An Unsuccessful Attack on the Meaning of the ConstitutionPosted: February 25, 2012
Robert Parry recently wrote a piece entitled “The Right’s Inside-Out Constitution”. He tries to make the argument that the Constitution is not a document intended to limit the federal government. Instead he argues that it was an attempt by the founders to create a centralized national government. Of course he is correct, but only in a sense that he does not realize. It’s definitely true that during the drafting of and after the Constitution was ratified many of the founders, like the mercantilist Alexander Hamilton, wanted a system much more centralized and unlimited like Great Britain’s system. These people worked to undermine the spirit of the Constitution as a limiting document with ideas like “implied powers” – a concept that utterly destroys and contradicts Madison’s summation in the Federalist Papers #45 that:
“the powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite”
Parry attempts to diffuse this inconvenient truth by arguing that Madison was really just trying to dupe the public for their own good. Does he have any proof of Madison’s sinister motives? Of course not. Liberals interpreting the Constitution don’t want to rely on the idea that the words and arguments of the founders actually meant anything. Just like they believe in a “living constitution” where the government and politicians get to decide the extent of their own powers, he believes that he can rewrite history based on his own creative interpretation of Madison’s words.
His argument can best be summarized as saying that because a handful of the founders had some really bad ideas about the Constitution during the drafting process, that means the original intent of the Constitution was to have an all-powerful central government. It’s literally that ridiculous.
What’s funny is that he unintentionally proves that the prophetic warnings of the Anti-Federalists, however hyperbolic, turned out to be correct. Their insistence on a Bill of Rights was one of the most important contributions to protecting liberty, restraining power, and securing the ideas of liberty as found in the Declaration of Independence. The Anti-federalist’s understanding of the nature of the State to expand its powers and violate the liberties of the people informed their prophetic warnings about the problems with the new Constitution. All you need to do is read the Anti-federalist Papers to see that their concerns over eventual federal consolidation have been consistently vindicated.
A point that needs to be addressed when defending an originalist interpretation of the Constitution, a point that Parry slightly alludes to, is that the founders were not some monolithic group that agreed on the issues. There were all sorts of different ideas and competing factions within the founding generation. The goal should be to (1) show which arguments were most consistent with the interpretations of the ratifying conventions, (2) which arguments understand the nature of government tyranny, and (3) which ideas best promote liberty.
There is no rule of law without a comprehensive understanding of the meaning of the Supreme Law of the Land. Without the rule of law there cannot be the protection of liberty, and the ideas that inspired the Revolution are betrayed.
He unsurprisingly goes on to argue that anyone who believes in limited government are, by association, really just Southern apologists, neo-confederates, or racists. Typical. It’s a useful tactic when you don’t want to substantively address an argument in an honest fashion.