Week before last, two socialist authors were granted space in the august New York Times, no less, to push their poison that the U.S. Constitution is an “outdated relic” expressly intended to subvert democracy.
The authors are an editor and writer at Jacobin magazine, a socialist publication which doesn’t mind engaging in the quintessentially capitalistic practice of selling advertising.
The authors make a number of blithe assertions which I will demolish shortly. But, overall, to hear the authors tell it, you’d think the Constitution had unleashed a bloody Reign of Terror. Oh, wait a minute, that was the Jacobins in France in the socialist French Revolution of 1789. Thanks to the authors’ namesakes, France didn’t have a stable government again for 75 years.
The authors assert that the Constitution is “the foundation for a system of government that rules over people,” rather than a means of popular self-government. This shows a complete misunderstanding of the Constitution. The Constitution begins with “We the People” because we have popular sovereignty. We the People rule ourselves; we don’t have a King George ruling over us.
But the authors are right in one respect. The Constitution did not set up a pure democracy, and good thing it didn’t. The Founders were concerned with preventing mob rule and the tyranny of the majority, both of which develop under pure democracy. Even with all our system’s checks and balances, we’ve had instances in this country where one side has gotten too powerful and rammed stuff down our throats, like Obamacare and the New Deal. Do we really want modern-day Jacobins ramming single payer down our throats with real death panels this time - guillotine squads? That’s why the Founders gave us a Republic, as Ben Franklin famously said - to temper the passion of factions with ways for cooler heads to prevail. Warring factions gave England a dictator-for-life, Oliver Cromwell. The Founders knew this history and worked around it accordingly. Property rights, which the socialist authors criticize, actually reinforce self-government, because property gives people freedom and independence, power they wouldn’t have if the government owned everything as in a socialist system. Property rights are best understood as a pillar of popular sovereignty.
The authors say the Constitution prevents redistribution of wealth and the creation of new social guarantees. This is just crazy talk. The authors act as if as if the New Deal, the Great Society and other redistributionist programs never happened, and that we never racked up a $21 trillion national debt as a result.
The authors criticize “the Bill of Rights’s incomplete safeguards of individual freedoms.” There’s something bone-chilling about Jacobin socialists talking about safeguarding individual freedom. They are the self-proclaimed descendants of the French Jacobins who chopped people’s heads off after so-called ‘trials’ that didn’t have any due process whatsoever, or even pretend to dispense justice. When the masters of mob rule start talking about protecting individual rights, run for the hills.
Newt Gingrich just wrote about the horrors of the French Revolution for Fox News. He referred to a book in which the author recounts a story about the French Revolution that tells you everything you need to know about Jacobin socialists: “a woman was charged with the heinous crime of having wept at the execution of her husband. She was condemned to sit several hours under the suspended blade which shed upon her, drop by drop, the blood of the deceased whose corpse was above her on the scaffold before she was released by death from her agony.” This is the intellectual pedigree of the Jacobin authors, whether they want to admit it or not.
The authors don’t want to throw out the entire Constitution like their more revolutionary comrades farther Left, just amend it. Specifically, they recommend a unicameral one-house legislature, and making it easier to amend the Constitution through national referendum. There are good reasons why the Framers didn’t give us either one.
They had the example of the unicameral Pennsylvania legislature which ping-ponged between partisan extremes after each election. This experience and others convinced the Framers that an upper house representing economically successful people was necessary to tame the passions of the bulk of the population who were seen as represented by the lower house. The Framers had the wisdom of the ages on their side on this one. Read the history of political theory from antiquity on down and you will find something called the “mixed constitution” – a government that mixes democracy with meritocracy, that is, the elements of popular representation with some kind of contribution by people who are more versed in governance than the average Jane or Joe. The history of political theory shows that you can’t have political stability without allowing both these elements to participate in government. Leave either element out and you will have nothing but fractiousness and trouble. Our two-house Congress was the Framers’ version of a mixed constitution which succeeded, unlike the French Jacobins, in ensuring political stability.
As for amending the Constitution more easily through national referendums, that would be more problematic than democratic. The Founders deliberately made it hard to amend the Constitution, so people don’t get carried away. But it’s not THAT hard. As I mentioned in a previous webinar [March 19, 2017], it only took one college student 10 years to get the 27th Amendment passed and ratified.
Let me end with three cheers for our Republic and our mixed constitution. It is because of them we have limited government, not the stronger federal government the authors want. No guillotines here.
As for the authors - Off with their heads! Figuratively speaking, of course. Unless I can gather a big enough mob.... Just kidding!