Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Grand Illusion

I've just finished reading a very interesting, and a very troubling book: Who Killed the Constitution: The Fate of American Liberty from World War I to George W. Bush, by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. and Kevin R. C. Gutzman.

Many Americans worry that the Constitution is dying. Leading the chorus are those critics, mostly on the Right, who decry activist judges for rendering the Constitution more and more irrelevant with their twisted decisions, which substitute their political preferences for the nation's highest law. In recent years other voices, mostly from the Left, have joined in, deploring President George W. Bush and his administration's supposedly unprecedented attacks on the Constitution.

We have bad news for both sets of critics: the Constitution is already dead. It died a long time ago. (From the introduction)

The authors go on to examine "the dirty dozen," twelve of the most eggregious examples of the federal government's disregard of constitutional authority.

This is no partisan screed. Republicans and Democrats alike come under scrutiny. Nor is it aimed at just one branch of the federal government. Woods and Gutzman examine Presidents, Congress, and the Federal Judiciary, and there is plenty of blame to go around.

There have always been men in office who have stretched the meaning of the Constitution to suit their political ambitions, but the 20th century has seen an extraordinary acceleration in the corruption of constitutional limitations of power. In earlier times the average citizen knew the Constitution better and kept their leaders accountable. I have to wonder how many citizens today have actually ever read the Constitution, let alone are familiar with its provisions. Most seem to live under the grand illusion that the Constitution is alive and well. Reading this book will disabuse them of the notion.

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