OPINION –Sept. 17 is a date that comes and goes virtually unnoticed by most Americans. It’s a strong indicator that a sort of constitutional illiteracy has taken hold in our nation. Why is this so?
It has been 224 years since the Constitutional Convention concluded in Philadelphia. The limited government that was called into existence by the Constitution hardly resembles the all-powerful one we live under today. But the remarkable document produced by the delegates of 1787 still holds special meaning to those who love liberty.
Benjamin Franklin, at the conclusion of the Philadelphia convention, noted: “I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other.”
It’s clear that Ben Franklin recognized that the mere existence of the Constitution itself was not enough to guarantee freedom.
Franklin was speaking to certain truths about human nature that transcends the limits of a particular time or era. He understood that over time, a people’s moral and political language could become degraded to where the language of their fathers began to sound strange and alien.
The wisdom behind the Constitution includes ideas that have stood the test of time for many centuries.
It included Aristotle’s ideas from “Politics” which combined the best features of several different forms of government into a polity. It incorporated concepts from Montesquieu’s “The Spirit of Laws” including the separation of power to prevent despotism. The Constitution also benefited from John Locke’s “Second Treatise on Civil Government” with its emphasis on natural rights that pre-exist government and the delegation of limited powers by common consent to government in order to protect those rights.
Understanding the significance of these influences doesn’t require advanced degrees in constitutional law, U.S. history or linguistics. It does require a basic knowledge of how correct forms or principles perpetuate well-administered government and liberty while bad forms tend to diminish them.
It is our good fortune that the forms found in our Constitution were not intended only for the time in which it was framed, but for future generations as well.
Unfortunately, most Americans have a frame of reference that stretches back only as far as they can clearly recall things, which could be days, weeks or mere hours. The insight that our government no longer operates within its proper limits usually follows a period of questioning and original research. Sadly, these are not activities that the current government school system encourages or rewards.
As a result, much of what we do know about the proper role of government and the Constitution is false. These falsehoods are perpetuated when a majority of Americans cling to the civic faith they were taught in school. It’s rare to find those who resist distraction by the modern equivalent of bread and circuses long enough to believe in anything at all.
Today’s headlines are increasingly filled with stories about government power being expanded into many areas of our lives that were previously off limits. These include expanding federal regulation of health care, privacy, education, the economy, private property and even the food we eat. The real question remains as to whether such powers over these areas were actually delegated to the federal government in the first place.
Restoring greater freedom by correcting these usurpations requires a populace that has genuine familiarity with our Constitution and requires obedience on the part of their government. Otherwise we must concede that Ben Franklin was right when he suggested that our corruption has rendered us unfit for anything but despotism.
We don’t have to march in political lockstep, but we should agree on the main principles of proper government:
- Our natural rights come from God and government is created to protect those rights.
- We the people delegate limited powers to the government that it may keep us free, not mercilessly rule over every aspect of our lives.
If Sept. 17 were to once again become a day that actually had meaning to us that would be a start in the right direction. Better still, every day should be Constitution day as far as our government is concerned.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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