Here is an interesting conversation between James Corbett and Alfred Adask on the Constitution. Their conversation touches on the most interesting sticking points in thinking about the Constitution and it addresses them well.
As a short introduction to the debate, I offer a few words on the differences between the works Conceived in Liberty, by the Great Murray Rothbard, and Our Enemy the State, by the (even greater?!) Albert Jay Nock. The impression these two anarchist powerhouses give of the founding of this country are quite different. Rothbard implies that this country was truly founded on principles of liberty as we are taught, while Nock points out that the modern state and all coercive monopoly government, including the United States since its very founding, exists for one purpose only, and that is to exploit citizens by violating their rights for the benefit of those to whom it bestows privilege. Nock even claims that the great American battle between the Federalists and the anti-Federalists was just a struggle between the emerging power (the city merchants) and the declining power (the landed gentry), with the emerging power winning and installing the more centralizing Constitution over the more decentralizing Articles of Confederation.
As a lifelong fan of Patrick Henry and a devotee of the anti-Federalists, I was shocked by Nock’s revelations, but I’m beginning to think they might be accurate, as Corbett apparently does. Corbett maintains that the Constitution was always meant to concentrate power in the hands of the government elite as Nock explains.
Adask, however, makes a good counter-argument, one I have made myself when faced with some very dark conspiracy theories about the US being one big corporation and our birth certificates making us chattle. Regardless of any legalistic support that theory might or might not have, I dismiss it with the same argument Adask uses to support the common understanding of the Constitution: regardless of the intention of the Founders or any technical legal interpretation of the Constitution, that foundational document represents a covenant among the people and the government, and like any contract, it is the understanding of the parties to the contract that determine its meaning. In other words, we the people have always thought and continue to think of the Constitution as a safeguard of our rights and an express limitation of the powers of government. Not only does that make the Constitution what we think it is, but it is our understanding of it as such that gives us the righteousness to defend what we hold it to stand for. Confused yet? Listen to these guys discussing it and I think it’ll be crystal clear.
On a side note…ever read the Articles of Confederation? Here’s the full text. It’s pretty cool. Some say the Constitution was a coup…that the delegates were called to amend the Articles of Confederation and that instead it was scrapped and a whole new foundational document put in it’s place in violation of the existing law as laid out in the Articles of Confederation. Here are a few takes on that debate: