Thursday, February 09, 2012

Constitution? Who Needs It?

I can't pretend I've read all the stuff about the export of the US Constitution and Justice Ginsberg's "controversial" comment on same, but are people picking up on two important qualifications:

  • Of course it is archaic; it's over 200 years old.  Nobody would write it the same way today.  This is not an argument for abandoning it: continuity has its claims, and the prescribed process of amendment is probably the best available response  to change in an imperfect world (but a constitutional convention dominated by Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump--that would be a sight to see, eh?).
  • But more important: don't you suspect that over the whole  life of state-making, most constitutions have been a fraud?  No, not including ours: ours is perhaps an exception-that-proves-the-rule in the respect that there may be at least a passing resemblance between the document to which it refers.   But if you're an upstart hustler with a bit of scrambled egg on your hat, what's the first thing you do when you capture government house?  Why, you promulgate a constitution, and pack it with every scrap of pious nonsense you can muster for the further abuse of a harried populace.  By corollary, if you really want to know how things work in a country, about the last thing you look at is "the constitution" (except, possibly, as a proxy for the chasm of falsehood that might separate ruler and world).   And keep reminding yourself: the Brits never did write theirs down.
More broadly: it's amazing how easy it is to miss, but a "constitution," is merely the social fact of how the government is constituted.  Every society has to have one, it's definitional; if you aren't constituted, you aren't a society.  The piece of paper (parchment, vellum, foolscap, whatever) is only evidence of the social fact, and damn poor evidence most of the time.  Now, get back to something serious.  

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