The Con­sti­tu­tion re­mains rel­e­vant

The Covington News - - Opinion - Thomas Sow­ell Colum­nist Thomas Sow­ell is a se­nior fel­low at the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion, Stan­ford Univer­sity, Stan­ford, CA 94305. His web­site is www.tsow­

The Fourth of July may be just a hol­i­day for fire­works to some peo­ple. But it was a mo­men­tous day for the his­tory of this coun­try and the his­tory of the world.

No t on ly did July 4, 1776 mark Amer­i­can in­de­pen­dence from Eng­land, it marked a rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent kind of gov­ern­ment from the gov­ern­ments that pre­vailed around the world at the time — and the kinds of gov­ern­ments that had pre­vailed for thou­sands of years be­fore.

The Amer­i­can Revo­lu­tion was not sim­ply a re­bel­lion against the King of Eng­land, it was a re­bel­lion against be­ing ruled by kings in gen­eral. That is why the open­ing salvo of the Amer­i­can Revo­lu­tion was called “the shot heard round the world.”

Au­to­cratic rulers and their sub­jects heard that shot — and things that had not been ques­tioned for mil­len­nia were now open to chal­lenge. As the gen­er­a­tions went by, more and more au­to­cratic gov­ern­ments around the world proved un­able to meet that chal­lenge.

Some clever peo­ple to­day ask whether the United States has re­ally been “ex­cep­tional.” You couldn’t be more ex­cep­tional in the 18th cen­tury than to cre­ate your fun­da­men­tal doc­u­ment — the Con­sti­tu­tion of the United States — by open­ing with the mo­men­tous words, “We the peo­ple...”

Those three words were a slap in the face to those who thought them­selves en­ti­tled to rule, and who re­garded the peo­ple as if they were sim­ply hu­man live­stock, des­tined to be herded and shep­herded by their bet­ters. In­deed, to this very day, elites who think that way — and that in­cludes many among the in­tel­li­gentsia, as well as po­lit­i­cal mes­si­ahs — find the Con­sti­tu­tion of the United States a real pain be­cause it stands in the way of their im­pos­ing their will and their pre­sump­tions on the rest of us.

More than a hun­dred years ago, so-called “Pro­gres­sives” be­gan a cam­paign to un­der­mine the Con­sti­tu­tion’s strict lim­i­ta­tions on gov­ern­ment, which stood in the way of self-anointed po­lit­i­cal cru­saders im­pos­ing their grand schemes on all the rest of us.

That ef­fort to dis­credit the Con­sti­tu­tion con­tin­ues to this day, and the ar­gu­ments haven’t re­ally changed much in 100 years.

The cover story in the July 4 is­sue of “Time” mag­a­zine is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of this ar­ro­gance.

It asks of the Con­sti­tu­tion: “Does it still mat­ter?”

A long and ram­bling es­say by Time mag­a­zine’s man­ag­ing edi­tor, Richard Sten­gel, man­ages to cre­ate a toxic blend of the ir­rel­e­vant and the er­ro­neous.

The ir­rel­e­vant comes first, point­ing out in big let­ters that those who wrote the Con­sti­tu­tion “did not know about” all sorts of things in the world to­day, in­clud­ing air­planes, tele­vi­sion, com­put­ers and DNA.

This may seem like a clever new gam­bit but, like many clever new gam­bits, it is a re­hash of ar­gu­ments made long ago.

Back in 1908, Woodrow Wil­son said, “When the Con­sti­tu­tion was framed there were no rail­ways, there was no tele­graph, there was no tele­phone,”

In Mr. Sten­gel’s re­hash of this ar­gu­ment, he de­clares: “Peo­ple on the right and left con­stantly ask what the framers would say about some event that is hap­pen­ing to­day.”

Maybe that kind of talk goes on where he hangs out.

But most peo­ple have enough com­mon sense to know that a con­sti­tu­tion does not ex­ist to mi­cro­man­age par­tic­u­lar “events” or ex­press opin­ions about the pass­ing scene.

A con­sti­tu­tion ex­ists to cre­ate a frame­work for gov­ern­ment — and the Con­sti­tu­tion of the United States tries to keep the gov­ern­ment in­side that frame­work.

From the ir­rel­e­vant to the er­ro­neous is a short step for Mr. Sten­gel. He says, “If the Con­sti­tu­tion was in­tended to limit the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, it cer­tainly doesn’t say so.”

Ap­par­ently Mr. Sten­gel has not read the Tenth Amend­ment: “The pow­ers not del­e­gated to the United States by the Con­sti­tu­tion, nor pro­hib­ited by it to the States, are re­served to the States re­spec­tively, or to the peo­ple.”

Per­haps Richard Sten­gel should fol­low the ad­vice of an­other Sten­gel — Casey Sten­gel, who said on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions, “You could look it up.”

Does the Con­sti­tu­tion mat­ter? If it doesn’t, then your Free­dom doesn’t mat­ter.

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