The Death of the Constitution (Why Stay in Rhode Island)


Reading the comments around this site, yesterday, was an enervating task.  It’s inarguable, many agree, that all prudent Rhode Islanders should be developing an escape plan from the state.  The state of “Hope” is fostering hopelessness on an industrial scale, and every year, the groaning gets worse.  (I don’t say “louder” because many of the voices simply up and leave.)

What disagreement there is mainly has to do with the urgency with which Rhode Islanders ought to implement their plans.  The general consensus appears to be that the young should leave without delay, the old should tough it out until retirement, and those between should judge by their own circumstances.

I found an odd bit of encouragement, though, in a seemingly unrelated City Journal article by Myron Magnet, in which the journal editor concisely summarizes what has gone wrong in U.S. governance to bury our Constitution and our rights beneath a tyranny of agencies, judges, and power hungry officials.  He writes (emphasis in original):

A phalanx of recent books warns that we have undermined our fundamental law so recklessly that Americans should worry that government of the people, by the people, and for the people really could perish from the earth. The tomes—Adam Freedman’s engaging The Naked Constitution, Mark R. Levin’s impassioned The Liberty Amendments, Richard A. Epstein’s masterful The Classical Liberal Constitution, and Philip K. Howard’s eloquent and levelheaded The Rule of Nobody (in order of publication)—look at the question from different angles and offer different fixes to it, but all agree that Americans need to take action right now.

Magnet’s purpose is to pause, “before we scramble,” to assess the path that the nation has taken.  In doing so (though he never states or even implies this), Magnet illustrates how wholly insufficient the four scholars’ solutions are.  Based on his review, they all prescribe legal approaches, three of them being to implement Constitutional amendments by way of two-thirds of state legislatures’ calling a constitutional convention, to implement changes to our founding document without reliance on judges or national politicians.

The problem is that these solutions, while plausible on paper, are nakedly impossible in practice.  And if that’s the case, then the country’s already too far gone to be saved through the system.

The silver lining of that disheartened conclusion is that it is liberating.  In one sense, it’s the liberation of fatalism — like the scientist in War Games saying, “it’s alright; I planned ahead”… by locating close to one of the first places likely to be vaporized in a nuclear war.  Sure, you can find a place in which it’s easier to live, but how long would that last?  In recent decades, the alternative to the steady march of the statists has been a mild slowing of the steady march of the statists.

If you’re hoping to find a place to avoid the tyrannical cloud just long enough to live your life, then how is that much better than Rhode Island’s insiders, who want whatever patches will get them from one budget to the next in the hopes that they’ll make it to retirement before the system collapses?  (The horror of pension reform, for Rhode Island’s government class, is that it means there really is no escape from the effects of the decades of bad policies that they tolerated and advanced for so long.)

In a more important sense, though, it’s the liberation that comes with meaning.  Fixing the problem that Magnet describes must ultimately be accomplished by changing people’s minds, changing the way they live and the way they think about society.

In other words, we have to find what it is that makes Americans vulnerable to the encroachment of progressives’ tyranny and develop the antidote.  What better place to do that than a state in which it’s no longer possible to deny the gauzy self-delusion behind the big government ideology?