom from religion is more important than freedom of religion.
In short, new constitutions seek to ensure the wellbeing of the growing population, and moderate the escalating impact of that population on the planet.
In the U.S., proponents of a New Constitution often want the right to keep and bear arms removed. They want health care for everyone, and clean water and food, and a job. They want a healthy, sustainable, green economy, and they want the economy to grow not from war and conquest, but from giving the best of everything to everyone. Everyone is a free person within a narrow envelope, and everyone is a consumer. There is a growing acceptance of a new kind of “freedom” which, like the “freedom” of George W. Bush, is synonymous with “prosperity”.
Recently, Obama mandated that all employers would provide contraception in the healthcare packages of employees. Religious employers, primarily Catholic agencies, have protested this and some have suggested the Constitution needs to be re-written to prevent government from interfering with their agencies, extending the freedom of religion from government control. That isn’t likely to happen, but it underscores the many voices which might endorse a Constitutional Convention but which, when on site, would begin to struggle viciously to control the direction of the document. The very wealthy and their corporations would figure huge in the battle, and so would those who are bureaucrats under the current system. The original Constitution was born of internal struggles, and the New Constitution would be even more so.
How Likely Is a New Constitution?
In one sense, not very likely. Too many groups cling to some understanding of the current Constitution. A New Constitution could only happen if everyone on Facebook demanded it. Calling a convention would not ensure a new Constitution.
In another sense, it is absolutely assured, since all three branches of government tinker with the meaning of the Constitution to meet their needs, and since the direction of government and society have been to relentlessly reinterpret the meaning of the Constitution and pass laws and make rulings strongly influenced by the spirit of the day. The 2nd Amendment has been badly eviscerated, as have protections for the individual against government. Government in the U.S. has already taken responsibility for the environment. The government has taken responsibility for food, and corporations and local and organic food advocates frequently square off in the court or the halls of Congress.
A modern Constitution might replace a document, but it would likely only be more of the same.
So, in a very real sense the answer is “not very likely and inevitable.”
A Fringe Reflection on the New Constitution
For me, a New Constitution falls right in there with safe sex and fat free food: a miserable dilution of the real thing which ultimately leads to an irretrievable loss of freedom and pleasure, but which is simply necessary. By the time there is a New Constitution, if there ever is, the document loved by its creators will be long dead. If we are to keep every person alive, keep them in good reproductive health, help them live long and productive lives, we have to take steps, dehumanizing, but efficient, steps. If we are to keep Capitalists from turning everything in our day and even the minutes of our lives into a commodity, something has to be done. If we are to keep the ecosystem on which we rely for air, water and food in good working order, we have to replace the profit motive, which considers the short view, with a paradigm with a more sustainable goal.
We have to do these things, just as, if we want to live an additional handful of years, we’ll stop smoking, reduce fat, exercise and wear seat belts. These things are a diminution of the now in favor of the future, which is the distinction between high school seniors who will do well, and those who will clean pools and fix cars for the others.