By Dr. Harold Pease
Has it really come to this? Time magazine, one of our most respected magazines, seriously posing the question, “Does It Still Matter?” over the backdrop of the U. S. Constitution partially shredded as their cover page for their 10th Annual History and Fourth of July Issue. The second page of the ten-page article, authored by Richard Stengel, has the U. S. Constitution completely shredded vertically. This event signals a disrespect and ignorance of this document that I have not seen in my over 25 years teaching it.
The article’s overriding fallacy begins with the first sentence and continues throughout, “Here are a few things the framers did not know about: World War II, DNA, sexting, airplanes, the atom, television, Medicare, collateralized debt obligations, the germ theory of disease, miniskirts …” etc. In short, “How can it be relevant, without great alteration for our day?” Certainly the piece is a masterful explanation of the Constitution as a “living Constitution.” Among other things it criticizes the “Tea Party and its almost fanatical focus on the founding document.”
The truth is that the Constitution has nothing to do with these things nor did it have for the new things of the 1800’s, nor will it have for a new list the following century after the one we are now in. None of these things matter because this document is based upon human nature and natural law which do not change from century to century. Man is still power hungry whether he rides a horse, drives a car, or flies an airplane. Stengel does not seem to understand this.
When confronted with this “horse vs. airplane” nonsense, I ask my students in every Constitution class, “What in the Preamble to the Constitution, which is a statement of the needs of man to which government attempts to address, is no longer relevant? Outdated if you will?” Year after year the answer is the same. Nothing! “Were these the same needs of those 600 years ago and will they be the same for those 200 years from now?” Yes!!! “What would you add?” Again, nothing! Then, the basic needs of man do not change and the Preamble must be the most complete summation of those needs ever recorded. It is based upon a long history of human nature that the well-read Founders understood.
After the Preamble the Constitution then divides power between two entities, the Central Government and the States with those of the Federal Government specifically listed in Art. I, Sec. 8, and those to the states, everything else, as noted in Amendment 10. Why? Because the Founders knew from human nature, that all governments have the natural tendency to collect power to themselves (which is what is happening today) and if successful individual liberty is always suffocated. This will still be so 200 years from now as it was centuries ago in Athens and Rome. Either the people harness the government or the government harnesses the people.
The Constitution then divides what power is left to the federal level between its three branches: legislative (which makes all the law), executive (which executes the law), and Judicial (which judges the law when contested). All three kept separate for the purpose of keeping the Federal government from consolidating into one and thus enlarging its jurisdiction over us. Our right to less jurisdiction used to be called freedom. Stengel surely knows this simple truth but seems not to know why. All governments like to grow their power and will inevitable do so unless restrained.
Did the Founders not believe in change? Of course they did! But enlarging federal power beyond the list in Art. I, Sec. 8, required three-fourths of the states to consent to have a new power moved to the federal level. This was change one could believe in and total transparency because it would be written. Often those of both major parties like to forget how change is authorized in the Constitution just making it anyway, counting on the ignorance of the masses or party loyalty to sustain them. Time magazine, Stengel, and other “living Constitution” advocates appear to like governments increasing jurisdiction in everything and offer no counter to the natural flow of power away from the people and lower levels of government. In time they will remove all protection from big government and indeed destroy the Constitution as created, ironically in the name of the Constitution they pretend to value.
This Constitution is the clearest ever written and can handle, quite nicely, any new problem, including the four referenced by Stengel. What we need are people in power who know how it works and will follow it precisely as intended—even “fanatically,” as with the Tea Parties. It follows the premise to never elevate to a higher level that which can be resolved at a lesser level. So why is that important, because it maximizes the individual’s influence over his/her government. It assumes that he, in fact, does know what is best for him.
But some want an evolving document, one that “rolls with the times,” one that is one thing today and quite another tomorrow. We Tea Party Patriots say, “No thanks.” “The original one was designed to limit people, like you, from getting power and destroying our liberty.”
Dr. Harold Pease is an expert on the United States Constitution. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and applying that knowledge to current events. He has taught history and political science from this perspective for over 25 years at Taft College. To read more of his weekly articles, visit www.LibertyUnderFire.org.
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