Monday, September 17, 2007

Robust Constitution

There's a suggestion that instead of drafting a Constitution for Iraq, they should take over the American Constitution.

After all, it was written by a lot of really smart guys, it's worked for over 200 years and the Americans aren't using it anymore ...

I'm a big fan of the United States Constitution, ratified by the Grand Convention at Philadelphia this day 220 years ago. I know it's a deeply flawed document, but I'm blown away by its sheer audacity.

How great is this :

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Notice the phrase "more perfect". Here are lawmakers admitting that here is something that has flaws, but is an improvement. You don't see that kind of honesty in modern politicians.

Note also the phrase "establish Justice" - how is that for an item on a to-do list ! Here is a government with ambition.

And finally the phrase "we the people". Not "we the government". They are writing a mission-statement for everyone in the entire new, unruly, divided, dynamic country.

The many compromises over slavery are abhorrent and the fact that it has been amended 27 times shows us that it was far from comprehensive. But it was a different world in 1787 - nobody had ever tried to frame a written constitution for a democracy before, and I don't think they had such a bad swing at it.

In fact, as a Brit I'm jealous of it. Any American schoolkid could say where their right to Free Speech is protected (First Amendment), but in Britain you'd have to be a specialist lawyer. The fact is, I don't know to this day whether or not Freedom of Speech is actually protected here.

Not that the Constitution did such a great job protecting the rights of the people at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, but you can't blame the Framers if the current guardians of the Constitution aren't up to the job.

1 comment:

ArcticFox said...

I think free speech is an abstract concept a bit like time or something.

We all know you can't really say what you want, when you want.

As for American free speech, it's a joke, and the only time I hear it quoted is when someone is being offensive (admittedly I only ever speak to Americans in chat rooms). I've never heard it used to good effect, or at least what I would call good effect.