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  • The "Myth" of the American Founding

    You should think twice the next time you invoke the Constitution or argue that the federal government is overreaching its power. According to The Economist, you may well have succumbed to “The Perils of Constitution Worship.”

    Lexington, who writes about American politics for The Economist, attacks the Tea Partiers and our own First Principles Initiative, amongst others, for buying into what he calls the “myth” of the American Founding: “there is something infantile in the belief of the constitution-worshipers that the complex political arguments of today can be settled by simple fidelity to a document written in the 18th century.”

    The Framers, Lexington explains, were but “creatures of their time” and their writings can therefore offer no guidance when it comes to tackling today’s problems. And, as he generously reminds us, that is for the best since the Constitution they gave us was resolutely at odds with conservative aims to restore limited government. The Constitution in fact sought to “bolster the centre and weaken the power the states had briefly enjoyed under the new republic’s Articles of Confederation.” It turns out that we defenders of the Constitution don’t even understand the document that we purport to defend.

    What Lexington gives us, in short, is the typical progressive narrative. His facile dismissal of the Founders as outdated aristocrats however prevents him from grasping the truly revolutionary nature of the teaching they put forward. The Declaration of Independence articulates a new grounding for government which, far from being the common practice for the times, marked a radical departure from all existing forms of government. All men are created equal and as such have natural inalienable rights that governments are instituted to protect. If a government fails to protect these rights, then the people may abolish and replace it.

    These principles—equality, natural rights, consent—are the permanent principles and standards by which governments are instituted and judged. They apply today, just as well as they did in the 18th century and will continue to apply no matter what progress we achieve in the sciences.

    As such, our attachment to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution stems from our dedication to these principles. We venerate the principles—not the documents. And we are dedicated to the principles of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution not simply because they are old, or distinctly American, or because we have a particular affinity for Jefferson, Madison, or Washington. We uphold these principles—and honor the documents that embody them—because they are final, true, and, in the words of Calvin Coolidge, “no advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions.”

    If that is correct—if we still hold these truths—then these principles do offer guidance for today. The Constitution may not proscribe policy or offer simple solutions to the problems of the day, but it does create the framework for our elected representatives to deliberate about and make policy that furthers the ends for which our government was instituted. Consider for example the GOP’s “Pledge to America” or The Heritage Foundation’s “Solutions for America,” two policy documents that are firmly anchored in our Founding Principles.

    Lastly, while Lexington is correct that the Framers did indeed seek to create a stronger federal government than the one under the Articles of Confederation, theirs is still a far cry from administrative behemoth that the Progressives have given us. As Gary Lawson remarks, the Constitution never grants any authority to the federal government. Certain powers are vested in certain branches, in order to prevent one branch from usurping too much power, but never to the federal government as a whole. If the Framers intended to create an all-powerful centralized government, they would not have separated power into distinct branches. The Constitution, moreover, recognizes that states have a separate sphere of power. Article I vests in Congress a specific set of the legislative power over particularly national affairs (post roads, money, commerce among the states and with foreign nations); while the states retain the brunt of the legislative power—the police power—over the health, safety, and welfare of the people within their states.

    And, as Matthew Spalding reminds us, the “purpose of the Constitution is to protect rights that stem not from the government but from the people themselves, and the powers of the national government are limited to those delegated to it by the people in the Constitution . . . While the Ninth Amendment notes that the listing of rights in the Constitution does not deny or disparage others retained by the people, the Tenth Amendment states explicitly that all government powers except for those specific powers that are granted by the Constitution to the federal government.”

    The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution are the highest achievements of our political tradition, powerful beacons to all who strive for liberty. They are rightly esteemed, because they encapsulate the principles on which our nation was established. Anchored as they are in human nature, they will continue to offer guidance and help us frame issues as long as our republic endures.

    Posted in First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    18 Responses to The "Myth" of the American Founding

    1. Billie says:

      As Lexington suggest this document isn't fitting for the times of today, he is directly demeaning the people as individuals. His implication suggests we have no right or reason to handle our own matters, freely! Their misinterpretation is dangerous and purely inept. Lexington and all who willingly misinterpret are unwilling to respect strength, truth and a people in a free society.

    2. Robert, Edmonton Alb says:

      This is a constant refrain from the "ignoratti" that the Constitution can't be relevant in today's complex world.

      It is summed up as basically "You are too stupid to live your life and need your betters to help you."

      I can't remember who said it, it might have been Friedman or Hayek but they talked of the arrogance of people who at one time say, "the average person is unable to run their own lives, yet we as the enlightened are able to run the lives of millions."

    3. Doug, Michigan says:

      You are forgetting one very important point, our unalienable rights are endowed from our Creator, not just from the people. It is this lack of providencial recognition that grows the problems we have today.

    4. Jim, Westbrook, ME says:

      Those who argue that our Constitution does not work today are "blind" to the principles advanced and adhered to by the founders, as the Heritage Foundation correctly explains. Most critical thinkers would agree there is none so blind as he who will not see. Beware the world of "gray," where rules exist only to be broken where convenient by those with power.

    5. Dennis Georgia says:

      The Constitution and Bill of Rights gave this country a great start. The same two items built this country from nothing, and framed the life we have today. The government opertated extremely good in the past when these items were remembered and sought as guidance for the decisions made. The Citizens ahd something to live by and make decisions that benefited them as well as all society. As time has pasted we the people gave up decision making for our lives, we have let those supposed learned people make our decisions, because they told us they knew more than we did. The public sahoolm systems are churning out citizens that have been convinced of the fact that "guvment" has the ability and know how to provide and make all decisions, they just need to go blindly along for the ride. WHAT FOOLS WE HAVE BEEN AND STILL ARE!

    6. Derek, Pittsburgh PA says:

      "Anchored as they are in human nature, they will continue to offer guidance and help us frame issues as long as our republic endures".

      As more and more days pass under this president, the more I fear the republic won't last until 2012. It looks like it will most likely be replaced by some Communist/Socialist/Progressive nation with little to no individual rights and plenty of wealth re-distribution.

    7. Greg B. Vail, AZ says:

      Given the diversity of our founders religious beliefs, it is important that we note the use of the word "Creator". They do not say God. Different cultures name for and worship of God was therefore taken into account. I am not familiar with the views of creation with regard to the Koran, but I do not believe it is as extensively covered as with other religions.

    8. Tom Georgia says:

      It is astounding to me that the regressive, freedom-fearing statists of the far left are seemingly unable to comprehend that their arguments are self-refuting arguments that confirm the necessity for having a Constitution that limits the federal government to the powers that were specifically delegated by the representatives of the states and of the American Citizens who lived therein.

      Get over it, folks. If you want The Constitution to be different than what it is, pursue an amendment or amendments that would change it in the way that you want it to be changed. The processes for doing so are clearly defined in The Constitution. Short of that, read The Constitution as it is currently written and amended and apply it accordingly. And just shut up the whining!

      Besides, much of the increase in complexity that is being ballyhooed as reason for no longer applying The Constitution as written is mostly delusional because in fact the advances in scientific understanding have brought with them a more complete understanding of ourselves, of the planet that we live on and of the Universe that we live in.

      Knowledge provides the simplicity and clarity of understanding. It is ignorance that creates a befuddlement of complexity.

    9. Linette, Boise says:

      Nice rebuttal to the foolishness of the "so-called" Progressive way of thinking. They like to complicate simple things. I agree with Doug from Michigan that these inalienable rights come from our Creator. These principles are what we revere and the documents put them into understandable words to communicate these ideals. Truth is always truth, no matter how long ago mankind learned about it!

    10. Drew Page, IL says:

      There seem to be a lot of people in politics who are adamant about getting the word "God" out of government. We have those who object to the reference "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and those who would have the phrase "In God we trust" removed from our currency. Recently Mr. Obama, referencing the Declaration of Independence, omitted the reference to "our Creator" when paraphrasing that we are enowed ( …) with certain inalienable rights. If there is no God, then how could people claim to be endowed by their Creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the persuit of happiness, or anything else. If not enowed by the Creator, then endowed by whom, the government, Mr. Obama? And if rights are only granted by the government, they can just as easily be taken away by the government.

      What would Lexington have us do, scrap the Constitution? I guess that would free us from all those outdated rules provided by the Constitution, such as the separation of powers, checks and balances. Without a Constitution, we would need a Supreme Court to determine if laws were Constitutional. Most likely, we then wouldn't need to have a Legislative branch either. We could get by with only a federal Executive office, which could decide which laws we needed and which weren't necessary and could enforce those laws, determine who was guilty of breaking them and decide the punishment. This would eliminate the need for and expense of state and local governmental units.

      One centralized, all powerful office running the country, providing for the needs of all citizens. Think of the efficiency. Think of the savings. Think of the end of all that ugly political debate.

    11. Jill-Maine says:

      All I can think of is that if there was a BHO during that period with the power and influence he has, there never would have been a United States of America. None of his ideas have ever produced a strong country that people risk their lives to flee to. His type of country has to build walls to keep people in. There is also no prosperity just like now.

      Also there weren't any Muslims in the Continental Congress. I also believe they were all Protestants. I know there were many pastors in the bunch.

    12. and2therepublic, ill says:

      In reply to: Greg B.Vail, AZ.

      Our founders were all of English decent and Protestant Christians. That, my dear fellow American, is not the definition of diversity, it is however, true.

    13. Clarence Crosby ,Hub says:

      Too old and outdated and irrelevant ? I submit that scientific advancements not withstanding , there is nothing new under the sun . Particularly where human foibles are concerned .

    14. Ed Foster, Brevard, says:

      What never seems to get said is that the Constitution provides the way to keep it relevant as the world progresses. That way is called "amending the Constitution." The Founders did not make it easy to "amend the Constitution" because the Constitution should not be trifled with. Nonetheless, more than two dozen amendments have been adopted since ratification including 10 (the Bill of Rights) which were adopted shortly after the Constitution was first ratified. Slavery (which was tacitly accepted in the original document) was banned by amendment as Americans finally agreed that it was immoral. Equal voting rights for men and women was finally adopted. Occasionally a "bad" amendment was passed such as rohibition and then repealed by a subsequent amendment. (That leaves hope that the amendment authorizing the imposition of a tax on income can be repealed in the future!) Thus the Constitution is a living document, one that can change with the time … but must do so exceedingly slowly and with extreme care.

      Unlike the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence cannot be changed. The Declaration of Independence is the document that guarantees individual rights and established for the first time a government that derives its power from the consent of the governed rather than directly from the will of God on which rests a king's claim of a divine right to rule. The Delcaration of Independence's unique place in history is something Mr. Obama must come to understand and accept. It makes the United States exceptional and is the true foundation of our country. We are a Republic … not a monarchy … and Mr. Obama was never crowned, and with God's help and the help of all Americans will never be!

    15. Rich Stewart says:

      Lexington’s post is little more than one intellectual hoping some other Political Ruling Class intellectuals will award him with a resounding “Well done my good fellow. That should certainly settle the matter. You have put those Constitutional bumpkins in their place with this brilliant piece of work!”

      There are few problems with his piece of work.

      Are the readers supposed just take the Lexington’s word for it that he knows what goes on at “almost any tea party meeting” as if he were a regular attendee?

      Does citing anecdotal fiction published by the Washington Post do much for his argument other than assure the reader that the he has no first hand knowledge of the subject he is writing about?

      Is citing a Harvard Law School intellectual, likely with no first hand knowledge either, anything more than one Political Class hack trying to impress other Political Class hacks with a name drop?

      Snotty intellectual assumptions such as “Tea partiers” only read the Constitution but are not aware of or take into consideration other relevant, timeless guidance bequeathed to us by the Founders is (a) insulting and (b) reason to dismiss this piece as nothing more than one intellectual writing to impress his fellow intellectuals.

      I’ll take a handful of those “creatures of their time” over today’s spineless, self serving legislative cowards any day.

    16. Armey, Washington D. says:

      God is the source of all truth. The Constitution is founded on a belief in God becuase otherwise it couldn't be true. The founders knew this and the problem with today's elites/liberals is that they don't believe in God and thus they don't believe in the Constitution. We need to return to a God-fearing country. We need to get back to an America based on good Christian values. We need one amendment to the Constitution: anyone working for the government should be a Christian. We don't have to have laws that discriminate against other faiths, but we need our leaders to follow Christian morals, just like the Founders did. Why can't we just admit this is the cause of all the problems in this country.

    17. Rick, MI says:

      While Drew from Illinois paints a quite real and all too scarry picture of what our country could evolve to should the constitution with all it’s limitations be scrapped for a more streamlined, functional government, I’m afraid he misses the mark when writing of the savings that would be produced.
      Any savings from the elimination of the courts and the legislature would more than be offset by the spending necessary for a larger, well armed federal police force to keep the sheep from wandering out of the pen.

    18. Chris Baker Californ says:

      Those who demean the constitution or espouse the idea that it is a living document are interested only in power. They don't care what you or I think because their ambition is control. The only rights they care about are their rights to tell me and you what to do. They are WRONG!!! The constitution is a CONTRACT between us (we the people) and the persons elected to make and enforce laws which should rightly be restricted to those laws which protect us from bandits and thieves, ruffians and scalawags and those who are insane for power such as Hitler and Obama, Reid and Pelosi. Yes I dare to compare. Read the history of Hitler and you will see way to many similarities.

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