Religiosity in the U.S.

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Sat Jun 13 05:46:35 PDT 1998

> JKS: But this is pretty formalistic; the founders are not taken as actual
> guides except when its convenient for present purposes.
> DHL: 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.

Every culture in the world treats sacred texts this way.

JKS 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?

"It is most emphatically the province of the judiciary to say what the law is." --Justice Marshall, Marbury v. Madison.

> How can the people determine if the law is functioning i f they are not in a
> position to change it?

Firstly, this is silly. To the extent that we cannot change the law, we can certainly still see whether we like the results or not. Second, in many respects and over a wide if sharply delimited area, we can change the law. That's waht politics is about.


We were speaking of checks and balances.
> 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.

OK, so you prefer parlaimentary supremacy to constitutional democracy,w hich is _precilely_ supposed to insulate the constitutional structure from democratic control. On the other hand, from my expoerience of living in Europe, parlaimentary politics is pretty debased too.

> 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.

As the case of Britain shows, parlaimentary supremacy doesn;t guarantee that.

> 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?

Oh, it was the Conmstitution taht did all those things. Gee, pardon me, I thought it was slavery, capiatlsim, and imperilaism. But what do I know, I'm just a bone headed materialist. However, the point is that the cConstitution has created a governmental structuere flexible enough to survive all that with a functionaing bourgeois democracy. Look at France or Germany over the last 200 years in comparison.

> 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.

There's no question that the Constitution is based on a conception of popular sovereignty and also--this is the hobbling part--limited government. You don;t like the idea of limited government? Got a problem with the bill of rights?


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