When politicians speak of the inconvenience of the Constitution, or insinuate that it is “outdated,” we should neither be shocked nor impressed.

Thieves don’t like security systems, murderers don’t like electric chairs. We don’t ask an aggressor’s opinion of the law. Likewise, professional politicians* are the very last folks to listen to for judgments about the troubles associated with systems of limited government power.

Constitutions — explicit frameworks for the rule of law — are not designed to make it easy for politicians to do what politicians do.

A constitution is designed to protect the citizens from political government’s historical and ongoing and seemingly inevitable excesses.

States rarely (if ever) arise “for the good of the people.” States arise by conquest and imposition, and are best at exploitation of some for the good of others. To curb the severity of the State’s innate “inconveniences,” law is marshaled against it, myths are erected to guide its behavior, ethical principles are held up to check its powers.

Which is why Jefferson wrote of the necessity of severe limits: “in questions of power then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the constitution.”

And the “man” most in need of such chains is not your everyday worker, or parent, or child, or loafer. It is the politician. Normal folks place so much confidence in politicians perhaps in impatience to go about their lives, or in desperation or hope. But it has been discovered, over the vast eons of history — the rise and fall of states and empires, kingdoms and republics, tyrannies and democracies and everything in between — that confidence in leadership is over-rated.

Hence the need for limits on government. Written constitutions have been tried. But because they are in the hands of politicians to interpret and rewrite and skirt, they have proved imperfect.

But that does not mean that they should be gotten rid of. Still, if we could find a better way to limit state power than parchment rule-of-law frameworks, it might be a good idea to look into it. For what all government limits point to is the limits that liberty itself requires. “Liberty is the only thing we cannot have unless we give it to others,” William Allen White said.

Another quotation suggests even better the limits at the heart of liberty: “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”

“Constitutionality” is the practical concern with such limits.

And we cannot trust politicians to provide it. Nor should we be surprised when we see politicians balk. We should even remain a bit suspicious when they play encomiast to the concept.

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* Throughout this piece, by “politician” I mean the professional pol. In other contexts, citizens are also politicians, as well, insofar as they attempt, through activism, argumentation, litigation, or voting, to influence the State. But come to think of it, this points to a problem inherent in the question of “whom to trust” regarding matters of constitutionality. For even citizens play politician . . . and can be as corrupt or evil as any pol.

N.B. The visual “meme” is from my second memegenerator.net account: Wirkman. (Not my first, Lucian.) The Jefferson quotation is from the draft of the Kentucky Resolutions. The famous “fist” quote turns out to have been written by one Zechariah Chafee.

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