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No Treason: Screw a constitution

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We frequently make political arguments based on constitutional law: This or that proposal violates the Bill of Rights and so on.

Really though, I don’t particularly believe in the US Constitution. It’s not holy writ handed down from on high. It’s not the word of a living God. It’s a political document hammered out in committee buy some politicians a couple of hundred years ago.

Like the general idea of democracy, the US Constitution is a (sometimes) useful tool for establishing order and protecting our liberties. I don’t argue about First Amendment rights because they’re in the holy written constitution, but because the constitution codifies my inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The US Constitution is a good thing exactly to the extent that it protects our freedom.

On the other hand, this thing can be screwed and become useless. A bunch of jackasses could decide to amend the document to say that the government could, for example, lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived. This would make the whole thing considerably less worthy of support.

Anyway, making some kind of religious totem out of a legal document doesn’t reflect truth or usefulness, nor does it suit my contrary personal constitution.

In fact, the constitution was controversial at the time. We all know about the famous Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, et al. There were at the same time, however, numerous ANTI-federalist papers arguing against the constitution, which was engineered to vastly increase the powers of the central government over the original Articles of Confederation.

HERE is a modern article giving a brief skeptical historical sketch of the original circumstances surrounding ratification of the US Constitution.

But there’s one classic short book that lays out the case against the constitution on basic legal contract grounds. No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority was written by Lysander Spooner in 1869. He lays out a simple, clear extended legal argument against the entire overall legal authority of the constitution based on principles of basic common contract law.

Short version: I never agreed to obey any constitution. I didn’t sign any “social contract.” COMPLETE TEXT HERE Typically included as an addendum to published versions of the book, he also wrote a letter to his congressman making a short version of the same basic argument, concluding with a polite demand that the congress vote to disband and go home.

If you start out from a basic premise of self-ownership, Spooner’s arguments seem utterly unassailable. Why, exactly, do I owe any allegiance to the edicts of the US government? I might be somewhat willing to co-operate somewhat on general practical consideration, or most specifically on the desire not to be thrown in jail. Beyond that, the duty to obey the law simply because it is the law doesn’t really register.

I’m not anti-social, and I don’t intend to go around raping and pillaging. That’s no way for people to live. Further, we have practical problems that can’t be ignored that this doesn’t give us any clue to solving, such as national defense. The US Constitution has been the most useful tool (other than a house full of guns) to keeping the looting and pillaging down to a minimum (at least until the 16thh Amendment), so I give some begrudging willful co-operation.

However, this basic argument against the supposed social contract makes a compelling case. You should definitely consider Spooner’s classic case before you go blathering on about having rights to health care or education or anything else provided by the government.

Indeed, everyone should read this book. An average reader could read the whole thing in probably not much more than an hour, and it will give you a really strong alternate reality tunnel from the worldviews that somehow justify the semi-slavery of the modern welfare state.

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  • Lysander Spooner? You have got to make it a point to tell Diva that you have read more than two authors.

    I agree that too many people treat the constitution like a holy document. Keep in mind that we have changed that sucker many times, and we keep thinking of new revisions. But it will never be perfect.

    I especially hate it when people invoke the name, The Founding Fathers, as if they are our creators, our gods. Please see my blog on this: Propaganda – Founding Fathers, WWFFD, and Labeling. People keep saying, “the FFs intended this,” or “the FFs intended that.” How about thinking for themselves and forgetting about this Founding Father crap? The sad thing is that I hypocritically go to Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin sometimes in arguments because they seem to have this magical power over people. Hypothetical:

      Mr. White says, “Horse shit tastes horrible.”
      I say, “Thomas Jefferson, one of our oh-so-magnificent Founding Fathers, said that ‘horse shit is an everlasting joy upon the tongue.'”
      Mr. White says, “Oh, I must give it a try then.”

    Invoking the Founding Fathers works almost every time. It’s like the Jedi Mind Trick. I guess people unconsciously want to have the comforting feeling that some all-knowing founding fathers put everything into place correctly so that all would go well in this country.

    And so, too, do they need a holy document. I know I’m meandering now, but it reminds me of a Star Trek episode (Geek alert! Geek alert!) in which the Enterprise crew encounters a people on a planet who serve this computer thing as a god. It tells them what to do, and they are completely in the dark about its technological make-up. Kirk knows better, seeing that it is a computer with a program created by some other alien species. He tries so hard to convince the people of the planet that their “creator” is not really their creator, but he can’t get it through their skulls. Al, I think that those people had a violent reaction to Kirk’s “blasphemy” (an Allegory of the Cave type reaction). You better watch out. Someone may come barging (no pun intended) in your door shouting, “treason,” and “unpatriotic heathen.” I better hide, too.

    All we need is a person to fill the role of “Pope” so that he or she can properly interpret the word of the Founding Fathers. Bush, Cheney, Dean, Kerry, Sharpton–they all seem to be competing for the role of chief interpreter (philosopher king). I don’t want our president to be a Constitution Pope. The President is supposed to try to represent the people–not dictate to them the magical word of our creators, the Founding Fathers.

    Based on what I have read so far, the article that you mention is good for consideration and perspective. But what do you want out of it? Do you want to live in a world like the wasteland that Mad Max encountered in The Road Warrior? Actually, I would like to give it a try, but I would probably wind up being the guy who got his fingers sliced off by that little bastard’s bladed boomerang. I would like to say I would be the psycho mohawk guy, but he was that iron-masked mutant’s bitch. Why not Mad Max himself, you might ask? Because that idiot let those monsters kill his dog. I’d never let that happen.

    I don’t have the desire to get into a huge debate about anarchism or libertarianism. In these overlapping ideologies, I have found some things that I like. I only have one question for now: how do you have property and ownership of things when there is no government?

  • Don Stevens

    In response to the eloquent put down of our Founding Fathers and the document they wrote (The Constitution of the United Sates of America) I paraphrase one of those FFs:
    “If all men were angels, all laws and documents attempting to civilize those who comprise a nation, would be useless.”

  • Oh, I must give it a try then.

  • DG- I don’t particularly have any answer as to how to protect underlying property rights and basic societal functioning totally without a government. Thus, I begrudgingly accept that we pretty much HAVE to have one, much as we all must be subject to having bowels. That doesn’t mean I have to like it, or that I expect the crap to take up half my life.

    With the absolutist Spooner perspective in mind though, I still get dumbfounded hearing about plans for new levels of entitlement programs and regulations of all kinds. I mean, you people are doing good to get me to tolerate even the government authorized in the constitution- let alone going absolutely nuts with it as we have since FDR.

    I’m all in favor of the founding fathers. I invoke them all the time, and don’t mind doing so. Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, Madison- they were some pretty smart dudes. Their names carry weight with me.

    That doesn’t mean that they are holy idols who can’t be disagreed with, however. Their achievements generally make me inclined to give extra consideration to an idea. If Thomas Jefferson said it, it probably merits careful consideration. Then again, sometimes he was just wrong. Jefferson’s recommendation might cause me TRY some horseshit- but then I’d judge the flavor for myself

    The Diva doesn’t really have much clue as to what I’ve read, in that I don’t gratuitously drop in names of authors or books to prove how smart I am.

    For the record, I’ve read at least THREE authors. Besides the Rand and Mencken she cites, I’m also WELL versed in Theodor Geisel, thank you very much.