“A Republic, If You Can Keep It”

ben_franklin-1-2-e1336601575917By Matt

I’ll admit it. I’m sort of obsessed with the Constitution. Perhaps its because I have a Type A personality and I like the idea of the sort of structure, order, and predictability that any Constitution should…should in theory create, if actually adhered to. Perhaps its because I consider myself a conservative, and know from studying American history that while the Constitution created a more centralized form of government than the States had at the time of its creation, it at the very same time actively works to diffuse government power and guarantee liberty to the individual. I think the latter is more so that which has caused me to revere the Constitution, learn more about its formation, and has made me want to know how best to preserve and promote it.

It might seem logical for conservatives to make it a top priority to refocus peoples attention back to the Constitution as a means of solving our many problems, most of which have been created by a bloated, centralized bureaucracy…things our Constitution is supposed to prevent. After all, if people only knew that the Constitution limits government, then they would have to revere limited government, right?

I have certainly advocated in the past that we push to amend the Constitution to try and preserve our American way of life, and the many freedoms we have traditionally enjoyed in this country. But if we had a Constitutional amendment for example that budgets must be balanced, would it actually be followed? Is the tenth amendment to the Constitution, which is supposed to be in effect right now, is that being followed? It states “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Is that being adhered to currently?

Why should we assume anyone would follow an amendment to the Constitution when they don’t follow the clear wording of the Constitution as it exists right now? Maybe the courts would in fact follow a brand new amendment, for a while, but, what will prevent them, or other branches of our government, from ignoring it if and when they choose to do so?

Prudence therefore demands that we ask the question, is re-teaching what the Constitution means and why it is such a great thing, while a vital step in re-establishing the supremacy of the Constitution, is this the most urgent and pertinent course of action that Conservatives should be pursuing as a means of limiting the size of government? Am I turning my back on Constitutionalism by asking that? More to the point, and this is the crux of the issue when it comes to the Constitution and taking back our country and our individual freedom, what went wrong? How did we get where we are today? Did the Constitution fail, or did the people fail? I think its the latter. Perhaps the American people need to change rather than the Constitution.

While a necessary component in taking back this country, I actually don’t think re-teaching and bringing peoples collective attention back to the Constitution will be quite as beneficial as many people might think, in and of itself that is, unless accompanied by another plan of action which is much more important to the survival of our Republic and to the Constitution. That plan of action: Having a moral people. 

Pretty broad statement, I know. After all, what is moral to one person is immoral to another, and the promotion of a moral people is no easy or quick task. It’s not like passing a law. After all, you can’t pass a law declaring people moral, now can you? You can’t snap your fingers and have a moral people as easily as you can pass a new law or amend the Constitution, as hard as that might be. Besides, what does it even mean to have a moral people? Am I getting all high and mighty and advocating that everyone act in accordance to the tenets of Christianity or some other religion when I say our politicians and our people are not acting in a “moral” way? What does that even mean?

Actually, what I am referring to is a broader morality, one of ethical, intellectually honest behavior, one of consistency, a lack of hypocrisy; a morality where the means do matter, and not just the means justifying the ends. I’m talking about a moral code that seems to have gone by the wayside, and yes, that code does have to do with and in part came from organized religion, but not exclusively so.

What I’m talking about is the type of morality that respects the rule of law. I’m talking about the type of morality and the type of society that collectively recognize and respect that if something is the law, they have a duty to obey it, a society where if they don’t like the law, people have a duty to try and change it, not ignore it. This is the kind of morality I’m talking about, and for which we are severely lacking.

What good is a law, or what good is the Constitution, if either the judiciary or the executive or both just decide not to follow it? Laws, and governments for that matter, are only as good as the people running them. We have a society that is growing more and more tolerant of ignoring those laws with which they don’t agree because of a general lack of morality…ethics…call it what you will. This is the biggest reason the Constitution is being ignored today. It’s not primarily because of ignorance of the Constitution, per se, though that certainly also plays a significant role in our countries current problems. Its not because more and more people today are taught a moral relativism that inherently dismisses that we have a Constitution that says what it means and means what it says, though that is part of the problem. Its that many people just don’t care.

Benjamin Franklin, upon exiting the Constitutional Convention, and in response to a question about what form of government had been created, said “A republic, if you can keep it”. I think Mr. Franklin probably understood that any government is only as good as the people running it, despite the forms and systems laid out in that government.

I doubt Franklin saw the job of securing freedom as somehow done if and when the Constitution was ratified. I think that is pretty clearly insinuated, if not the main point, in his statement, “A Republic, if you can keep it”. I don’t think he saw a world where if the perfect Constitution were created, if that’s even possible, that it would ensure a countries perfection for perpetuity, and that once some near perfect Constitution were in place, that it could never be undone once in place.

As much as different forms of government may be more susceptible or less susceptible to corruption, and I think our form of government does a pretty masterful job at checking power and corruption, whether a country has good or bad government ultimately comes down to whether the people running that government are a good decent and moral people, or not.

No, our Constitution is not failing, our people are. The remedy however…not so simple. The remedy is selflessness. The remedy is honesty. The remedy is sacrifice. The remedy is putting country above party. The remedy is having a country that gives a damn about future generations more than they do themselves. The remedy is less spite, more patience, more understanding, more love, less greed, in short, a relatively moral people.

Our problems are not something that can be fixed with an amendment or a law, not exclusively. We have to treat the symptoms and the illnesses of society, not just the symptoms. We need to treat both. People willfully breaking the law to the extent that they are today, in picking and choosing which laws to enforce, is a symptom of a bigger problem. Passing another law for them to break does little to solve the underlying problems we are seeing manifest themselves.

This country used to be bound by a common moral code that politicians on both sides of the aisle largely possessed, whether Democrat or Republican. Its what made this country work so well for so long; its what made it so great. It was the glue that held this country together, despite its peoples many differences…a moral people, specifically a godly people.

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