Do we have too much faith in the US Constitution?

I'll start with what I mean by faith. Faith is believing something to be true or right without adequate evidence. If you have evidence for something, you don't need faith. The US Constitution is a wonderful document. It sets out to create the world's first liberal democracy, seeking to guarantee individual freedoms by anchoring them in the founding document itself and creating a government with divided branches all meant to keep each other in check. It is at once a reflection of human hopes for a better world, an attempt to make those hopes reality, and an implicit acceptance of the fallibility and corruptibility of individuals, especially those in power. It looks to the light, but the very need for it suggests a darkness it was meant to prevent (the darkness of tyranny, authoritarianism, and plain old bad governance).

Judged by the standards it set out, the Constitution is an incredibly successful document. The United States has not become a dictatorship, nor has it ever succumbed to dangerous ideologies like communism or fascism. It has remained flexible, changing as the times required to maintain a functioning society. The Constitution itself has also changed over time as the citizens of the United States sought to improve their democracy, something the Founding Fathers anticipated when the wrote the document and specified ways in which it could be changed.

But perhaps the success of the United States, which derives so heavily from its founding document, has led us to revere the Constitution as if it were an immutable holy text. Ideas (and I am taking no position on whether they are good or not) that might change how members of Congress are elected or would abolish the Electoral College are often rejected as if they were heresy rather than viewed according to their merits. The right to bear arms (which I actually support, by the way) is defended not so much on grounds of reason but because it is seen as an inalienable right given, not by god, but by the Constitution. It's almost as if the Founding Fathers were prophets.

What do you think? Do we view the Constitution as if it were something mere mortals ought not to change? Is this good or bad?


Popular Posts