Response to Lysander Spooner on the Constitution

I have often heard the United States Constitution, or the concept of limited government, attacked with the following quote by Lysander Spooner:

"Whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain -- that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist."

  But is it the fault of *the Constitution* that it has not been better followed? The Constitution can't enforce itself; no contract or document can. It must rely on people to enforce it, and if they do not do so, in cases where the language and intent of the document seem straightforward and plain, is this primarily the fault of the document?

  Certainly I will not argue that the Constitution is perfectly written. Unquestionably it could have been written better. But given that circumstances change over time, is it possible for any document to be "perfect" in perpetuity? The idea seems dubious.

  Lysander's quote implies that there no middle ground between total authorization of an evil, and complete powerlessness to prevent an evil, and that since both these things are unacceptable, the instrument charged with preventing evil must be deemed worthless. But as noted above, the enforcement of any document ultimately lies in the hands of people, and so in a sense *the people* are really the instrument charged with preventing evil.

  Yet applying Lysander's logic to the *people* of the United States, or of any country for that matter, produces a scary conclusion:

"Whether the people really be of one mind, or another, this much is certain -- that they have either authorized such abuses of power as exist in the world, or have been powerless to prevent them. In either case, they are unfit to exist."

  Are people who fail to prevent tyranny unfit to exist? I saw no. An answer of "yes" would be perverse, like the apocryphal story of the military commander in Vietnam who said the village had to be destroyed in order to save it. After all, if people are "unfit to exist", then what does it matter if their rights are violated, if they are oppressed or killed? Thus we can see how the logic of Lysander Spooner's famous quote about the Constitution can actually be turned back on itself to justify the very kind of tyranny that he opposed. For this reason, I do not recommend the quote as a good one for advocates of freedom to use.

Love & Liberty,
                                ((( starchild )))

The conduct of Liberty is an enterprise process. It has been handy to have the Constitution around but conduct of tyranny is an enterprise also. Unless the Constitution has enterprise to conduct its specifications, it is only a set of specifications.

Hi Sarchild,

I appreciate your thoughtful reply to Spooner.

To answer your question, I don't think the problem was that the Constitution was not better followed. No matter how closely followed, it was a document that violated the spirit of the American Revolution. The Articles of Confederation also had its problems, yet was superior to the Constitution as a libertarian contract.

Warm regards, Michael

Hi Michael,

  Glad you agree with me that Lysander was wrong to blame the Constitution for the government as it exists today. I agree with you that the Articles of Confederation were more libertarian.

  By the way, what reminded me of that quote was an inspiring libertarian film I'm watching online called "Derrick J's Victimless Crime Spree", about Derrick and some of the other brave activists in Keene, New Hampshire:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OU-b5hDJpCo

  Imagine what a whole movement of such activism could do!

Love & Liberty,
                                  ((( starchild )))

Hi Starchild,

I'm not clear how you got the impression I agree with you. Please cite a statement of mine giving you this impression. Thanks.

Warm regards, Michael

Hi Michael,

  Glad you agree with me that Lysander was wrong to blame the Constitution for the government as it exists today. I agree with you that the Articles of Confederation were more libertarian.

  By the way, what reminded me of that quote was an inspiring libertarian film I'm watching online called "Derrick J's Victimless Crime Spree", about Derrick and some of the other brave activists in Keene, New Hampshire:

  Imagine what a whole movement of such activism could do!

Love & Liberty,
                                 ((( starchild )))

This Derrick J's Victimless Crime Spree video is fabulous...makes me want to move to Keene, NH.

Mike

Isn't it, Mike! Keene is a real hotbed of libertarian activism. It's pretty awesome. I sure wish we had an army of dedicated activists like that here. Maybe someday.

Love & Liberty,
                                 ((( starchild )))

Michael,

  My apologies. I read your message too quickly, and read too much into it. On second reading I see that what I said below appears inaccurate. I will say though, that if the Constitution was being followed, liberty in the United States would be in much, much better shape, even if the original document did to some extent go against the spirit of the American Revolution, a point I concede. How far would following the Constitution go towards making the United States a jurisdiction without legal aggression? It's impossible to say, but in percentage terms, from where we are now, I tend to think it would take us at least 50% of the way there. In my book, that makes the fact that it's not being followed a significant problem. And I don't think the fact that it's not being followed is primarily the fault of the document itself, although some things certainly could have been worded more clearly.

Love & Liberty,
                                ((( starchild )))

Starchild,

I agree with you that liberty in the U.S. would be in better shape had the Constitution been more closely followed.

Returning to the original issue, it seems self-evident Spooner is correct, the Constitution has been "powerless to prevent" the current police state in the U.S.

Warm regards, Michael

Michael,

  My apologies. I read your message too quickly, and read too much into it. On second reading I see that what I said below appears inaccurate. I will say though, that if the Constitution was being followed, liberty in the United States would be in much, much better shape, even if the original document did to some extent go against the spirit of the American Revolution, a point I concede. How far would following the Constitution go towards making the United States a jurisdiction without legal aggression? It's impossible to say, but in percentage terms, from where we are now, I tend to think it would take us at least 50% of the way there. In my book, that makes the fact that it's not being followed a significant problem. And I don't think the fact that it's not being followed is primarily the fault of the document itself, although some things certainly could have been worded more clearly.

Love & Liberty,
                                ((( starchild )))

I had an interesting meeting with a Burning Man staff today. The extent of the police state is staggering. It inserts itself in everything. For a while, it suffered, while tens of thousands of people went on and off the Playa without being arrested. Now it has forced itself into the event, patrolling and making arrests.

There is also no free exercise of the right to assemble. It will shut you down twenty ways from Sundays unless everyone is satisfied. Otherwise you can fight it when you get out of jail.

Michael,

  Since the current (or nascent, depending on what standard you apply) police state in the U.S. exists, not just the Constitution, but *everything and everyone*, including Spooner himself and the anarchists among us today, have ipso facto been powerless to prevent it. Or at least not powerful enough. So Spooner's observation, even setting aside the disturbing logical implications of "unfit to exist", seems essentially meaningless. His premise seems to be that the Constitution, and the Constitution alone, had the responsibility to protect successive generations of people in the United States from tyranny, and I think that premise is patently false.

Love & Liberty,
                                   ((( starchild )))

Starchild, Michael,

So both of you are saying the same thing and I agree with it too. The Constitution has not prevented other forces from conducting affairs in unfavorable ways. And that favorable forces have not prevented this conduct.

This is an important fact in the consideration of democratic process versus enterprise process in the conduct of liberty.

Hi Starchild,

Spooner's premise is simply that the Constitution has failed in its objective. In the same paragraph you quote, Spooner says: "the Constitution is no such instrument as it has generally assumed to be;". IOW, it is not a protector of liberty and nor is it a protection against tyranny.

Warm regards, Michael

Michael,

  Since the current (or nascent, depending on what standard you apply) police state in the U.S. exists, not just the Constitution, but *everything and everyone*, including Spooner himself and the anarchists among us today, have ipso facto been powerless to prevent it. Or at least not powerful enough. So Spooner's observation, even setting aside the disturbing logical implications of "unfit to exist", seems essentially meaningless. His premise seems to be that the Constitution, and the Constitution alone, had the responsibility to protect successive generations of people in the United States from tyranny, and I think that premise is patently false.

Love & Liberty,
                                   ((( starchild )))

John,

Clear summary of the main point. Thank you.

Warm regards, Michael

Starchild, Michael,

So both of you are saying the same thing and I agree with it too. The Constitution has not prevented other forces from conducting affairs in unfavorable ways. And that favorable forces have not prevented this conduct.

This is an important fact in the consideration of democratic process versus enterprise process in the conduct of liberty.

Maybe another way of looking at it would be to consider the difference between private enter[rise and public enterprise. Democracy is a public enterprise. It will never do as good a job of doing liberty as private enterprise. Expecting good liberty from government is crazy. Yet that is how everyone spends time trying to get it and it continues to get worse.

Amen, bro!

Maybe another way of looking at it would be to consider the difference between private enter[rise and public enterprise. Democracy is a public enterprise. It will never do as good a job of doing liberty as private enterprise. Expecting good liberty from government is crazy. Yet that is how everyone spends time trying to get it and it continues to get worse.

Am I belaboring the obvious to point out that private enterprise is also one of the aforementioned forces that have failed to prevent the status quo?

Love & Liberty,
                                  ((( starchild )))

Private enterprise has been mostly focused on a certain type of economic activity. It has not been focused on liberty. Napoleon spoke of this saying men will look after their interests before their liberty.

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John,

  What would private enterprise focused on liberty look like in your view, and how would it differ from libertarian activism in general?

Love & Liberty,
                                ((( starchild )))

It would change its business model to get the results it needed. Libertarian activism is the same as government. No matter how little results it gets it still believes it has value. In contrast to the libertarians themselves the activism has been worthless.
If the libertarians had ceased what they were doing we would still have the same police-state we got after forty years of their misguided efforts. And we could stop now with no appreciable change in trajectory. What would really happen? As it is, it served only as a place for the discontented to find a home among others of similar discontent and share their suffereing.

On the other hand, if all the libertarians were stockholderrs in a corporation that delivered liberty as a dividend on their interest, corporate management that failed to deliver would be fired.

On the current landscape, the worse job they do, the more they are supposedly needed. So naturally we have been loosing our liberty and "needing" them more than ever, while ignoring the fact that their product is shit.

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