Patterico's Pontifications


Why the Constitution Matters — for Dummies

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 1:32 pm

I don’t really mean “for dummies” — that’s just a simple way of capturing the concept in a headline. What I mean to do in this post is offer a couple of simple arguments for the importance of the Constitution, that you can try out on anyone, no matter their level of sophistication.

I was inspired by the spirit of Andrea Ruth’s post with that eye-catching map of why the Electoral College matters. (Check it out if you haven’t already seen it on social media.) I don’t have any awesome infographics, unfortunately . . . but I do have a couple of arguments for the importance of the Constitution that I tried out on my 16-year-old daughter, and they seemed to convince her.

I suggest trying these two simple arguments with any reasonable and open-minded people you know who are skeptics of the importance of the Constitution:

1. The principles of the Founding Fathers helped eliminate slavery. My daughter, who asked me why the Constitution was important, was at first a bit impatient with me when I started with this one. What did this have to do with the importance of the Constitution, she wanted to know. But I knew that “the Founding Fathers were racist slaveholders, so who cares what they thought!!!” is the war cry of the left, and I wanted to get it out of the way immediately.

So I explained that slavery has been part of the human condition since humans first existed. I made sure she understood that the philosophy that supported the abolition of slavery in many parts of the world was a Western philosophy. I told her that many of the anti-slavery precepts of liberty and individuality that underpin our free society were developed in England and the early United States. I explained that the United States and the ideas of the Founders has been a far greater force for liberty than for slavery, and played an important role in eliminating slavery from the world . . . although it’s still not completely gone.

With that out of the way, I asked her the important question:

2. Would you support a dictator who agrees with your policies? If not, why not?

My daughter believes in things like gay rights, equality of the races, and so forth — and it frustrates her that it took so long for these things to be recognized under the Constitution. She started the conversation, therefore, seeing the Constitution as an impediment to getting to the “right” result. Many people on the left, and independents, feel the same way. Even some on the right do.

This question helps drive home the idea that it’s not just important what happens, but how you get there.

You ask your friend: “So you believe in policy x, y, and z. If you could have a dictator who agreed with you on all three policies . . . or a President under the Constitution who agreed with you on x, but disagreed on y and z, which would you pick?”

Then take the argument from there. At some point they may discuss how inflexible the Constitution is. Remind them that it can be changed, and has been changed more than two dozen times. Yes, we started out with blacks being unequal — but we fixed that, with an amendment. Yes, we started out with women not being able to vote — but we fixed that, with an amendment.

Isn’t that better than a dictator?

If you try these simple arguments out on reasonable and open-minded people, and approach the conversation in a spirit of respect and friendliness, you might get somewhere.

P.S. This is part of my ongoing project, the Constitutional Vanguard. The goal of the project is to spread the gospel of the Constitution, liberty, and free markets. If you’re interested in joining, you can sign up here. We spent the last week discussing Article V, and I have more coming on educational resources on these topics.

[Cross-posted at RedState.]

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