Sunday, July 07, 2013

A Nation of Living Constitutions

"Today, people are more persuaded than ever that they have perfect freedom, yet they have brought their freedom to us and laid it humbly at our feet."

The Grand Inquisitor

Freedom exists by virtue of an independence from the powers that might take that freedom away. Rights exist to fence out authority from the space allotted to freedom.  The more leverage the citizens have over the authorities, the more they can prevent those rights from being trampled upon.

The problem begins when people begin to assume that the rights they enjoy are inherent to the system, so that they don't have to worry about them. As long as the system exists, so do their rights.

Many Americans assume that as long as the flag waves and everyone celebrates the 4th of July, then their rights are safe. But it is entirely possible to have an America in which the flag still waves and people still go to see fireworks on the 4th of July, and in which there are no more rights or freedoms left. This can happen when people forget what the flag means and what the 4th of July means; the symbolism of a flag composed of individual states, and a holiday celebrating the Declaration of Independence, which holds that a people may overthrow a government when it violates their rights.

It is dangerous to celebrate symbols while forgetting what they mean. Because a nation's fundamental symbols are the keys to its power. They are its scepters and thrones. And when people forget what the symbols mean and begin bowing to the symbols themselves-- a tyrant can take the symbols and have people bow to him, even as he desecrates what those symbols actually stand for.

Obama's rise to power could not have taken place except through a forgetfulness that has been with us for some time now. And Obama has been quite talented at manipulating symbols, posing in front of half a dozen flags, a Superman statue, glowing halos, historic sites and documents. That these symbols have no meaning to him except as tokens of power, that his very presence next to them or adjacent to them, should be anathema because of the profound gap between the ideals they represent, and the agenda he represents, is obvious to those who remember that symbols also have meanings.

But Obama's success is due to those who do not remember. To whom the flag represents America, but who do not understand that it is not a random selection of shapes meant to look pretty against a blue sky. To whom the Constitution is a document that protects their freedoms, without understanding how it does that and what part their active participation must play for it to work.

Obama exploits symbols, while the media warns about the dangers of anyone literate enough to understand their meanings. In the kingdom of the blind, the one eyed man is a dangerous extremist. Because he can see what those in power can't.

Unfortunately we live in an age in which people take systems for granted. The world around us teems with complexity. We use technologies we don't understand. We rely on bureaucracies whose complexities we can't navigate. The dramatic expansion of the government has made its workings incomprehensible. The ObamaCare bill alone defied anyone to read through the whole thing. In the face of such complexity, it becomes easier to be satisfied with symbols. And it also becomes easy for those in charge to play on that resignation, blurring the lines between permissible and impermissible uses of authority, and then wiping out those lines altogether.

Law has always been the obstacle of those who want unlimited power because laws are created to form boundaries and restrictions. Those who want unlimited power will either tear down law or make law itself so complex that it becomes nearly incomprehensible. To multiply law upon law, until there are so many laws that everyone is either guilty of something, or suspects that he might be until the citizenry themselves will happily tear down the law, will ignore wrongdoing by the high and mighty, and instead of knowing their rights, they will look for someone to protect them.

If no one understands the system or its laws, it becomes easy to play divide and conquer. To convince different groups that their welfare is in jeopardy, to promise each one a bigger share of the pie, cheat them all, and pass the blame from one group to the other. Class warfare, racial warfare, farmers against city dwellers, owners against workers, each county against the other, each state against the other. And all you have to do is be in a position to control and distribute all the money.

Then wave the right symbol at the right time. A flag, the Constitution and some fireworks. It doesn't really matter much by then anymore.

And in the process both rights and freedoms have vanished. Because the legal guarantees no longer mean anything, they only worked when an informed citizenry controlled the system, and freedoms no longer exist, because there is no such thing as independence from authority anymore. Authority is now everywhere. And everything depends on it. Even the words themselves lose all meaning. Privileges are redefined to mean rights. Freedom comes to mean being told what to do.

Freedom requires independence from authority. Rights only exist so long as those in authority are prevented from rewriting the laws to give themselves absolute power. But political and cultural elites habitually attempt to rewrite the laws, sometimes with the best of intentions, sometimes with the worst, but whatever their purpose, the new laws eventually promote centralization and eliminate rights. Finally the only law is that of power. No other laws matter anymore.

In order to get there, the system must be torn down and rebuilt again in a new image. And yet make it seem as if nothing has changed at all. Because the flags are still waving, and everyone still celebrates the 4th of July. Which means there must still be freedom, all evidence to the contrary. So the new system retains the old symbols, because it finds them useful in manipulating the complacent. But the ideas and powers the symbols represent, no longer exist.

The new system celebrates its own unlimited power, reflects the self-adoration of its masters, reeks of their arrogance and resonates to their childish willfulness. For in the end those who want unlimited power are damaged souls. Children determined to be the only ones to play with any of the toys. Their lack of empathy, their arrogance and ruthlessness all signal their fundamental immaturity. They are determined to rule, to pillage and plunder, to wield absolute power-- because there is something missing inside them.

Rewriting the laws enables them to control everything. Convincing some of the people that they are the only thing standing between them and the supremacy of the other people, they have already told the same thing to, they gleefully prey on people's fearfulness and greed. They believe in wealth redistribution, but primarily for themselves. And by consolidating power, they also consolidate wealth. In the name of the people, they rob the people. And they do it under the symbols they have misappropriated. The symbols that mean their actions are illegitimate.

The greatest threat to tyranny is a people who refuse to give up their rights, or to let those in power rewrite the laws to suit themselves. The political and cultural elites will always attempt to do this, undermining the system as it is, in order to gain power, loot and pillage everything under the control of that system, and then preside over its decline. The Constitution was created to stop that from happening. It represents a shield against tyranny, but all documents are in the end only words and paper. It is only people who can preserve and realize them. There is no magic in paper and parchment, nor in ink alone. It is living men and women who are the stewards of their heritage, living Constitutions and flags, blood not ink, skin not parchment, who give it potency, who can keep its ideals, so that it does not become only a symbol enshrined in a glass case. Because only a nation of living Constitutions can be free.


RT Rider said...

All very true. My view is that once a nation submits to central authority and control, its reversal can only come about by collapse, such as Russia, or force. The masses are too easily manipulated and divided to to affect change, politically. The ruling class has spent a great deal of time and money creating special interests, underclasses, and illegal immigration to not use it to its maximum utility.

Having said that, I don't think for one minute that force will be used to reverse the course in the U.S., but collapse of the center has some very real probability. The rulers have very much overreached themselves, a situation in which hubris and greed seems to create, regularly,
throughout history.

As you say, the solution to the nation's woes is a return to a mindset of independence and self-sufficiency. The pervasive entitlement mentality will end, because there will be no means to fund it. With it will come a new respect for property rights, the rule of law, and minding your own damn business instead of everyone else's.

A national bankruptcy, if only in fact and not officially, will force a reversal, or devolution, of power back to the states. The closer the citizenry is to its politicians and government, the better off we'll all be.

Doug Mayfield said...

"Obama's rise to power could not have taken place except through a forgetfulness that has been with us for some time now. And Obama has been quite talented at manipulating symbols.... That these symbols have no meaning to him except as tokens of power, that his very presence next to them or adjacent to them, should be anathema because of the profound gap between the ideals they represent, and the agenda he represents, is obvious to those who remember that symbols also have meanings."

Great article. One of the reasons why Obama has risen to power is that he has had no principled
opposition. None.

I watched as McCain explained to his supporters why Obama would make a good President. Why did he waste time, effort, and money to seek the Presidency, if Obama would do just as well?

And, perhaps absent one debate, Romney ran against Obama by, in effect, asking 'Who can smile better?' He should have challenged everything Obama did and everything he said during his first term.

But such a challenge would require principled opposition, something which no longer exists in this country. As DG observes, "Unfortunately we live in an age in which people take systems for granted."

The Republicans have no principles. Every time the Democrats annouce a new dose of Socialist poison to be forced down the throats of the 'child-citizens' of this country, for the Democrats clearly view us as children who need to be told what to do every momnent and in every aspect of our lives, the cowardly 'me-too' semi-Socialist Republicans may run in circles psychologically, stage the briefest of 'hissy fits' in protest, and then return to their door mat approach to opposition by arguing over the petty details of how we will obey rather than challenging the concept that we should obey.

In effect, the Democrats are the express train to Socialist hell. The Republicans are the local, stopping occasionally, lingering here and there, but eventually bringing America to the same horrific final destination.

Democrats are principled. They're Socialists to the core. True opposition means attacking their false principles, beginnning with espousing freedom, inviolate individual rights, and the corollary, limited government. It means standing up to those who believe that the solution to every problem is take one person's hard-earned money at gun point and put it in someone else's pocket, epscially the pockets of slavish followers who vote 'properly', that is, Democratic.

Until Republicans grapple with such fundemental questions as 'What is the proper relationship between the individual and the state?' and 'Does the individual have rights which the state, on principle, shall not ever violate?', until they study how the Founding Fathers answered such questions in their writings and in Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, until they truly believe that those principles apply in all situations no matter how difficult, and until they make those principles the basis of everything they say and do, the Republicans will continue to be the same empty, futile pragmatists, who we've watched for decades as they lose to vague, but (Socialist) principled, 'smilers' like Obama.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps a few new words ought to be added to the Constitution:

"Citizens protected by this Constitution possess an inalienable right to privacy in their persons, business, and homes, and while they are in public.

It shall be a violation of this Constitution for the United States or for the several States to violate or invade the individual privacy of citizens by use of physical, mechanical, or electronic means or devices on land, on water, below ground, or from the air.

This protection shall extend to all lawful communications and acts by an individual citizen or between two or more citizens, including content that is spoken, written, or electronically transmitted. It shall extend to citizens regardless of their location, whether in private or in public.

The only exceptions will be as governed by the Fourth Amendment of this Constitution."

lemon lime moon said...

The grand inquisitor quote is the spirit of what made Benjamin Franklin warn about giving up liberty for security.
George Bush began stripping away liberty. Obama is shoving the process along.

DenisO said...

Daniel; The situation (problem) is well described, but I can't believe you meant the last sentence: "Because only a nation of living Constitutions can be free." That is exactly what the academic Left and other Socialists want, one the meaning of which they can change to support their goals. They claim a modern nation requires a modern interpretation of the Constitution. We can't tolerate that "need" and still retain our freedoms, and I don't think you'll fight me on that.
Another disagreement I have is the implication that "this time is different". If the people of the U.S.A. in 1860 understood the Constitution, they would never have allowed Lincoln to create Big Government and destroy "States rights", devastating the Country with a terrible, bloody war. During Woodrow Wilson's and FDR's terms, they would not have allowed those many ventures into Socialism under guises of helping the poor and doing the "best thing for the Country". Without much objection, the People allowed LBJ to use his Office and power over Congress to change America into a welfare state with his so-called "Great Society". This time is not different, and the Founders were not naive enough to believe that people wouldn't be manipulated because of their ignorance of the Constitution, so they set up the Courts. The Supreme Court evolved to be the guardian of the Constitution, and we still have it, and the right to vote. Until those two essential protections fail, we cannot conclude that "all documents are in the end only words and paper. It is only people who can preserve and realize them..." That, out of frustration, seems to imply a violent revolution is the only viable choice that remains. The Courts understand the "documents" and the meaning of the words. The people always understand "pain" and they can vote. If Lee could have been more strategic at Gettysburg, rather than trying to defeat a more powerful army in one shot, Lincoln probably would not have been re-elected and a negotiated peace achieved, because of the vote. I am optimistic that Obama will over-achieve his goals, creating enough pain to destroy the hopes of Socialists, and hopefully, the Democrat Party which has stolen the name of a reasonable political Party, from which many leading Republicans escaped.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

Living constitutions as people who remember the true constitution, not a 'living constitution' as text

mhojai said...

Brilliant, but very sad...
The fact that they use the educational system to encourage that very attitude of being satisfied with images over actual understanding.
It is what happened to Rome. They retained the façade while the Republic was corrupted from within.

Tom M. said...

I teach a class at my church for children ages 10 to 12. Around the 4th of July I talk about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Then I give the kids a sample citizenship test. This year three kids tied with the best score; a boy born in Korea and two girls born in Kenya. Two kids born in the U.S. asked why they need to know this stuff. Like they say, "you don't know what you've got till it's gone".

Naresh Krishnamoorti said...

Brothers Karamazov?

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Good post, again, Daniel.
I tend to read it differently than many of the other commenters here.
I have noticed that many people who spend a lot of time in the social media look to political leaders to do America for them. They want these vaunted experts to fix it for them, and seem to think that Washington city is where the soul of America dwells. This contributes to the armchair cynicism that cries: "Ain't it awful!"

Perhaps it is my religious tradition or perhaps it is where I live, but I don't think that either self-appointed leaders can save us, nor do I think the Spirit of America dwells in some far-off capital city. It is very near to we, the people of these United States and dwells among us. I see it all the time. If fires need putting out, my husband, son and neighbors take their lives into their own hands to do it, pitting the best within them against nature to do it. If neighbors need protection, we take up our arms to do that.

That is what I understand to be the Constitution borne out in the flesh and blood of living people. And it still exists--at least it does way out here at the rump end of flyover country. If we have to save the sorry asses of the pundits and the technocrats, we will do it. But we don't believe for one minute that they can save us.

Watch for us, because we have had just about enough.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

I agree. And I've said many times that there is no real hope from any "leader" that people are waiting for.

Either people will stand up for themselves or they'll keep waiting around for the next Ryan/Rubio stooge that the man on top dangle in front of them

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