Sunday, January 16, 2011

New Years thoughts from Face Book

We had an interesting little discussion on Face Book just after New Years. The discussion went something like this. Names have been replaced with nick names.

"I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women. When it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it. No constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there, it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it."
Judge Learned Hand in New York’s Central Park on May 21, 1944
  • Ed Your point is well-taken, but I'll respectfully disagree with at least part of this premise. Do you think liberty is NOT in the minds of people, in other countries, who DON'T have a Constitution to guarantee it? People who yearn for the 'freedom' that we enjoy (and have squandered)? Lately, I happen to have more faith in our Constitution than I have in my fellow citizens.

  • Wes I've alway thought of the written Constitution as a forceful guideline to liberty limiting those who don't naturally understand the concept of liberty.

  • Jim Put this up to get people thinking. Off to a good start.

    Look at history. There are many constitutions that are patterned after ours. Guarantees of freedom of speech, due process, life, liberty, property, pursuit of happiness, etc.. Many of them in the old Soviet block. Their constitutions protected them from little.

    Our constitution gives structure to the yearning for liberty that was in the hearts of our founders and is still in the hearts of many. It is a codification in compact form what they had fought a war for before it even existed. Even before the convention in 1787, we were setting new standards for liberty and freedom.

    The constitution is a framework, a tool through which liberty can be protected. It can only be effective through the actions of those with liberty in their hearts who protect and defend it.

    That should keep the thinking going.

  • Jim Wes, the constitution can only be forceful if it is protected and defended forcefully. Doesn't have to be violent, but it has to be forceful. Has to be done by those who have read and understand it.

    Also, need to be careful calling it a guide. It's not. A guide is a set of good ideas you can get away with ignoring now and again. Far too many of our lawmakers and bureaucrats call it just a guide. Think unfunded mandates, any big government program and infringements in the name of security.

    The constitution is, among other things, a set of legal boundaries on what the governments can and, more importantly, can not do. Kind of like the boundary between 2 properties. The fence line if you will. For several decades, the Federal government has been moving the fence line and encroaching on liberty. By adverse possession they have slowly taken away many rights that our ancestors took for granted. Time to move the fence back to where it belongs.

  • Ed Agreed, but placing less hope, faith, value and importance in/on our Constitution is exactly what its enemies wish for. It can only be beaten when we stop caring for it.

  • Wes All government limits liberties; it's the very nature of government. If everyone had "liberty in their hearts" there would be no need for government. The trouble with "absolute law" is that it is inflexible. For example, the "no throwing balls to and fro" ordinance in the city charter. If law is "absolute", then the enforcers must choose to either enforce it or ignore it. There is no "middle ground."

    I agree with your fence line analogy, and I don't believe the Constitution to be a "living document."

    But, the 16th Amendment, for example, says it is constitutional for the government to seize 100% of earnings. But it also abosished slavery in the 13th Amendment. One could argue that forcing one to work without benifit of earnings is slavery. In that respect, the "absoute law" of the Constitution is at odds with itself. The 14th Amendment provides for equality under the law, but the income tax system discriminates based on income, with higher taxes for higher incomes. This is not equality under the law.

    Which "absolute law" do we follow?

  • Jim Don't stop caring for the Constitution. But don't rely on it's mere existence for your salvation. It's not magic.

    People need to realize that the constitution is a lot like a gun. It's only effective if you're know how to use it and are ready and willing to do so when necessary. And you need to know how to use it effectively. You have to practice and train to use either one effectively. You can't wait until the doors are being broken down to learn how to lock and load and get a good sight picture.

    Our enemies also win if we put so much faith in the mere existence of the Constitution that we forget the fundamental reasons of why it's there and how to use it. They will be happy to have us quote it on our way to the gulags.

  • Jim Who said the constitution was absolute law? Don't confuse that with supreme law of the land. There is a difference. It may be the highest law in the land, but even the founders realized it would have flaws and relied on men so they put in the amendment process.

    Also don't confuse the law with the punishment. We don't have, and wouldn't allow, firing squads for playing ball in the street. Punishment should rely on rational judgment as in by human judges. We have gotten so used to cookie cutter sentencing and mandatory minimums that we forget that the punishment should fit the crime.

    The prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment is a starting point for sanity in punishment.

  • Wes I was trying to reconcile your position that my use of guideline was inaccurate. I never went anywhere near punishment.

    The Constitution puts limits on government. It specifically details the authorized activities of government. It provides for a specific method for changes. It's purpose was to foster liberty of the people within a framework of governace.

    In my opinion, it is either absolute law, or it is not. It's akin to being pregnant. Either you are, or you are not. You can't be a "little bit" pregnant. For a more local example, if I am tossing a ball "to and fro" in the street in this town, I am breaking the law, whether or not I am arrested or punished for it.

    It's when there are so many "laws" on the books that it is impossible for a citizen to know when he/she is in compliance that liberty is forfeit.

  • Jim Guideline gets used so frequently when discussing the Constitution that I challenge it. Many so called constitutional scholars and experts when justifying their latest excess or infringement throw in something to the effect that the Constitution is only a guide. It's much more than "a guide." A recipe book is a guide. Rand McNally is a guide.

    Law is not binary. Is freedom of speech absolute? Should you be able to yell fire in a crowded theater when there is none? Does freedom of speech trump laws against fraud?

    This is not like being pregnant. This is more like being injured. There are differences between a paper cut and a sucking chest wound.

    How do you handle the safety concerns of playing in the street? And where do you draw the line? Is flag football on loop 306 Ok? How about Bryant or Chadbourne?

    I have to agree there are way to many laws. Don't you think that's on purpose? You have read Atlas Shrugged haven't you?

  • Jim From Atlas Shrugged "There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals. When there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws."

    That's why we have so many laws.

  • Wes Point taken. My issue is where the lines are being drawn. And, while it is probably sacreligious to say so, I have not yet read "Atlas Shrugged". It's on my "to do" list.

    If I have to have a law to keep myself from playing football on loop 306, I should be in a padded cell somewhere. The individual is no longer being held accountable for their actions, and we're teaching our young ones not to be responsible for them. Almighty government will tell you what's OK and what is not -- for your own good.

    And some are OK with that. I am not.

    It may seem like common sense to outlaw "fire" in a crowded theater. But the same principle is being used to outlaw other speech without the same obvious "safety" issues. Think "hate speech," which is the biggest load of crap ever to fall upon the American people. Once the principle that there is "some" speech that is not free, it means that NO speech is really free.

  • Ed Jim, I'm all discussed out on this issue, so here's a little homework for you and anyone else who cares to give it a try. Find any law, or even an Amendment, past the Bill of Rights, that has given additional liberties to ALL citizens.

  • Jim Hate speech and hate crime in general is just a new take on the 1984 thought crime.

    We have managed to train a large segment of humanity that the only measure of right or wrong is the law. If it's not illegal, it must be right. If we think it's wrong, we must make it against the law. This misguided meme crosses all political boundaries.
  • Jim Ed, common mistake. The Bill of rights gave no liberties to citizens. The liberties were pre-existing. The BOR was there to protect them. Closest might be 13th amendment which eliminated slavery and involuntary servitude.

    We still have too many people that want to treat the BOR as an enumerated and exclusive list of the ONLY protected rights and liberties. That was never what was envisioned.

  • Ed Jim, not a mistake. Given/guaranteed are thought of, by me, anyway, to be one in the same, with regard to legality.

  • Jim Your legal meaning of give is not the same as the meaning and usage of give in other situations and that causes confusion. That leads to the proposition that if the Constitution can give us the right to free speech and religion why can't it give us the right to employment and health care? More clearly stated, the Constitution protects and guarantees freedom of speech and religion. It is not able to provide health care or employment.

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