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There is no manual September 8, 2012

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Law, Politics, Reason.

Besides God, there’s something else the Republican Party’s 2012 platform worships:

We possess an owner’s manual: the Constitution of the United States, the greatest political document ever written. That sacred document shows us the path forward…

We salute Republican Members of the House of Representatives for enshrining in the Rules of the House the requirement that every bill must cite the provision of the Constitution which permits its introduction…

We affirm that all legislation, rules, and regulations must conform and public servants must adhere to the U.S. Constitution, as originally intended by the Framers…

…some judges in the federal courts remain far afield from their constitutional limitations. The U.S. Constitution is the law of the land. Judicial activism which includes reliance on foreign law or unratified treaties undermines American law. The sole solution, apart from impeachment, is the appointment of constitutionalist jurists, who will interpret the law as it was originally intended rather than make it.

The Framers of the Constitution were definitely smart people, but they were not infallible; and in any case, they lived in a different world, with no ability to foresee all the issues that confront us in the age of genetic engineering and atomic weapons and the internet. We have the right and the obligation to change our laws as necessary, correcting past mistakes and adapting to new circumstances, regardless of the intentions of our predecessors. There is no reason, for instance, why the Framers’ concerns about militias should forever dictate our policy on personal gun ownership — just as our schools no longer teach science using 18th-century textbooks.

It seems to me that this yearning for an “owner’s manual” — an authoritative rulebook containing the answers to all society’s problems — betrays a desire to avoid having to acknowledge uncomfortable realities and think for oneself. Why work hard to propose and evaluate new policies in the face of risk and uncertainty, when you can suppress doubt and achieve instant righteousness as an uncompromising defender of venerable traditions? If we care about reality, however, we cannot afford such blind faith. No document should ever be treated as sacred, and all laws must be perpetually open for reevaluation. There is no infallible, eternal manual for building a perfect society — it’s always a work in progress.


1. David Resnick - September 9, 2012

couldn ‘t agree more (with you, not the republicans). did you see the cute NYorker cartoon about the Founding Fathers? but there’s still the question, “work in progress *toward what*?” i.e. what are the (worthy) goals of human life, individual and social. how would “we” define “a perfect society”?

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