Tomorrow morning I begin my New Constitution series, in which I set forth a blueprint for a more just, free and prosperous future for the citizens of the United States. The project is audacious, perhaps, but I have always felt that if you’re going to complain, you should perhaps offer some ideas toward a solution. And I have complained loud and long.
Before we start, I want to outline what the New Constitution (TNC) is and isn’t and to detail how the process will work.
What the New Constitution Is
The New Constitution is a project that revisits the Bill of Rights, attempting to offer an updated document that more accurately addresses the challenges of promoting opportunity, liberty and prosperity in an age that the original framers could barely have imagined. The Constitution and Bill of Rights stand as the most remarkable documents of their kind in history, but reason and good sense forces us to acknowledge that the world changes and the optimal dictates for one place and era may not be suited for all places and all eras.
TNC comprises 20 amendments. In a few cases, the original amendments stand more or less unaltered. In others, original amendments are updated and revised to reflect contemporary realities. And finally, there are a few amendments that articulate new rights and responsibilities.
What the New Constitution Is Not
We sometimes hear that if the framers knew about X they’d be spinning in their graves. But the cold fact is that those men crafted a system of governance that prohibited women and the non-landed from voting, and that further acquiesced to the sale, trade and ownership of other human beings. It wasn’t just a land of wealthy white male privilege, it was the land of wealthy white male privilege.
It is therefore not at all clear than anyone would be spinning in his grave. It is more likely that, were we able to revive our forefathers and show them around modern America, that they’d size it up, look at one another, nod, and say “yep, this looks about right.” They’d probably be baffled by the fact that women, blacks and the most aggressively ignorant among us had been extended suffrage, but rich white men still call most of the shots. Not bad 200+ years on.
In other words, TNC is not what I imagine the founding fathers would compose were they alive today.
The New Constitution is a collection of guiding principles, not articles of legislation. With each and every amendment there are bound to be questions around “how will this be implemented?” or “doesn’t this conflict with this law or that law?” and so on. The original Bill of Rights wasn’t tactical. It was a philosophical document intended to inform and direct the legislative, judicial and executive branches, indicating the larger doctrines by which specific laws were to be developed and enforced. So please, no tactical niggling. That, as it has been for over two centuries, is for the legislature, the executive branch and the courts to sort out.
Further, “it will never work because entity A or individual B will undermine it” is also not helpful. American history is replete with examples of people or organizations or companies who sought to subvert the will of the framers. It is assumed that immediately upon adoption TNC would come under intense attack and further that said attack would likely continue unabated for centuries. This is not relevant to the consideration of a Constitutional document.
Process and Assumptions
Each morning, beginning tomorrow, I will post an amendment from the New Constitution. It will be accompanied by a brief statement of rationale explaining what I believe it accomplishes and why it is important. Comments will be open, in accordance with S&R’s established comment policy.
All posts in the New Constitution series and any remarks I make in the various comment thread may be regarded as framer intent for purposes of understanding more fully what TNC is designed to accomplish.
At the conclusion of the process I will consider all comments and issue a revised, final TNC document.
A word about assumptions the reader should make
There will be many opportunities to disagree during the course of this series. It is almost certainly not a perfect document, and even if it were a flawless statement of the philosophy it projects, it goes without saying that intelligent people can have good faith disputes about how government should work.
However, it’s important to understand one thing. The New Constitution is the culmination of a project I have been working on for more than a decade. There isn’t a word of it that hasn’t been tested over and over, and when I was at the point where I thought I was nearly ready I subjected it to review and critique by some of the smartest people I know (some members of the S&R staff, some outsiders). This group of reviewers includes scholars, teachers, at least one lawyer specializing in media and free speech, artists, sci-tech types, businesspeople and finance professionals, blue collar workers, journalists, historians, political advocates and more.
As such, while I might be off base in places, every single word and concept has been deeply considered. For better or worse, there are no intellectual accidents here.
The New Constitution will be introduced an amendment at a time so that discussion can be focused around specific issues. However, it must ultimately be evaluated in its full context. There are individual amendments that invite what appear to be damning critiques – I already know this from the review phase. However, the document is constructed in a distributed fashion so that what appears to be a flaw in X is actually accounted for in light of Y. TNC is not the sum of its parts – it is a contextualized work that is best understood holistically.
This may well make for some unsatisfying moments in the comment thread, because I fully expect people to offer observations on why amendment # is problematic, and the response that they need to wait a few days until amendment #+4 comes out might foster frustration. I assure you, it isn’t a shell game, and I will address these observations once the fuller context is available.
Finally, while The New Constitution is unarguably a progressive document, it is in no respect a partisan one. It’s my full expectation that, were they shown this project, Democratic leaders would scream nearly as loudly as would their Republican colleagues because it aims to disrupt a corrupt system of influence and privilege from which they all profit equally. In accordance with every shred of evidence I have considered throughout the last 30 years of my life, TNC assumes that the dominant struggle in the US isn’t, as so many believe, between “left” and “right,” “red” and “blue,” but between have-more and have-less.
I expect conservative readers to be especially opposed to my acknowledgment of that word “progressive.” But I ask them to consider the role of America over the course of our history. Do we not take pride in the fact that we blazed the trail for the widespread adoption of democratic principles in government? Are we not rightly proud of our unmatched history as the world’s leading scientific and technical innovators? What about our standard of living, which has for most of our history (even though we have slipped of late) been the envy of the world? Didn’t we stand up to racially motivated, genocidal tyranny in Europe during World War II?
These, friends, are examples of progress, and when we look around the world today the people we often identify as our most dangerous enemies are those driven by radical religious fundamentalism – in other words, the very antithesis of progress.
If America has ever been “the greatest nation on the face of the earth,” as we like to claim, and if we hope to be the greatest nation on the face of the earth in the future, it begins with the acceptance of our progressive identity and heritage. More importantly, it requires that we open our eyes to the fact that our political leaders – leaders in both of our major parties – are working to preserve the privilege of the few in ways that prevents the explosive, world-changing creativity, intelligence and inventiveness of the many from finding its fullest expression.
The New Constitution is not a conservative document. It is not a liberal document. It is an American document, and a proud statement in support of our shared potential.
As noted above, The New Constitution has been a long time in the making, and it would be the height of arrogance to suggest that I reached this point on my own. In truth, I’m an intensely social, extroverted and associative thinker, which means that if I have an interesting idea, it probably emerged from interactions with one or more other people. This is why I work so hard to surround myself my folks who are as smart as possible. If they’re brighter than me, as is often the case, that’s all the better because that means there’s more opportunity to learn.
Some of the people in the list below are known to readers of S&R and others aren’t. Some have played a very direct and active role in my political thinking in recent years, and others contributed less obviously in conversations, in grad school classes, in arguments and debates over beers, and so on. In fact, there are undoubtedly some on the list who will be surprised to see their names, but trust me, each and every one of them helped me arrive at the present intellectual moment. This doesn’t necessarily mean they all endorse the project or want their names attached to it, so if there are things that aggravate you, please direct those comments at me and me alone.
All that said, many thanks to:
Dr. Jim Booth
Dr. Will Bower
Dr. Robert Burr
Dr. Lynn Schofield Clark
Dr. Erika Doss
Dr. Andrea Frantz
Dr. Stuart Hoover
Dr. Douglas Kellner
Dr. John Lawrence
Dr. Polly McLean
Dr. Michael Pecaut
|Dr. Wendy Worrall Redal
Dr. Willard Rowland
Dr. Geoffrey Rubinstein
Dr. Greg Stene
Dr. Michael Tracey
Dr. Robert Trager
Dr. Petr Vassiliev
Dr. Frank Venturo
Dr. Denny Wilkins