In recent years commitment to the integrity of the United States Constitution on the part of political leaders and others has been seriously questioned. This is a serious charge.
Those who understand and value the importance of the Constitution, will also understand the importance of remaining vigilant in its defense.
This is an emotional concern for many people. The recent proliferation of armed citizen militias across the country has drawn attention to the strong feelings associated with it.
Clearly it would be wise for us to think pragmatically about how we can ensure the integrity of the Constitution. And, this requires thoughtful consideration of means and ends.
An unrestrained emotionalism that leads to destructiveness could cause precisely the opposite of its’ intended purpose.
It was Hayek who said, “the principle that the ends justify the means is in individualist ethics regarded as the denial of all morals.”
In my view, Harry Emerson Fosdick stated this truth most clearly: “He who chooses the beginning of the road chooses the place it leads to. It is the means that determine the end.”
Ayn Rand drove the point home most emphatically in her own indomitable style: “An attempt to achieve the good by force is like an attempt to provide a man with a picture gallery at the price of cutting out his eyes.”
Americans can easily recognize the challenge of this logic. In the heat of battle nothing is more important than a clear mind. Yet, we human beings are emotional creatures.
So, let’s take a look at the reasons why incivility, antagonism, and especially the threat of violence, will actually subvert our efforts to defend what we believe in. I suggest four reasons here, as follows.
First, force, or threat of force, subverts the Constitution itself, immediately destroying its’ capacity to function as intended and effectively nullifying its existence.
Indeed, the Founders created a structure for governance that depends on civility and moral responsibility among participants. The Founders depend on our readiness to adjust our behavior accordingly, so as not to subvert the dignity and integrity of their purpose.
Second, hostile tactics conducted by even a tiny minority would make it difficult, even impossible, for more disciplined and rational strategies to be mounted effectively. Indeed, such actions could actually set back their own cause for decades.
Why? The use of force by a militia group would harden the attitudes of most Americans toward their stated purpose or philosophy. This would make it far more difficult for any of us to win a fair hearing from citizens who respect the rule of law.
Third, any rebellion by force of arms pits itself against the uniformed services – police agencies and the military. These are our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and sworn defenders of the Constitution.
Members of militias need to be clear who exactly they intend to fight, and who they would rather attract and win over in a battle for hearts and minds.
Fourth, the vast majority of Americans value the character of the United States deeply. And, they recognize the fundamental role of the Constitution in making it all possible. If we wish Americans to have a better understanding of how the Constitutional structure of governance should function, it will not be accomplished by beating them up.
Rather it will require rational argument that can be heard and understood. This means committing ourselves to teaching what we believe in, and learning how best to do that.
Not only do we depend on civil order for the safety of our families, for safe streets, jobs, schools and hospitals, but there is a fundamental principle involved: We cannot defend what we believe in by tearing it down.
The course of action that will preserve the Constitution and renew the strength of the Union calls us to address our countrymen with well-considered reasoning, presented compellingly and in a composed and self-possessed manner.
The Constitution will last far into the future if, and only if, Americans stand by it with steadfast adherence to the rule of law and the civility the Founders expected of us.
A note to regular readers: During the holidays blog posts will appear slightly less often. Please watch for the next post to appear on or about December 2. A description of the project and several chapter drafts appear elsewhere on this page.