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 Foreign and What? 

January 16, 2007 
[Originally published by the Universal Press Syndicate, September 23, 1997]
DefendersIs there any hope of restoring constitutional government in this country? Well, if there isn’t, things are pretty bleak.

DefendersAfter all, our elected officials take an oath to uphold the Constitution and to defend it from “all enemies, Today's column is "Foreign and What?" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.foreign and domestic.” Those last two words are often overlooked, maybe because they apply to so many of the people taking the oath. To restore constitutional government merely means ensuring that our rulers take their own promise seriously.

DefendersWhen I’m asked why I care so passionately who “Shakespeare” really was, I explain that the Shakespeare myth closely parallels our constitutional mythology. What may have begun as an honest mistake has become a fraud.

DefendersHonest mistakes don’t stay honest forever. Sooner or later, if you won’t admit a mistake, you have to lie, distort, and falsify evidence. People usually do this in order to maintain positions of power. They can’t afford to admit error.

DefendersWith Shakespeare, the fraud doesn’t consist in holding the traditional view that he was the man from Stratford; it consists in denying that there can be any room for doubt, when in fact there is abundant reason for doubt and an abundance of intelligent doubters.

DefendersSimilarly with the Constitution. The fraud doesn’t consist in holding that the U.S. Supreme Court may be right; it consists in holding that anyone who rejects the Court’s interpretation must be wrong.

[Breaker quote for Foreign and What?: The 'defenders' of the Constitution]DefendersMost people, being intellectually timid, rely on authority and hate to believe that the authorities can err seriously. But all human authority is not only fallible, but, over time, is virtually certain to err wildly.

DefendersThe reason is simple. Consider the Supreme Court. It presumes that the rulings of its predecessors are correct and rarely overturns them. This means that after a few generations, each ruling of the Court has presumed the rightness of several previous rulings, each dependent on the one before it. The slightest error in the sequence will produce further errors down the line.

DefendersImagine what would happen to automobiles if the engineers at Ford and General Motors worked on the principle that their predecessors must have been correct in all their calculations. Or how would you like to fly in an airplane constructed on a similar presumption?

DefendersHappily, engineering doesn’t rely too heavily on veneration for authority. On the other hand, religion does, because that is its nature. If God reveals something, it is authoritative. The question is which model government should follow: practical science or religion.

DefendersThe answer is obvious enough; the idea of the Constitution was that government was a practical science accessible to ordinary people. That is what self-government meant: Everyone should be able to read the Constitution and join, if only by arguing and voting, in making laws in accordance with its principles.

DefendersNo aristocracy or priesthood had any special authority, because the very idea of such authority had no place in self-government. No faith was required, because it was agreed that suspicion, or “jealousy” of government, was the only attitude that could preserve liberty.

DefendersBut in the 20th century, authority has returned in the guise of the “expert.” ’Tis he who tells us what our Constitution means, and who finds complexities and ambiguities where we suspected none. The Supreme Court has gradually changed its character from a body of men who had to justify their decisions with reason and evidence to an authoritarian body whose word is law (and whose stabs at logic only confuse matters).

DefendersIn Federalist No. 78, Alexander Hamilton assured his fellow citizens that the Court’s rulings would be no better than the arguments it could make for them. Now the Court lays down the law by the sort of unarguable “arbitrary will” republican government was supposed to save us from.

DefendersWe have long since passed the point where the Court’s vagaries might be excused as honest mistakes. Several of its members would have been impeached and most of its powers clipped, except that the other two branches of the federal government have no more regard for the Constitution than the Court does.

DefendersIn short, the Constitution is being “defended” by the sort of people — domestic, of course — it’s supposed to be defended against.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2007 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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