Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sanford Levinson — Our Imbecilic Constitution

This is sure to spark some debate, considering that many Americans accord the Constitution the same God-inspired status as the Holy Bible, on the same level of Muslim veneration of Shari'a as God-given, even though the Constitution is not scriptural.

It's actually a conversation I have with people on a fairly regular basis. The problems that the US is confronting and has confronted at various points through out its history were there from the beginning. Not only were many issues hotly disputed at the time of drafting the Constitution, but also subsequent interpretation of the founders' intent has also been controversial.

This mimics the situation in scriptural studies undertaken by scholars, which seeks to determine textural authenticity and interpretation. There are many opinions based on evidence, not all of which is neutral, so that even basic facts are matters of disagreement, let alone discerning the intent of people who lived long ago.

Then there is is the tendentious matter of application in modern circumstances in which there is no historical context for guidance.

What we find historically in the US is a running warfare, sometime even resulting in open conflict and pitched battles as in the Civil War, between those holding that the Constitution is the basis for a strong central "federal" government and those holding that it is the basis for a decentralized confederacy of sovereign states. Some even hold that it is based on individual sovereignty. These issues are still being hotly contested today, and it places the situation is becoming explosive.

Read it at The New York Times | Campaign Stops
Our Imbecilic Constitution
By Sanford Levinson | Professor of Law and Government at the University of Texas, Austin
(h/t Brian Tamanaha at Balkinization)


NeilW said...

That's why its a good idea not to write the constitution down.

Then it can evolve over time without people referring to a set-in-time 'holy book'.

Arguably the religious texts were better when they were an aural tradition.

Anonymous said...

this is slightly off-topic, but this is a comment i read under a different news story:

"Well the founding fathers were probably motivated more than anything by the fact that almost all of them had huge debts to creditors in Britain which would be erased if they seceded from the Commonwealth (at a time when debtors were sent to prison, you couldn't just declare bankruptcy)…"

this is something that has never occurred to me, partially because i'm here in the US, where the founding-fathers are revered as gods.

anyhow, i just wonder if anyone knows if the comment above is true...