As Americans honor Independence Day, we tend to concentrate on the Declaration of Independence, one of our fundamental founding documents, and considered sacred by many – even inspired by God.
Another of those is, of course, the US Constitution. However, opinions among libertarians are mixed. Is it a “hologram of liberty” as Boston T. Party claims? Or is it a vital but flawed document as L Neil Smith pointed out? Or a counter-revolutionary document, as Tom Knapp has explained? All worth pondering.
Back just over a decade ago, an obvious but anonymous statist (with so-called “Christian conservative” and even “Christian dominion” ideas) penned an interesting essay, “Why our Constitution fails in other countries.” (6 February 2012)
Let us read it and then consider some additional points as we approach the 247th Independence Day.
The President and his liberal compatriots were excited to see the Arab Spring bring democracy to a nation like Egypt. There is no doubt that the presidency of Hosni Mubarak was corrupt and needed to be changed. Riots in the streets don’t breed confidence. It would be like putting the worst elements of the Occupy movement in control of America. Not a good idea.
There is an old saying that is mostly true: Be careful what you wish for because you may actually get it. Democracy does not always get you the results you want.
There’s a lot of history to show that revolutions do not bring about good government. The war we had with Great Britain was a war for independence not a revolution. Thirteen governments defended themselves against a foreign aggressor. The colonies were already self-governing. The character of the people made all the difference.
Simon Bolívar was called the “George Washington of South America.” He was a student and admirer of the principles that led to America’s War for Independence as well as a critic of the French Revolution. Bolívar would be described today as a classical “liberal” in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson who defended limited government and a free market economic system.
In his construction of the Bolivian Constitution, he studied the U.S. Constitution and Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Bolívar’s many speeches and writings show that he was an advocate of limited government, the separation of powers, freedom of religion, property rights, and the rule of law.
At first, Bolívar believed that South America could be governed as well as the United States if the people would adopt the principles of the U.S. Constitution. His attempts failed because the people were the problem. Our Constitution says nothing about personal character. It is not a document that carries a moral code. These things came from outside the Constitution and were necessary for it to work.
Bolívar’s attempts at governing left him an “exhausted and disillusioned idealist” because the character of the people would not change. He considered them to be ungovernable. He understood that ideas and character matter more than governmental forms. Good self-government precedes good civil government.
Bolivar died … at the age of forty-seven. Shortly before he died, he declared that Latin America was ungovernable. Revolutions were not enough. When the bloodshed was over, then what? “He who serves a revolution,” he said, “ploughs the sea.” He was discouraged with how the people expressed their new freedoms. Some months before his death Bolivar wrote: “There is no good faith in [Latin] America, nor among the nations of [Latin] America. Treaties are scraps of paper; constitutions, printed matter; elections, battles; freedom, anarchy; and life a torment.”
The same can be applied to Egypt and the rest of the Middle East.
Some obviously good points, which apply to the States in 2022.
But he misses the obvious: Here in the Fifty States “Our Constitution” HAS failed – it just took a long time and maybe not then or yet a total system failure. (Like a car: more and more maintenance and repairs and damage altogether make uneconomical and inoperable).
Oddly enough, this idea (that the US Constitution will not work elsewhere) was ALSO the opinion of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, although her reason was it was “too old for such a new nation” – and has lots of flaws that newer constitutions (South Africa’s or Canada’s or the European CHR) do not.
Point 1: Of course, the States did not have “democracy” but rather, a constitutional republic – flawed but more sustainable.
Pont 2: government and documents cannot instill morality in people, and a republic demands a high level of morality from the people in it: obviously a level higher than we can achieve today or for the last decades.
Point 3 Revolutions do NOT succeed in virtually any way: wars of independence (US, Texas, Scotland, Ireland) are often mislabeled. However, they are totally different from the French, Russian, Iranian, Cuban or many others.
Point 4: The US can NOT export its “revolution” – it didn’t happen in Mexico, not in South America, not in Europe or Japan, and certainly not in Mesopotamia (Iraq) or Afghanistan.
An after-thought. The American experiment was not the only one which has had little success in being exported. Let us discuss that at another time.
In the meantime, please share your thoughts this Independence Day.