Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

First off (notice than I using that instead of SO now and again), let me call attention to the very favorable attention our Carl, our Jean, and our Jim have received from PowerLine’s Scott Johnson .

Our Jim has always claimed to be a FEDERALIST 49 constitutionalist, which means he believes that the Constitution needs “the veneration which time bestows on everything” to be sustainable. So on CONSTITUTION DAY, we should all venerate the Constitution. We should, in fact, be grateful for its fundamental contribution to our living as free and equal citizens and persons. Madison expresses the conservative thought that people will always be prejudiced, and so it’s good that the Constitution (by being so hard to change) leads Americans to prejudiced in favor of what’s actually good.

A FEDERALIST 49 constitutionalist admits that most of the FEDERALIST PAPERS are somewhat weak when it comes to this conservative insight. Even FEDERALIST 49 might be understood to be a bit too ironic about it, by saying straight out the “veneration which time bestows on everything,” whether it’s really good or not.

That Scott is no ordinary conservative. He’s not for CONTAINMENT, but for ROLLBACK to a pre-progressive time when Americans really took constitutional liberty seriously.

That would be to a time before the 16th and 17th Amendments. So, for Steve, veneration for the Constitution doesn’t include veneration for amendments. Or someone might say he’s a “cafeteria venerationalist” when it comes to amendments. I know he is on board with most of the amendments.

From one view, Americans should be almost be awed by amendments, because they are so hard to pass. But there has been one obviously embarassing misstep—the 18th Amendment—which was directed in a most Puritanical (meaning, in this context, ridiculous and tyrannical) way against my Irish, Catholic, and hard-drinking immigrant ancestors. That mistake was fixed by the 21st Amendment, which I venerate.

And the 22nd Amendment was also a rather obvious error, inventing, as it did, the second-term swoon that has undermined presidential effectiveness rather routinely. Let’s get that fixed!

What provoked this constitutional reflection was a local Tea-Party guy telling me that the income tax is unconstitutional. My response: There’s an amendment! His response: That was unconstitutional. Well, it wasn’t, because it was clearly adopted according to the form set forth by the Constitution.

But I take his and Scott’s point to be that under the Constitution we have every right to correct missteps that undermine the Constitution’s overall intention. So I join Carl in saying that reverence for the Constitution includes respect for the people’s power to amend it. It might even be better if there were an amendment making amendment A LITTLE easier.

Dear Reader,

Your charitable support for First Things is urgently needed before July 1.

First Things is a proudly reader-supported enterprise. The gifts of readers like you— often of $50, $100, or $250—make articles like the one you just read possible.

This Spring Campaign—one of our two annual reader giving drives—comes at a pivotal season for America and the church. With your support, many more people will turn to First Things for thoughtful religious perspectives on pressing issues of politics, culture, and public life.

All thanks to you. Will you answer the call?

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles