Is The Constitution Obsolete?


These and many others, rather than simple-minded worship of constitutional principles, are important roots of our “paralysis.” Lazare has it backward. Culture drives politics, not the reverse. He cites Newt Gingrich to the effect that America is a “deeply conservative country” and laments that it is true “because the Ancient Constitution is a deeply conservative concept.” On the contrary, we are a peculiar people, loving the new and the young but idealizing the past, which we constantly flee. It’s how we are, not how the Founding Fathers made us. And what the record shows is that when the will is really there, we will change the system while swearing that we are really preserving it, as we have long done.

Only by misreading that record can Lazare’s argument be sustained. I am not a constitutional fundamentalist. There are many provisions that I would willingly change. But neither do I subscribe to Lazare’s unrestrained majoritarianism, his dire warning that unless we dump present limits on the freedom of the majority to secure instant political gratification, “politics will atrophy, society will die, and civil liberties will go with it.” There are good cases for a new kind of politics, but good cases are not served by bad history.