What Happened to Our Constitution?
DUNN LORING, VA — Regnery's
Politically Incorrect Guides, despite
their coy titles, are an excellent series of correctives to liberal
be tempted to call the 2007 book, The
Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution, by Kevin Gutzman, one of the most inspired,
if only the other volumes I’ve seen weren’t so hard to
How to discuss this book without gushing superlatives? I find it even
better than its advance praise announced. I’ve studied this subject
for most of my adult life, and I can hardly imagine a better book of
its kind — fearless, incisive, going straight for the intellectual
Gutzman contends that the American judiciary, legal establishment,
law schools, and media have completely misled the public about the
meaning and history of the U.S. Constitution, substituting case law — the
accumulated opinions of the courts — for the simple truth. Flimsy “precedent” has
usurped the place of history, fact, reason, and even logic. So precedents
take precedence, as it were, over the actual words of the Constitution.
The U.S. Supreme Court winds up treating its own rulings — in
Roe v. Wade, for example — as more authoritative than the Constitution
itself. No wonder the public is confused: The whole system is incoherent
and — well, “corrupt” is a mild term for it. The
Constitution becomes whatever the courts say it is. This is a recipe
for unbridled, arbitrary power, such as we are already experiencing.
Gutzman puts his finger on the key issue: state sovereignty. Abraham
Lincoln falsely said that the states had never been sovereign, even
under the Articles of Confederation — a lie plainly refuted by
the second of the articles: “Each state retains its sovereignty,
freedom, and independence....” Mark you that: “retains”!
So much for “Honest Abe.” (And he was honest, in little
things. Like Shakespeare’s Honest Iago, he saved his whoppers
for large matters.)
Unless the states retain their sovereignty, including the ultimate
right to secede, there is no real check on “federal” tyranny.
The whim of a Court majority can literally mean violent death for millions.
If even one state had been able to threaten secession over Roe, the
Court would never have dared to foist such a monstrous ruling on us.
Yet nobody even proposed impeaching those who had usurped the states’ most
basic right: the right to protect innocence from violence.
Gutzman’s conclusion is gloomy, but I find it hard to see how
he can be accused of undue pessimism; to me it seems simple realism.
I reached the same conclusion long ago and see no way around it, no “solution” except
for the remote possibility that a stupid and sinful populace and its
equally depraved rulers will have a massive conversion. This is about
as likely as George W. Bush’s suddenly speaking in Miltonic periods,
Johnsonian paragraphs, and Chestertonian epigrams.
When it comes to the U.S. Constitution, idiocy has been institutionalized
so thoroughly that any hope for a return to reason seems like sheer
fantasy. Gutzman shows that the truth can still be known and uttered,
but not that it has any hope of prevailing in any future we can foresee.
The K-Word’s Debut
Judith Warner, defending late-term feticide in The New York Times,
complains that it “could become legally risky for doctors to
use digoxin — a cardiac drug — to kill the fetus up to
one day in advance of the procedure.”
Well, blow me down! This is the first time I have ever seen anyone
in the Paper of Record use the word “kill” to describe
what abortion does. Next thing you know, they’ll be calling those
dead things “babies.”
Dr. Johnson’s Cure
I’ve managed to recover a beloved piece of my old library:
James Boswell’s classic, The
Life of Samuel Johnson, one of the
great treasures of the English language, given to me by a kind young
friend. What an antidote to loneliness, among other things!
It’s not really a biography, but then, neither are the Gospels.
It’s the record of a long friendship and of one of the world’s
most brilliant conversationalists, a staunch Tory and Anglican with
powerful “papist” leanings and a mortal enemy of cant and
nonsense. I’ve read it many times, but never with more pleasure
than now. Dr. Johnson’s wit, warmth, piety, generosity, and depth
of insight have made both him and his young friend vivid and immortal
companions to millions of readers.
We go to Dr. Johnson (1709–1784) first because he has amusing
opinions on almost every subject under the sun. “Amusing” is
not the first word one would use to describe Dr. Johnson’s essays,
which are serious, solemn, and Latinate to a degree; but his conversation
is quite a different matter: colloquial, colorful, biting, playful.
But in either key, he expresses himself with wondrous precision.
Though he wrote poems, essays, criticism, biography, drama, and fiction
(he dashed off a remarkably popular little novel in one week!), and
also edited the plays of Shakespeare, Dr. Johnson’s greatest
literary work was his Dictionary of the English Language (1755), a
tremendous feat of learning and eloquence that has lost its utility
as a reference book but remains a joy to read, stamped with the huge
personality of its author.
Space precludes dealing here with Dr. Johnson’s deep spiritual
wisdom, but I may mention that his fluency in conversation astounded
noted scholars: I mean his fluency in conversing in Latin. It was extremely
hard for an Englishman to convert to Catholicism in his day, but few
men of his race did more to counteract heresy. He was, as it were,
instinctively orthodox. What a great Catholic he would have made! He
and Benedict were made for each other.
One word you won’t find in his great dictionary is “nonjudgmental.” Dr.
Johnson is one of the most gloriously judgmental men who ever lived.
Copyright © by Joe Sobran and the Fitzgerald
All rights reserved. These items originally appeared in Joseph Sobran's "Washington
Watch" column in the August 23, 2007 and July 19, 2007 editions of The
Wanderer, the national Catholic weekly, www.thewandererpress.com.
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