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Returning to the Constitution (2011)

 

Collected works published in the late 1780s by the Founding Fathers, and now known as The Federalist Papers, consist of 85 essays and papers which seem to reveal the overall philosophy and motivations for the proposed system of government under the new constitution not then ratified. Nowadays the highest court in the land professes to use this work as a primary source when interpreting the Constitution. Political activists frequently use selected quotes in advancing various populist causes, especially when trying to force administrations to "get back to the constitution" in governing some area of interest.

That rallying cry typically is effective in building support even though the written Constitution never has been more than an icon or ideal. In his 1981 book entitled Democratic Dictatorship constitutional authority Arthur Selwyn Miller detailed the evolution of the intangible living Constitution and explained how and why it is America's de facto governing document, trumping the paper document in every instance. The book also reveals constant gravitation of executive branch powers toward dictatorship.1

There always have been enormous disparities between orchestrated popular perceptions and the undeniable realities of American government machinery, methods, and motivations. For example everyone knows that free speech is protected by one of the first ten amendments to the Constitution and that the Constitution precludes the use of federal military force against American civilians. These two facts are widespread sources of national pride and yet far removed from unadvertised historical realities.

My generation is reasonably familiar with federal crackdowns on non-violent student dissidents in the 1960s and with arrests of eloquent demonstrators expressing non-mainstream views in public places. Nevertheless most of us know nothing of earlier repressions of American free speech even though we thank Howard Zinn for chronicling unjust imprisonments of Eugene Debs and Emma Goldman, both of whom, along with others, served hard prison time for vocally opposing the military draft during WWI.2

And many of us erroneously believed the 1970 deaths of four Kent State students at the hands of Ohio National Guardsmen to be unprecedented anomalies in American history.3 Unfortunately there also is a documented trail of American blood from National Guard rifles at Ludlow, Colorado, in 1914 2 to the armed tanks of Waco, Texas, in 1993.4 And in every case American citizens died unjustly and unnecessarily at the hands of zealous federal troops or employees none of whom were held reasonably accountable for inane actions, excused, if you will, in the line of duty. Most certainly there are more and older cases but as a group we are ignorant of similar incidents transpiring from 1776.

The germane point is not that these incidents occur but that they reoccur in time. Despite the Constitution government in these United States always has been, and always will be, relative to circumstance. In the words of Arthur Miller: "government in the United States has always been as powerful as circumstances necessitated, as perceived by the relevant political officers", perhaps a palatable way of saying that government acts with impunity in doing whatever it believes it must do to maintain the status quo while achieving its sole core business goals of self-aggrandizement and expansion.

In any case governing by the written Constitution seems a reasonable first step toward curing many of the ills plaguing this rapidly disintegrating empire, certainly it would be worth a try. The mythological great republic governed by adherence to the written Constitution has never existed nor has any true American golden age. Surely the greatest hopes of rugged individualists died in 1787 alongside Shay's Rebellion2 and any hopes of harboring subtle trademark characteristics of individual autonomy in America.

 

Endnotes:

1Arthur Selwyn Miller. 1981. "Democratic Dictatorship: The Emergent Constitution of Control". Greenwood Press.
2Howard Zinn. 1999. "A People's History of the United States". HarperCollins Press.
3Ohiohistorycentral.org. "Kent State Shootings". Last retrieved February 04, 2016 (http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Kent_State_Shootings).
4Carol Moore. 2000. "The Davidian Massacre Pages". CarolMoore.net. Last retrieved September 20, 2015 (http://carolmoore.net/waco/).

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