The Lesser Evil
November 8, 2001

by Joe Sobran

     Once, before appearing on a TV talk show, I was told 
I must not advocate the violent overthrow of the U.S. 
Government. I hadn't actually been planning to foment 
revolution, but this warning gave me an idea: "May I 
advocate the violent restoration of the Constitution?" I 
got no answer.

     Some people think I'm a "purist," or even a 
"fundamentalist," for harping on the Constitution. 
Actually, it's just the opposite. I'm willing to settle 
for the Constitution as a tolerable compromise. Really 
principled people, such as Lysander Spooner, the late, 
great Murray Rothbard, and a number of my living friends, 
consider the Constitution itself tyrannical, endowing the 
Federal Government with far too much power. (Don't tell 
the children, but so did Patrick Henry.)

     These are the real purists, and I honor them. My 
only point is that even if they're right, returning to 
the Constitution -- to a government strictly limited to 
its few enumerated powers -- would be a huge improvement 
over the kind of government we have now. At this point 
I'd gratefully settle for that. I don't ask much.

     All I ask, really, is that our rulers, alias elected 
representatives, do that which they swear before Almighty 
God, staking their immortal souls on the promise, that 
they will do: uphold said Constitution. I think it's 
actually rather patriotic -- and even charitable -- of me 
to hope that our rulers will stop damning themselves. But 
this seems to make me some sort of utopian. Who ever 
heard of a politician going to heaven?

     These gents (all right, there are a few ladies among 
them) think an oath of office is something to be taken as 
lightly as, say, a wedding vow. They probably felt a 
deeper sense of obligation when they took their college 
fraternity pledges. Only one member of Congress seems to 
read the Constitution and vote against proposed laws on 
grounds that they lack constitutional authorization: the 
Texas Republican Ron Paul. And he's considered a bit of a 
crank even by his own party. Whenever I read that the 
House has approved something by a 434-to-1 vote, I check 
to see if the 1 is Ron Paul. It usually is.

     Of course the government has long since decided that 
the Constitution must be interpreted with a certain 
latitude, which always means letting the government 
stretch its own powers as far as it pleases. This is the 
familiar idea that the Constitution is a "living 
document," which is to say, a dead letter. How can it be 
"living" if it's mere putty in the hands of the powerful? 
Really living things resist manipulation.

     The Constitution is supposed to control the 
government, not vice versa. James Madison noted that the 
unwritten British Constitution could be changed at any 
time by a simple act of Parliament. Our Constitution, he 
said, would be better because it was an act of the people 
-- remember "We the People"? -- and would be "unalterable 
by the government." Any amendment would require very 
broad popular support.

     But today We the People wait for the government -- 
often meaning five members of the U.S. Supreme Court -- 
to decide what the Constitution is going to mean. After 
all, they're the experts. We the People are only ... 

     And We the People don't protest, don't even notice 
any incongruity, when we're assured that this rank 
elitism is "democracy" and "self-government." We nod 
solemnly when we should be issuing a hearty horselaugh.

     The current war is a good example. An emergency 
results from the government's abuse of its powers, so the 
government claims new powers in order to cope with the 
emergency. And if you don't support these claims, you're 
unpatriotic; if you think the government's foreign policy 
helped create this mess, you're "blaming America first."

     In other words, we are expected to equate an 
unconstitutional government with the Constitution! Logic, 
anyone? Tyranny doesn't have to mean a grumpy dictator 
with a funny mustache; it can be exercised by pleasant 
guys who shave and smile. Its essence is lawless 
government -- government that makes countless laws 
because it recognizes no law above itself.

     Without wishing to be disagreeable, I merely suggest 
that the Constitution is a lesser evil than a government 
that takes infinite liberties with it while pretending to 
honor it.


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