A Sacred Document of a Sacred Idea

Take a look at this document:


This is the Constitution of the United States of America. I get into tangles all the time over at Mikeb302000 about the nature of this document. Mikeb loves to point to the elements that offend the modern leftist–slavery and the Second Amendment being the predominate targets. By contrast, I see our constitution as sacred.

Understand that by sacred, I don’t mean perfect or beyond change. I have discussed here, for example, how I wish the first two amendments were written and what I see as circumstances that would justify overthrowing the constitutionally legitimate government. Certainly, the document itself has provisions for amendment, showing a recognition from the start that changes might be necessary as time went by.

That being said, there are fundamental principles of our constitution that should not be changed. It establishes a nation and defines the government that will regulate that nation, and that definition sets strict limits on what powers each branch of the government may have. It divides government into three branches to place further limits on the extent of that power. The first ten amendments enumerate rights that the Founders regarded as necessary to protect by name.

But the argument gets made that we don’t really need such protection anymore. Surely a modern, democratic society can maintain rights by the consensus of the people.

Think again. An example of the dangers of that point of view came up yesterday (20 August 2013) in an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered with Alan Rusbridger, editor in chief of The Guardian. I’ve given a link to the full story, but I’m going to point out one significant statement that Rusbridger made:

And this may be – sound strange to American listeners, but there is no First Amendment in the U.K. and there is no bar on prior restraint, the idea that the state could prevent a news organization from publishing by taking back its source material.

Caught it, yes? Without the First Amendment, there is nothing in Britain to prevent the government from blocking publication of a story.

What story are we talking about? The one reported by Glenn Greenwald of Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing about the American NSA’s invasions of privacy. The British government also detained Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, under powers given by terrorism legislation. This is one of those coincidences that those of us who enjoy language note, since it was another Miranda who caused a limitation of police power in the United States.

There are people who claim that all of this security theater is keeping us safe, who see what has happened in Britain as a model for what should be done here. To them, we are nowhere near tyranny, so we should just shut up and trust the government. (I’m talking to you, Mr. President.) That kind of sheepish attitude is unbecoming for people who have overthrown a government that was not respecting their rights, fought a civil war to defend rights, and who claim to love liberty today. The only way to guarantee that we don’t fall into the kind of police state that some of us warn about is to fight against every step in that direction.

18 thoughts on “A Sacred Document of a Sacred Idea

  1. orlin sellers

    Mikeb and all those like him are anti-liberty thugs who would think nothing of using the force of government and its guns to enforce their anti-liberty, valueless ideas on our nation and the entire world.

    1. Greg Camp

      Sacred, from Latin, sacer, meaning holy

      Definition: dedicated or set apart to honor, holy by association with the divine or the consecrated

      I meant it exactly as I used it. But how about you address the main idea, instead of picking at the lesser good parts?

    2. Retired Mustang

      Nonsense. At the most basic level, the words holy, sacred, sanctified carry simply the idea of being separate, apart or different. The word was used appropriately.

  2. Retired Mustang

    Those who are, in fact if not in word, opposed to the idea of individual value and liberty simply because of being an individual, must of necessity view the Constitution and the principles it enshrines as vulgar, common or pedestrian. They really have no choice. To do otherwise forces them into a small corner, surrounded by questions to which they have no answer. Social utility is hard to defend if you’ve committed yourself to individual liberty.

    1. mikeb302000

      Well riddle me this, Batman. When they wrote that it’s self-evident that all men are created equal, but excluded blacks and women, how are we supposed to take the rest of the words literally?

      1. Greg Camp

        Um, Mikeb, that’s from the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. Jefferson there expressed a truth that went beyond what he was able to apply in his own time, even though he knew that slavery was wrong.

      2. Retired Mustang

        Sure, Ill bite.

        1. Point of fact: the quote you give is from the Declaration of Independence. The topic under discussion has been the Constitution. Still, I’ll address your question.
        2. Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration, appears to have been quite aware of the conflict between the freedoms he espoused and the reality of slavery. He actually addressed that conflict in other writings. One that expresses his acknowledgement of that conflict is this quote from Notes on the State of Virginia: “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a context…. I think a change already perceptible, since the origin of the present revolution. The spirit of the master is abating, that of the slave rising from the dust, his condition mollifying, the way I hope preparing, under the auspices of heaven, for a total emancipation, and that this is disposed, in the order of events, to be with the consent of the masters, rather than by their extirpation.”
        3. That the men who risked so much for the principles contained in the Declaration of Independence were less than perfect in implementing them makes the principles no less true.

  3. Retired Mustang

    I apologize for the length of this reply.

    I tell all my clients that there are two things that lead to freedom. Those are choice and accountability. Many people “shy away” from both, but especially accountability. Together, they make it clear that I, and only I, am responsible for my life. My life has turned out the way it has because of the choices I’ve made. Thus, if I want things to be different, I must learn to make different choices. I must also be willing to “pay the price” for the choices I make. If things turn out well as a result of my choices, that’s great! If things turn out otherwise, that’s also great because they were my choices and I can still change things…by changing my choices. This is freedom.

    Just as choice and accountability lead to freedom, freedom requires those who would enjoy it to exercise those two things. It may be that it’s here we find the problem for those who favor group rights over individual liberty. I’m beginning to believe they fear the implications of individual responsibility and accountability, for both themselves and others. A fear that some others are unfit to exercise choice and accountability and that to allow them to do so will result in widespread chaos and social collapse. The way to deal with that? Limit choice and disperse accountability. Fewer choices means a person is less likely to make a bad one (though there is the regrettable but unavoidable result of limiting the benefit of making good choices). The dispersion of accountability keeps people from “paying the price” for bad choices (note: I’m not discussing criminal activity here) thus, their situation is more likely to be about the same as that of everyone else.

    My point is this: Freedom scares some people. They are terrified of the idea that they and those around them are solely responsible for how their lives turn out. They seek the security provided by an ever increasing house of rules, laws and regulations. If others are less fortunate, then the cure is even more laws, more rules and more intrusion into the lives of others. This, too, provides security. After all, if a person born in less fortunate circumstances achieves success all or largely on his own, it asks the question “why didn’t I, born into more favorable circumstances, achieve far more than I have?” However, with a massive set of laws, rules and regulations in place, the other person’s success can be attributed largely to those rules. This may be the most subtle form of prejudice the world has yet seen.

    Which brings us back to the Constitution. It serves to both define a government and to limit its power to intrude upon the rights of individuals. The point of this, I am convinced, was to maximize the opportunity of individuals to make their own choices and enjoy the benefits of good ones (and pay the price of bad ones). Certainly, this was tied to economics and finances (“property”…after all, we grew out of the Enlightenment, especially the Scottish Enlightenment), but the results were far reaching. Great Britain, with whom the United States has long enjoyed a special relationship (since the Great Rapprochement) has never been as free as the U.S. The British government started its move toward ever increasing control over its citizens (as all governments do) earlier than ours. It also started from a position of greater control, because there were in place far fewer limits on its power. This is helpful to those who will learn. Our mutual language, shared history and related cultures allow us to see what happens when those limitations are not in place…and to foresee what is likely should those limitations be removed. This is why I am so opposed to any efforts to restrict the freedoms protected by the document, particularly those found in the first ten amendments. They were written so as to place profound, some might even say severe, restrictions upon the power of government and to allow individuals to fully experience the benefits and consequences of making their own decisions.

      1. Retired Mustang

        Thanks. I tend to favor rational responses because I’m of Scottish descent and the alternative is to charge my opponents head-on, screaming out a war cry as I run at them through the fog, armed with a Claymore and dressed only in blue paint. Clearly, I was born centuries too late.

  4. Monica Baxter

    The amendment states but a truism that all is retained which has not been surrendered. There is nothing in the history of its adoption to suggest that it was more than declaratory of the relationship between the national and state governments as it had been established by the Constitution before the amendment or that its purpose was other than to allay fears that the new national government might seek to exercise powers not granted, and that the states might not be able to exercise fully their reserved powers.


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