Fixing the Founding
While devotion to the U.S. Constitution has always been a defining mark of traditionalist conservatism, traditionalists nevertheless tend to see the Constitution as flawed in at least one key respect. It is that the Constitution only lays out the procedural frame of government, without any reference to the particular nature of the society—we might say the small “c” constitution of the society—for which that government exists. This made complete sense to the Founders, as the federal government only served limited purposes affecting the entire Union, primarily national defense, foreign relations, and interstate commerce, while most substantive social issues such as property law, criminal law, marriage law, the franchise, citizenship, slavery (and later segregation), religion, laws affecting individual behavior, even laws against sedition, were all handled at the state and local level.
The down-side of this, as Jim Kalb has pointed out, is that the federal government, being the highest and most authoritative level of our society, became the model for the whole society, so that America as a country has tended over time (with the help of a revolution carried out by the U.S. Supreme Court) to be seen as a mere abstraction, lacking any inherent substantive character, particularly any religious, cultural, or ethnic character, which most certainly was not the case at the time of the Founding. This makes it virtually impossible for modern Americans to articulate and preserve our actual historical cultural identity. America simply becomes, in James Fallows’ cheerfully sinister phrase, an “arena,” where different people and peoples seek to fulfill their desires. Or, as the neoconservatives put it, America becomes nothing but an idea, having no historic ethnic or religious character at all.
Traditionalists, including myself, believe that this process of abstraction might have been prevented or at least slowed if the Constitution had contained explicit references to the concrete nature of American society, especially its religious, moral, and ethnic dimensions. The Founders of course made many statements emphasizing the importance of these particularist facts about America, but they never became part of the official Founding documents. And once again, because the documents are the most authoritative thing, their abstractness has become the ruling paradigm for America as a whole.
Here therefore is something I’ve talked about doing for years, an experiment in re-imagining the American Founding. I’ve written a section that in my view could and should have been part of the original Constitution. I’ve based it on two famous quotes (while adding connective and explanatory text): John Jay’s remark in Federalist No. 2 about the ethnocultural unity of the American people, and John Adams’s comment about the indispensable place of morality and religion in our form of government.
This is only a first attempt, and I welcome criticism and suggestions.
United States Constitution, Article VII, Section 1 (appearing just before the closing section of the Constitution which lays out the procedures for ratification):Here are the two quotes on which I based the above paragraph:
John Jay, Federalist No. 2:
Posted by Lawrence Auster at February 10, 2006 08:50 PM | Send