The Piecemeal Constitution

In their heart of hearts, the Left doesn’t care for constitutions, particularly ours, as this buzz-worthy New York Times piece by Georgetown Law Professor Louis Michael Seidman — arguing that the Constitution has created a dysfunctional government — shows.

There are many typical flaws with such arguments, which reappear in American history: it obviously picks and chooses in wishing to dispense with much of the structural Constitution (such as separation of powers and federalism) while keeping favored individual rights; it only likes some individual rights (speech) but not others (property); it risks massive instability in politics, as no constitutional rules become possible; it fails to recognize the serious decision-making problems with simple majoritarianism; and it ignores the experience of other countries, which have suffered terribly under more majoritarian constitutions.

But it is worth asking a deeper question: why does the Left, starting at least with Woodrow Wilson and the early Progressives, if not before, repeatedly oppose the Constitution? And why do conservatives, by nature, defend its original meaning? I think the answer could be simple.

The Left, beginning with the French Revolution, has believed that it has discovered the highest truth or the secret to the universe (and it is not 42, though today it does seem to be the quest for numerical equality). What is the Constitution to stand in the way of cosmic justice?

Conservatives, starting with Burke’s reaction to the French Revolution, are dubious of claims of ultimate truth or human perfection. Constitutional rules are designed to prevent us from making serious mistakes when passing majorities think they have found the next revolutionary program that will cure all of society’s ills. Given the track record of American history, and indeed the histories of other western industrialized nations, is it hard to claim that conservatives have it right?