For Whom Was the Bill of Rights?

 

What kind of guy did the Founders have in mind when they hammered out the Bill of Rights?  Let’s call him Nathaniel. First, Nathaniel was a man of conscience and that was his primary concern in constructing a new political order.  The first set of items in the list of enumerated rights bars the government from infringing on his right to live and express his most cherished beliefs.  It also means that there can be no governmental attempt to impose beliefs nor mandate deference to such.  The right to speak out, to publish, the right to organize, to petition all flow from the inherent right to live and speak the truth as whatever Nathaniel understood it to be and which relationship with these truths provided him with meaning and purpose.

Second, Nathaniel believed he had a moral duty to protect his family, his property, his neighbors, and his community. He retained arms to discharge that obligation.  His gun was not a hobby nor some arbitrary possession but a fundamental component in a morally defined life.

The next two items naturally follow a requirement of his property and person.  The four after that deal with the application of law in accordance with the rights and dignity to which he is entitled.  That last two simply declare that those in power should not try to circumvent these basic rights by inventing new instruments of power and authority–Nathaniel does not trust those with political power not to try something like that.

On top of it all was an assumption of personal agency.  Nathanial would be responsible for making his own living and managing his property and assets in a prudent manner.  Women, children, the indentured, and the enslaved bore no such scope of responsibilities and were thus dependent on some guy like Nathaniel to do the right thing where they were concerned.

However, as a matter of logic and moral intuition, the concept of natural rights could not be conditioned on agency, existing empowerment, or on any status other than the common humanity in which our rights inhere.  The essence of the Bill of Rights has inexorably (if slowly) brushed aside limitations on its applicability.  It reached out to include white men without property, freed black men, and eventually women.  Like some tectonic plates not allowed to move until the force builds up to cause an earthquake, the delay in ending slavery inevitably led to a violent rupture.  The American moral essence would not be suppressed.

Racism, sexism, and elitism were external constraints on the unfolding of the essential nature of the American Project. Reversing that obvious truth to proclaim that the “-isms” comprise the essence and that liberty and natural rights are an illusion or façade requires a serious personal commitment to malicious ignorance.

But what if instead of Nathaniel we have a guy with no moral depth or referents?  What if that guy wanted security more than freedom, a freedom for which he has no use because he has no compelling moral vision to live out?  What if he came to experience a personal emptiness, a lack of direction, a terror at being unable to understand or define himself and thus readily adopted the tenets of whatever cult came along and let that define and contain him?  What if he came to view notions like self-reliance, public debate, duty, and honor as threatening rather than ennobling?  What if his goal was to obtain material security and comforts while simultaneously pawning off as much responsibility as possible on the collective? What if his moral appetites consisted solely of attempts to achieve identity and moral satisfaction through ideological gestures and cost-free cant?

In other words, if instead of a country typified by old Nathaniel we are instead a bunch of Holden Caulfields, Raskolnikovs, or hordes of the Woke would we still have a Bill of Rights? Or would the whole constitutional order disappear simply because we no longer want what it was designed to protect and preserve?

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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    As far as many on the Left are concerned, there is no Bill of Rights, since they consider the Constitution illegitimate. They intend to do whatever suits them, whether their intentions are personal or ideological. The more ardent Left knows the Bill of Rights exists, and do see it as a roadblock to their goals. Whether they can enlist the support of those people who are just interested in getting their own selfish demands met is still up in the air.

    Let’s hope we have enough strength and determination to stop them.

    • #1
  2. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    As far as many on the Left are concerned, there is no Bill of Rights, since they consider the Constitution illegitimate. They intend to do whatever suits them, whether their intentions are personal or ideological. The more ardent Left knows the Bill of Rights exists, and do see it as a roadblock to their goals. Whether they can enlist the support of those people who are just interested in getting their own selfish demands met is still up in the air.

    Let’s hope we have enough strength and determination to stop them.

    Well, when our own Ambassador to the United Nations believes that “White Supremacy is weaved into our founding documents and principles”, I suspect that tells us all we need to know about the Biden administration.

    And they’re going to defend us from “all enemies, foreign and domestic”?

    • #2
  3. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    The Bill of Rights was written for an immediate political problem: without the Bill of Rights, not enough of the state committees would have approved the Constitution for it to be adopted. What was behind that is close to what you have  described. Even then Rhode Island had to be coerced into the union.

    • #3
  4. Unsk Member
    Unsk
    @Unsk

    Perhaps the Left needs to be put into a position where they may need to be protected by  those old, illegitimate Bill of Rights and then perhaps they will know what the Constitution is for.  I am afraid that is the only way they will learn. 

    • #4
  5. Django Member
    Django
    @Django

    Or: 

    What if we had a President who babbled about “positive” rights not in the Constitution? 

    What if we had a member of SCOTUS who did not consider our Constitution as a good starting point if she were given a blank slate? 

    What if we had another member of the SCOTUS who thought it appropriate to consult the constitutions of other nations when interpreting ours? (Only when those other documents supported his view, of course.)

    What if we had members of the Demo-rat party who think that the preamble to the Constitution, specifically the words “promote the general Welfare“, gives them authority to do whatever promotes the general welfare in their eyes? 

    I could go on, but I’ve depressed myself enough for today. 

    • #5
  6. MWD B612 "Dawg" Member
    MWD B612 "Dawg"
    @danok1

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    As far as many on the Left are concerned, there is no Bill of Rights, since they consider the Constitution illegitimate. They intend to do whatever suits them, whether their intentions are personal or ideological. The more ardent Left knows the Bill of Rights exists, and do see it as a roadblock to their goals. Whether they can enlist the support of those people who are just interested in getting their own selfish demands met is still up in the air.

    Let’s hope we have enough strength and determination to stop them.

    Well, when our own Ambassador to the United Nations believes that “White Supremacy is weaved into our founding documents and principles”, I suspect that tells us all we need to know about the Biden administration.

    And they’re going to defend us from “all enemies, foreign and domestic”?

    Well, to them we’re the enemy that they need to defend against.

    • #6
  7. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    MWD B612 "Dawg" (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    As far as many on the Left are concerned, there is no Bill of Rights, since they consider the Constitution illegitimate. They intend to do whatever suits them, whether their intentions are personal or ideological. The more ardent Left knows the Bill of Rights exists, and do see it as a roadblock to their goals. Whether they can enlist the support of those people who are just interested in getting their own selfish demands met is still up in the air.

    Let’s hope we have enough strength and determination to stop them.

    Well, when our own Ambassador to the United Nations believes that “White Supremacy is weaved into our founding documents and principles”, I suspect that tells us all we need to know about the Biden administration.

    And they’re going to defend us from “all enemies, foreign and domestic”?

    Well, to them we’re the enemy that they need to defend against.

    All 65 million of us.  

    • #7
  8. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    The left hates the idea of rights accruing through protection from the government rather than by being issued by the government.  They will claim to value the same human rights but any overriding policy goal of the moment will always trump the suggestions/recommendations/aspirations listed in the Bill of Rights.  We only need protection from the government when it is in evil hands.  As with Al Qaeda, Bolsheviks or MSNBC, the idea of any restriction on government power when it is in the right hands is absurd or immoral.

    • #8
  9. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    My opinions:

    Old Bathos: …if instead of a country typified by old Nathaniel we are instead a bunch of Holden Caulfields, Raskolnikovs, or hordes of the Woke would we still have a Bill of Rights?

    We’ve become such a country; we still have a Bill of Rights as part of the law of the land, but it is necessarily a dead letter.

     

    Old Bathos: Or would the whole constitutional order disappear simply because we no longer want what it was designed to protect and preserve?

    The whole constitutional order disappeared simply because we no longer want what it was designed to protect and preserve.

     

    • #9
  10. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    My opinions:

    Old Bathos: …if instead of a country typified by old Nathaniel we are instead a bunch of Holden Caulfields, Raskolnikovs, or hordes of the Woke would we still have a Bill of Rights?

    We’ve become such a country; we still have a Bill of Rights as part of the law of the land, but it is necessarily a dead letter.

     

    Old Bathos: Or would the whole constitutional order disappear simply because we no longer want what it was designed to protect and preserve?

    The whole constitutional order disappeared simply because we no longer want what it was designed to protect and preserve.

     

    Dark. 

    • #10
  11. philo Member
    philo
    @philo

    Old Bathos: But what if instead…

    As I quote all too often:

    “[A] significant and growing portion of the American population is losing the virtues required to be functioning members of a free society.” – Charles Murray in Coming Apart (Page 289), 2012

    Nearly a decade after Murray wrote that, we seem to have hit the tipping point. A free society will not last with the scales so out of balance (…not to mention the pocket book).

    In related news, I am now finding similar gems in some older sources:

    There are stern obligations upon those who would hold these [American] liberties – self-restraint, insistence upon truth, order, and justice, vigilance of opinion, and co-operation in the common welfare. – Herbert Hoover in The Challenge to Liberty (Page 3), 1934

    A functioning majority of far too many of our institutions  – one and a half of our major political parties, most of the Supreme Court, the Executive Branch of our Federal Behemoth (looking directly at the F B I…but it is hardly alone), etc., etc., etc. – now champion the insistence on the exact opposite of the requirements listed. Yet, We the People largely slumber on.

    So “we no longer want what it was designed to protect and preserve” seems about right.

    • #11
  12. WillowSpring Member
    WillowSpring
    @WillowSpring

    As the brilliant John Adams said:

    Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

    I am sorry to say that we seem to have proven him right.

    • #12
  13. MISTER BITCOIN Member
    MISTER BITCOIN
    @MISTERBITCOIN

    This union is becoming more and more imperfect by the hour

     

    • #13