The Lesser Evil
November 8, 2001
appearing on a TV talk show, I was told I must not advocate the violent
overthrow of the U.S. Government. I hadnt 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 Im a
purist, or even a fundamentalist, for harping on the
Constitution. Actually, its just the opposite. Im 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. (Dont tell the children, but so did
These are the real purists, and I honor them.
My only point is that even if theyre 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 Id gratefully settle for that. I dont 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 its 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
hes 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 its
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
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, theyre the
experts. We the People are only ... people.
And We the People dont protest,
dont even notice any incongruity, when were 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 governments abuse of its powers, so the
government claims new powers in order to cope with the emergency. And if you
dont support these claims, youre unpatriotic; if you think the
governments foreign policy helped create this mess, youre
blaming America first.
In other words, we are expected to equate an
unconstitutional government with the Constitution! Logic, anyone? Tyranny
doesnt 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.