Thursday, November 16, 2006

The constitution is not a suicide pact, is it?

The idea that the constitution should not be kept to at the cost of the destruction is a popular one. Is it right?

Thomas Sowell is the latest eminent person to insist that the 'The constitution is not a suicide pact.' and as usual the insistence is made to defend encroaching tyranny. There is good reason to believe that adhering the the constitution is not as suicidal as it's detractors imply. Indeed the main dangers to America come from it's violation and I believe that a similar pattern will be evident in all states with a constitution. However let us assume that it is true that survival and obedience to the constitution are incompossible, what then? Let's consider several definitions of 'survival' relevant to the question.

The first definition is 'political survival' or 'national survival' that is to say the survival of the particular State without regard to the survival of the people under it. Clearly if all people under a State die so does the State, but a State can die without a single one of it's people perishing. The death of a State means that the monopoly of force either dies or is exercised over a different geographical area. There is nothing inherently bad about this. Sentimental attachments aside plenty of people live in States that either did not exist when they first moved there or did not rule the territory they live in. While it is true that the new State may be worse it may also be better, I know of no real evidence that changing soveriegnties makes you worse off on average. Indeed if that were the case then where did the better States that people were living in prior to such changes come from?

It clearly states in the Declaration of Independence that 'That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.'. Note that this is the sole reason that governments are instituted, there is no other. If a government does not achieve these goals then it is obselete and must be discarded. Certainly many prefer that the laws not change and changing soveriegnties does that, but so does ignoring the constitution. The consitution is the law, and nullifying it is an immense legal change, affecting all other laws. All judges and politicians swear to protect the constituion. They do not swear to protect the State. Now you might think that what they swear to doesn't matter, and the Bush1 administration seems to agree. This doesn't make the State any safer however, the danger of being managed by oathbreakers is far greater than the danger of being bound to the constitution. If you doubt this consider how few people were lynched because blacks could vote as opposed to how many were lynched because they had been disarmed. Consider how many were killed in the USSR, Nazi Germany or even South Africa because of violations by government of people's rights and how few killed because they were enforced.

Secondly 'survival' might mean the physical survival of some number of it's citizens. The idea that the constitution should be put above the survival of a small number of it's citizens is frankly treasonous. If it were true then an attempt to invade the country would have to be met with total surrender. After all if your life is worth abandoning the legal system then so is the life of soldiers and therefore the imposition of a foreign legal code should not be resisted by their deaths. Now you might ask 'What if all the people might be killed if the constitution is not abandoned?', well if there is such a danger (and so far there has never been such a danger that could be prevent by unconstitutional action) people may avoid it simply by emigration. If you donÕt want to live in a country were your life can be sacrificed to freedom then go somewhere where that won't happen. This will not probably make you safer as I have previously stated.
Thirdly 'survival' might mean the survival of the consitution itself, however violating the constitution to prevent it's violation makes no sense. It would be like killing your child to ensure they don't get harmed. If it is possible to violate the constitution any time it is in 'danger' then the constitution is never safe and it's provisions are no longer the highest law of the land, that is to say it is no longer the constitution and has practically died.

So under all the definitions of 'survival' that apply none qualify as worth killing the constitution for. The constitution is not a suicide pact but, flawed as it is, it is something worth the death of a man, or a State for.

1 And to be fair the Clinton administration and most others as well.