Article Image

IPFS News Link • Constitution

Rx for Leviathan by Butler Shaffer

• - Butler Shaffer

The true test of civilization is, not the census, nor the size of cities, nor the crops – no, but the kind of man the country turns out.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

In case any reader still clings to the platitude that the American political system is based on the proposition that ours is "a society of laws, and not of men," I urge you to pay close attention to the events of recent years. Political behavior does not exist in abstractions, such as the "state," or the "government," or a "constitution," but is activity engaged in by such men and women who find the machinery of state power a useful device for accomplishing ends that they value. Those who desire to control others through access to the tools of violence that define the state, have rationales to convince their intended victims of the "rightness" of their rule. From explanations such as "God's will" to the "divine right of kings," the authority of some to enjoy coercive power over others – along with their subjects' duty of obedience – is so engrained into the minds of people as to seem as self-evident as the forces of gravity.

The humanistic sentiments of the Enlightenment helped transform these autocratic assumptions about the source of political authority, substituting as a rationale for the state the myth of a "social contract." Formal constitutions were written, presuming to create a state by contract, in the collective name of "We the people." In the American version, political authority was to be disbursed among three major branches, with the legislative branch to enjoy sovereign power; a proposition that would make it difficult – if not impossible – for an individual to enjoy unchecked authority. Coupled with the illusion that the exercise of power could be restrained by words written on parchment, it was believed that reasonable persons could therefore trust state power. That some of the most repressive actions of the Soviet Union were conducted under a written constitution loosely modeled on the American one, should disabuse anyone of the thought that governmental powers could be restrained by words.  

Such an arrangement sounds reassuring – except to those who have bothered to read the document or the cases decided under it. Though the Constitution contains numerous words, two passages in Article I, Section 8 are sufficient to confirm its unrestrained power given to the state. One passage at the beginning of this section provides that "The Congress shall have Power. . . to provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States." This power is elaborated upon by the concluding words to this section that Congress shall have the power "To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof."