Religiosity in the U.S.

Dhlazare at Dhlazare at
Sat Jun 13 04:51:15 PDT 1998

Some responses to JKS's replies concerning the U.S. Constitution:

JKS: But this is pretty formalistic; the founders are not taken as actual

guides except when its convenient for present purposes.

DHL: Of course; Jerry Falwell only quotes those biblical passages that are convenient to his purposes as well. But the point is that rhetorical weapons like these only work in a culture in which the Bible and/or the Federalist Papers are automatically regarded as authoritative without ever asking why this should be so.


> In fact, we can take this a step farther. Two things stand out about the US

> constitutional tradition. One is that it lacks any coherent concept of

> sovereignty as the term was defined by Hobbes and Bentham -- no concept that

> someone must be ultimately in charge, no concept of a people's government as

> the source of law rather than something subordinate to it.

You mean, as subordinate to the law? This is, as the software engineers

say, a feature, not a bug: the system was designed so taht the government

was not, pace Hobbes, above the law, but restrined by it. What's wrong

with that idea?

DHL: What's wrong with it is simply the question of who is to judge the law? How can the people determine if the law is functioning i f they are not in a position to change it?

Instead, power is

> endlessly fragmented, and the people ar hamstrung even in their ability to

> change the Constitution created in their name.

The endless fragmwentation which you speak is also a feature: it's called

checks and balances and seperation of powers. This is a structural way of

constraining the government. The difficulty of amending the Constitutuion

is also a feature; it's supposed to put the basic astructure above the

ordinary tug and pull of politics so that, for example, the First

Amendment can't be repealed easily if people feel like shuttiong someone up.

DHL: But it puts constitutional structure above any democratic control whatsoever. Constitutional law is sanctified as a consequence while ordinary politics is debased -- precisely the situation we now have in the US.

Politics is an endless merry-

> go-round involving Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, etc.

This is supposed to be bad? You'd prefer an efficient dictatorship, maybe,

with everyone following the will of the Fuhrer?

DHL: No, the alternative is democracy - popular sovereignty -- in which govt is an instrument the people can both comprehend and control.


> other thing, as Hobbes and Bentham would have predicted, is that the govt that

> results from this absurd constitutional set-up is consistently dysfunctional.

> It continually breaks down, dissolves into rancor and confusion, and ends up

> in corruption and demoralization.

But it is the oldest and most stable Constitutional structure in the

world, and pretty much the model for most new Constitutions. So maybe

there's something to it.

Less than 75 years after adoption, the Constitution gave rise to a Civil War in which some 600K lives were lost. Thereafter, came massive corruption, Jim Crow, stifling conservatism, repeated red scares, massive repression of labor, urban collapse, and yet more political corruption. This is stability?

Amid all this disarray, however, the US has

> emerged as the sole remaining superpower.

A mystery, given the ridiculous and impractical Constitution.

Hence, the widespread belief that a

> dysfunctional political system is somehow the key to greatness. The fact that

> the people are not sovereign in the US system reinforces the belief that

> sovereignty inheres in God.

What? The people are no less sovereign here than ina ny other capitalist

democracy, say, Britain, with no written Constitutrion and Parlaimentary

supremacy. And I do think that most Americans think that the people are,

or ought to be, sovereign, and not God.

Britain is an interesting case. But every other European constitution that I'm aware of sets forth clear definition of popular sovereignty as the source of all power and political legitimacy in a democratic society. The U.S. Constitution does not. The Preamble would appear define the people as sovereign, but the rest of the Constitution effectively hobbles the power of the people's government and, in Article V, the amending clause, severely limits the ability ofthe people to amend the document created in their name, i.e. the Constitution.

As a Russian political scientist named Moisei

> Ostrogorsky once put it, "God takes care of drunkards, of little children, and

> of the United States." The fact that political failure coexists with

> political triumph is a sign of divine intervention. Only God could take

> something so absurd and make it work. Therefore, all those lilliputians in

> Washington don't matter, because something higher is clearly guiding the

> American ship of state.

Maybe a differwent explanation is that the system is not so absurb after all.



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