September 11, 2023
How to live in a post-constitutional society
By: Brian Almon
Next Sunday is Constitution Day, when we celebrate the document that created the greatest country in the history of the world. No matter how bad things get in our country, conservatives still retain a sense of pride and optimism in the United States because of our history, our traditions, but most especially our Constitution. Patriots tend to believe that the Constitution is an everlasting protection against tyranny in our land. No matter what, they say, we still have the Constitution. But how much does the Constitution really protect us nearly 250 years after its ratification?
I won’t sugar coat it: today the US Constitution is just words on a piece of paper, as far as our society is concerned.
I know that is a harsh thing to say, but we have to accept reality rather than burying our heads in the sand. John Adams said that the Constitution was “made for a moral and religious people” and that is clearly not the great majority of Americans today, especially in our government.
No matter how noble the words of the Constitution, they are meaningless if government decides to ignore them. It’s clear that our government has been ignoring the Constitution for a long time:
- Despite striking down several of FDR’s initial New Deal programs, the Supreme Court upheld many others, which laid the groundwork for both the welfare system and administrative state that plagues us today. Our Founding Fathers never conceived of cradle-to-grave government welfare, and the stifling taxes and regulations that come with it.
- In the century since the New Deal, the federal government has enacted countless regulations that micromanage our lives, our activities, and our businesses. Do you think the framers of the Constitution could have conceived of a federal government that managed firearms, livestock, motor vehicles, and the meat in your grocery store?
- The federal government takes an order of magnitude more in taxes than did King George III and his Parliament, and then they distribute it back to the states as grants that come with regulatory strings attached. More than 40% of Idaho’s state budget now comes from the federal government.
- The growth of the national security state after World War II far exceeded what the framers of our Constitution had in mind. The President of the United States has unilateral control of a class of weapon that could wipe out humanity, and is ostensibly at the head of an intelligence community that has nearly carte blanche to operate beyond accountability and the law.
- In fact, the very existence of a massive standing army, with a leadership that often overlaps with both the federal government and multi-billion dollar defense contractors, would be anathema to our founding fathers. President Eisenhower called out the military/industrial complex more than half a century ago, yet now they are so powerful they create wars to justify their government contracts.
Need I go on? Consider that last week, the Governor of New Mexico issued an order suspending the 2nd Amendment in her biggest cities, claiming that no constitutional right is absolute. In response, many conservatives called for her recall, and even arrest. “She’s violating the Constitution,” we rightly say. “Someone should do something!”
You see, that’s the problem. The Constitution cannot grow arms and legs and take care of officials who violate it. It falls to our leadership – our elected officials, our law enforcement personnel, and our justice system – to enforce our highest law. If those institutions are compromised or corrupt, what remedy do we have? Thomas Jefferson assumed that each generation would be forced to fight its own revolution, just as his did, but that is clearly not an option. So how now should we live?
The Constitution cannot fix a problem that the Constitution failed to prevent. Idaho’s libertarian firebrand Dustin Hurst explained it well on Twitter recently:
Consider that many nations, from the historical USSR to modern-day Liberia, have written constitutions that are very similar to our own. Yet nobody would mistake the freedoms in those nations for those that have been enjoyed by the American people. It is not the words on paper that safeguard our liberty, but those that are written on the hearts of the people.
This is why an Article V Convention of States is not the answer, either. Our current government already ignores the Constitution – why should we expect them to honor amendments regarding balanced budgets or term limits? Also, the convention itself would be represented by many of the same “conservatives” who failed to stop our society’s slide into leftist totalitarianism in the first place, not to mention the Democrats that would have a vote on any proposed amendment. While I appreciate the intention, a Convention of States is an expensive and time-consuming red herring.
Saving our country is going to be hard. One of the hardest things to do is to let go of our belief that the Constitution will save us. In the real world, it is merely a piece of paper. We must take the principles that guided our Founding Fathers when they created the Constitution and use them to guide us as we rebuild our society today. What great things might we accomplish if we returned to those principles without worrying about being bound to the quarter-century of byzantine jurisprudence that has grown up like weeds on the Constitution?
Now is the time for boldness, not timidity. We need elected representatives who are willing to do more than simply manage our decline by adjusting marginal tax rates or tweaking a few regulations. We need to stop taking money from the federal government, money that comes with strings attached. We need to begin the process of reclaiming federal land, land that by all rights belongs to the people of Idaho. We need to look at an uncertain future that might see variable borders, such as the Greater Idaho movement that seeks to move Eastern Oregon into the Gem State.
Simply waiting for the Constitution to save us is a fool’s errand. On this Constitution Day, recommit yourself not merely to the words of our highest law, but to the principles that underlay it. We must act today so that our children and grandchildren will live in a country where those principles are honored and their liberties defended.
Note: A descendant of American pioneers, Brian writes about the importance of culture and about current events in the context of history. His work can be found on Substack, here.