Nov 15 2009

The Constitution: An Imperfect Document

Published by at 8:48 am under critical thinking,culture

An article I read yesterday got me thinking about the U.S. constitution.

Area Man Passionate Defender Of What He Imagines Constitution To Be

You can probably guess its source: the Onion. Another funny, spot-on parody.

Spurred by an administration he believes to be guilty of numerous transgressions, self-described American patriot Kyle Mortensen, 47, is a vehement defender of ideas he seems to think are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and principles that brave men have fought and died for solely in his head.

Imagine this argument:

Person 1:

The Constitution says “X.” Therefore, position “X” — my position — is the right one.

Persons 2:

No, the Constitution says “Y.” Therefore, position “Y” — my position — is the right one.

I’d be tempted to step into the above and say,

Screw the Constitution. It’s an imperfect document. Tell me about your values instead, for that is what the issue really is. And while you are at it, convince me why your values should be preserved/embraced by this country.

“Screw the Constitution”? What kind of anarchism is that?! Actually, it’s freethought. As a freethinker I hold no idea or document to be above critical scrutiny. Just as I freely criticize what’s in the Bible, I will freely criticize another document that some people will present as sacred, particularly when they believe it supports their cause.

Of course, I would not scrap the Constitution. I would certainly consider further amending it. Yes, the U.S. Constition is an important and largely esteem-worthy piece of legislation and legislative history.

But it was written hundreds of years ago by men who lived in different times. Their culture was different; their economy was different; their technology was different; the threats to their peace and prosperity were different.

I don’t value the paper ideas are expressed upon. I value the ideas themselves. Or not. As I see it, the Constitution expresses and protects a set of values. These values are largely about a desired or preferred lifestyle. And I don’t mean lifestyle flippantly. Lifestyle means the freedom to engage in some behaviors and the prohibition to engage in others. Lifestyle includes the opportunities we want to preserve and obligations we consider important.

Maybe it’s the scientist in me. But whenever I hear a political disagreement, I really wish people would stop talking in abstracts and get to the nitty-gritty. Okay, you say you love freedom. But the freedom for what?

One comment

One Comment to “The Constitution: An Imperfect Document”

  1. Jim Clarkon 10 Dec 2009 at 5:35 pm

    One of the few times I’ve seen an intelligent discussion of our Constitution. There are those in this country who advocate a new constitutional convention, but I can’t see that anything much better than what we have could come of that. The country is just as polarized today as it was in 1787.

    However, I have noticed – over time – that there seem to be some basic shared national values amongst the vast majority of Americans, whether conservative or liberal. So the notion of amending the Constitution is what makes perfect sense. It is Article V that allows us to do this, and it places no restrictions. While Article V is the stroke of genius that anticipates national evolution, it also gives us the ability to destroy the Constitution, if the People so chose. Something very close to this almost happened in Venezuela not too long ago.

    Therefore, it has occurred to me that we attempt to identify the most basic national values that most of us agree on, and construct an amendment accordingly. Then establish in the amendment that the principles contained can never be altered once the amendment is ratified. I find it somewhat scary that an extreme political persuasion could overwhelm our country, vote sympathetic representatives into both state, and federal office, and then alter the Constitution to suit their view of the way things should be.

    While this seems the remotest of possibilities, the downright terrifying advances the religious right has made in our political system should give any reasonable mind pause to think.

    So after some prodding from friends sick of listening to me go on about the problems with our Constitution, I finally starting working on, what would be the 28th Amendment, if nothing else is done before. But no single person should attempt to define the basic tenets which define our nation. Should any one be interesting in taking a look at a very rudimentary beginning at doing something, I’d love to send you what I have, and would love to begin a discussion that just might go somewhere. I can be contacted at .

    Jim Clark

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