The Constitution Question

In a comment to the post “What Should Governments Do?“, Siddhesh wrote:

Although constitution dictates as to what a government can do, the government itself amends constitution to expand its powers and have control over economy. How can we prevent use, or rather misuse of power?

The short answer is that the government is directly in control of the constitution and therefore it can do whatever it pleases to it. The constitution is a piece of paper. The government can disregard the constitution, and literally and figuratively shred it to pieces, and discard it at will. India’s constitution has been amended over 100 times at the whims and fancies of various prime ministers.

Constitutions reflect the intentions, motivations and goals of the framers to start with. Later people can easily enough reject or amend them if they so choose.

The US constitution was written by a bunch of people — the Founding Fathers — after a great deal of deliberation, much of which was conducted in public.[1] It was written by some of the brightest and wisest men of that time. They were not perfect but nor were they your run of the mill, career politicians of today.

Central to their conception of civil society and its relationship to the government was the idea that “we, the people” are the sovereign and the government is our creation. The constitution gave the government very limited powers: powers just enough to discharge its duties but not so much as to become tyrannical. It also ensured that the power of the government was distributed into three branches of government: the Congress legislated, the President executed, and the Supreme Court decided on questions on the constitutionality of legislation.

That was the idea. The US constitution is considered to be perhaps the best in the world. Certainly, the constitution was not perfect — nothing made by humans ever is. Benjamin Franklin (1706 -1790), one of the Founding Fathers, in his final comments to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 said, “… when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views.”

It is reported that as Franklin exited Independence Hall after the convention, a lady asked him, “Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” and he replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

The republic the Founding Fathers created would last only as long as the people were able to keep it. It appears that after about 240 years, the people are unable to keep it. The American republic is crumbling. The constitution shredding has been gaining momentum for around 100 years.

Why?

I think it has to do with what Franklin realized. He said, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

America is losing freedom. Let’s continue to talk about this next.

NOTES:

[1] The record of those discussions are available in what is called the Federalist Papers.

The Federalist Papers is a collection of 85 articles and essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay under the collective pseudonym “Publius” to promote the ratification of the United States Constitution. The collection was commonly known as The Federalist until the name The Federalist Papers emerged in the 20th century. {Wiki.}

Author: Atanu Dey

Economist.

One thought on “The Constitution Question”

  1. Constitution is a bit like Picture of Dorian Grey.

    It is not what is in constitution that changes society. I do not think you can come up with an excellent constitution and as a result you will end up with a better country.

    Constitution is supposed to reflect values of the society. I think American constitution in that regard correctly reflected values of typical working class whites of those times. Note that a various clauses of constitution did not prevent Americans from owning slaves, passing Chinese exclusion act or building Japanese concentration camps during WW2. In the Korematsu case the SC agreed that constitution does not allow government to do such thing and yet ignored the constitution claiming ‘Constitution is not a suicide pact’. You will notice that American public gladly bends over and provides a bottle of lube when government wants to pass stuff like Patriot act that enables warrantless searches on Americans (in violation of constitution). Constitution requires the Congress to authorize any wars however almost all Presidents have bombed other countries without worrying about Congress. It tells you that constitution is mostly irrelevant in areas where people do not care.

    Indian constitution is apparently says all people are equal and yet has article 30 that treats Hindus as second class human garbage who are not allowed to start their own schools. (Remember a Parsi or Jain or Sikh or Muslim has constitutional right to run their schools but Hindus are categorically denied that right.). NOT ONE judge, politician and any major figure of any consequence has question this nonsense. It tells you that Indian society is rotten. No fancy constitution written by Bramha himself would help in that case.

    Indian Constitution correctly reflects India. Since it is amended 100s of times unlike US constitution, it is actually keeping up with Indian society. It is a large document that no one has read. It is full of contradictions and confusion. You have right to free speech, unless of course it does not offend anyone. It is like saying you can eat whatever you want as long as you stuff it up your ass instead of using your mouth.

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