2011/07/20

Does the Constitution Still Matter?

The cover of the July 4, 2011 issue of Time magazine depicts a shredded Constitution superimposed with the question: “Does it still matter?”, by Time Managing Editor Richard Stengel. His answer to that question is that it does not, that it is little more than a relic of a different time, of interest perhaps to historians but no longer to be taken seriously as defining our civic duty. He recognizes that it increasingly being ignored and that there does not seem to be the political will to return the nation to compliance with it. His implicit question is, if people are not going to follow it or insist on it, then why bother to pay homage to it? Let's be honest with ourselves, he suggests, and scrap it.

There was a burst of objections to the article in many forums, 538 at the Time website. As I usually do, I added comments. Here they are:
The main cause of deviation from the Constitution is money: there is a lot more money for violating it than for defending it. See http://constitution.org for how you can help.
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Our challenge is to educate people in a competent understanding of the Constitution as originally meant. There are a lot of myths out there, competing for their acceptance: some from the self-interested elites and some from earnest but misguided laypersons (many of whom may be spreading myths as agents of the elites). The problem is complicated by the fact that the Constitution was not written in the English of today, but in the legal English of 1787, and people in that time disdained things like dictionaries, expecting legal scholars to immerse themselves in the subject for many years to acquire competent use of the language. The effort is worth it, but it is not just a matter of reading the Constitution with a modern (mis)education. See http://constitution.org
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For more on the subject see
Constitutional Construction http://constitution.org/cons/prin_cons.htm
Kentucky Resolutions & Virginia Report http://constitution.org/rf/vr.htm
Constitutional Convention http://constitution.org/dfc/dfc_0000.htm
While the many objections to this article might seem encouraging, we need to recognize that there were very few, and most not of high quality.

One of the better ones was by Rob Natelson, who wrote a response addressing some of the many illogical or inaccurate claims therein. It led to a discussion by David Kopel on the Volokh Conspiracy, in which I commented:
Sasha is correct about the flexibility of Latin word order. But it is worth while to segue into the general subject of the ways Latin (and Greek) influenced the language of the Constitution, and therefore the meanings that language had for the Founders.
An important example is the term “militia”. In Latin, it does not mean “armed group”. That would be volgus militum. The best translation would be “defense activity”, because soldiers were used not just for war but also for law enforcement and disaster response. The word, like many in English, is a kind of polyseme called an actronym, a word having the primary meaning of an activity that comes to also be used to refer to those engaged in the activity, or the occasion or place of the activity.
So to understand the meaning of “militia” in the Constitution, substitute the phrase “defense activity” wherever it appears.
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However, that discussion became somewhat pedantic. What was missing from these discussions were plans of action to correct the problem. There is much "viewing with alarm", but almost no one seems to be doing much about it, other than a handful of people like me, and I am not getting much support in my efforts. I do get a lot of favorable comment that I seem to have the only good ideas for action, but when I ask people to commit to taking action, they make excuses or just glaze over.

The old saying is "Power goes to those who show up." Yet a survey of constitutionalist groups across the country finds few and their meetings are not well attended. I have asked some potential participants why, and their vague answers indicate they don't want to get into a situation in which they will be asked to do anything, especially donate money. It is like people who don't go to church because they dread being presented with the collection plate, or being asked to volunteer for some charitable service.

I hope Stengel is wrong, but so far the evidence supports his position. What are you going to do to prove him wrong? If you don't set the example of action, don't expect others to do so.

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1 comment:

tom9468 said...

Let's be totally honest here. Anytime anyone has exercised there right to assemble and speak out about the government changing or even eliminating our rights systematically. They are immediately portrayed as villains, and to the rich perhaps they are, because they are trying to make every American citizen as an equal. We started out as equals but MONEY has seperated this great country and the lust for power is destroying it. They powers that be are obviously using scare tactics and propaganda to influence voters that we need new laws to guard against attacks. Why can't we trust that these things are inevitable in the world today, and stop living like we are scared, and if some foreign nation or entity attacks our homeland we retaliate with such force that any idea of attacking our nation is followed by fear of our reaction. It's all about the money which only has value because we give it value, no other reason. I feel sorry for everyone in the world because we have all been and still are servants of the all mighty MONEY!!! May God have mercy on us all.

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