This will be part one of a two-part post (part 2 is here), discussing the legitimacy of government. In all senses, government is intended as a voluntary social contract in which citizens give power to the government in exchange for protection of rights. In the case of modern government, this is typically done with a Constitution.
But what goes into the making of a Constitution? What determines whether a Constitution will be successful or unsuccessful? To help illustrate, let’s look at two examples.
First, the United States Constitution. We, as Americans, look back upon this document as if it was holy writ, with the virtues of all that is good in the world shining down upon the Founding Fathers as they wrote this document. And, in many ways, when you see the incredible speed and stability with which America has found her place as the leader of the free world, you glorify those Founding Fathers as if the document itself is perfect.
But is it? Ben Franklin didn’t entirely think so:
In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other. I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded like those of the Builders of Babel; and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another’s throats. Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best.
As I’ve pointed out before, the men who founded our country were not perfect, nor did they expect government to be perfect. Nor, then, do they necessarily think the document they were creating was perfect. It is well known that at the time of the Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, and the creation of the Constitution, that many of its proponents had a moral qualm with slavery. How a document asserting that all men were endowed by their creater with the right of Liberty be drafted in a place where slavery was practiced? How could we have an official Constitution which declared some human beings only 3/5ths equal? Even a slaveowner like Thomas Jefferson understood the hypocrisy of declaring all men equal while holding some in bondage. But to create the best document and best government they could, they had to make compromises. And they left open the amendment process, to fix their unfortunate compromises in the future.
I look at the United States Constitution as the foundation for a house. When you build a house, you don’t need a foundation that drives 100 feet into the soil. Nor do you need 3-foot thick concrete walls to support that house. You look at the reasonable size of the house you’re trying to build, and develop a foundation which will support that house. And in the future, if you want to build an addition, you may need to extend the foundation, which we do through the Amendment process.
If anything, the current problems we have in this country stem from the fact that we have tried to build a house (government) too large for its foundation (Constitution). Instead of understanding this error, and making sure that the Constitution is amended to strengthen that foundation, we have simply started adding weight, completely disregarding the Constitution. As such, that foundation we started with is crumbling, and threatens to take the entire structure with it.
Our Constitution, while not perfect, gives a very strong foundation for the sort of government the Founders intended, one of limited power and scope. It is not strong enough to support a government that provides cradle-to-grave sustenance, a fact that has been ignored for the last century.
Now, compare this to the Constitution proposed by the EU. I should warn before you click over that it’s a nearly 2-megabyte, 485-page PDF file. 200 pages or so define the EU itself, and then another 200 pages are devoted to protocol related to previous treaties between the member nations. What the United States accomplishes in a document that will fit in a pocket requires a volume for the EU.
If you compare the US Constitution to the foundation for a house, you must then compare the EU constitution to plans designating its floorplan, exterior, and window treatments. In short, you have created something that is nearly impossible to agree upon. While the US Constitution largely defines basic rules of government that are easy to form consensus, the EU asks you to look at an entire house and determine if you like it.
What happened when the French and the Dutch voted “No” on adopting the Constitution? Basically they were saying they prefer a split-level ranch with stucco exterior as their house, and the Constitution was offering them English Tudor. When your constitution moves beyond basic structure of the government, stepping into the realm of minutiae, you’re quickly going to find yourself alienating constituencies that disagree with a bit of minutiae that harms them in particular, even if the rest of the government is to their benefit. And when you have a 485-page Constitution, it’s going to be clear that nobody can even truly understand the whole implications of agreeing to it, which also works against its potential adoption.
However, there is even a more fundamental error. As I pointed out, there are 200 pages of the document devoted to protocol on former treaties of the member nations. This is akin to trying to build your house on a foundation of sand. If the EU wants to write a successful constitution, it must be written not based upon these treaties, but based upon making all these treaties obsolete. What needs to be written is a Constitution that tells the member nations that what the Constitution provides is beneficial to all, and is better than their previous treaties. In addition, it needs to say that these treaties are no longer acceptable, because the rules between members of the union should be decided by the union itself.
The EU is trying to become as powerful as the US, but doesn’t understand that to do so you need to trample on sovereignty a bit. In some ways the United States became successful because our Constitution designed a union that all States must be bound by, and as a part of this Union, did all it could to make travel and commerce between states as easy as possible. The EU is trying to simply codify each nation’s particular rules and protectionist practices.
At the time of the American Constitutional Convention, we had states with largely similar culture, ideals, and goals. The United States Constitution reflects this, setting up a government that each State had general agreement with. In many ways, the United States Constitution tramples on the sovereignty of each individual State, but they did so in a way that the States believed were advantageous to them. The EU has not done so. The EU has taken nations with little common culture, common language, and who each have their own nationalist streak, and tried to form them into a union that doesn’t really do what is required to unite those nations. In honesty, they are forming a treatied alliance, not a Union. And without a solid foundation, they are setting themselves up to fail.