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The U.S. Constitution- “That’s so eighteenth century.”?

Penrose also noted that she tells students in her constitutional law courses that the entire United States Constitution is an obsolete document.

“Why do we keep such an allegiance to a constitution that was driven by 18th Century concerns?” she asked, according to CTNewsJunkie. “How many of you recognize that the main concern of the 18th Century was a standing army? That’s what motivated the Second Amendment: fear of a standing army.”

According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary the word “stupid” refers to a lack of intelligence that manifests itself in “a lack of ability to learn and understand things.”

I carefully note this fact because the word is these days simply taken as an ad hominem epithet.  In fact it asserts the existence of an objective condition, a statement that can be verified by rationally examining facts.

There are times when the word ‘stupid’, or one with the meaning it conveys, is indispensable. This is especially true when academics abuse the assumption of learning their credentials convey in order to get away with making absurd statements about matters seriously important to the safety and happiness of the society in which they live.

The Penrose referred to in the report cited above is Mary Margaret Penrose. According to the report she is a professor at Texas A&M University.  It says that she made the statement “during a day-long panel symposium on gun control and the Second Amendment at the University Of Connecticut School Of Law in Hartford.” I confess that my first reaction to what I read was “That’s a stupid question.” (Hence the precaution taken in the opening sentences of this essay.)

Of course, my mind immediately chided me, offering up a proverb often cited by one of my teachers, “There are no stupid questions, only people too stupid to answer them.”  But I wonder if the proverb applies to situations where supposedly learned teachers use stupid questions to convey dismissive conclusions they would be hard put to defend with good reasoning. It occurs to me, though, that “wicked” might be the more appropriate adjective for such cases.

In a democratic society attitudes that become popular or trendy for a while can be used to ease slipshod thinking past the rational defenses of even quite intelligent people.  Consider the comical arrogance of a phrase like “that’s so twentieth century.”  Applied to styles of dress, or cell phones, it’s passably amusing.  But would we say the same about a mathematics professor who routinely dismissed questions about the different proofs for Pascal’s 350 year old hexagon theorem by saying “That’s so 17th century.”?

At the very least, discarding results that embody rationally demonstrated past thinking requires something more than a whimsical reference to the passage of time.  But perhaps matters of law and social custom are simply matters of style.  Perhaps they are no more subject to an objective standard of judgment than swimsuits or evening gowns.

Professor Penrose’s case reminds us, however, that when discussing laws and politics people often invoke an objective standard, if only in the context of the particulars of an ongoing debate.  Take gun control for example.  Its advocates cite every tragic episode in which guns are involved in killing people.  They quote statistics about gun-related deaths.  They speak as if the number of deaths people suffer from what they pretend is the absence of gun-control laws is valid and relevant evidence of the need for such laws.

The people who devised the U.S. Constitution in the 18th century looked back upon decades of killing and atrocity associated with the abuse of government power.  Along with their knowledge of similar abuses dating back to ancient times, this led them to treat the need for “government-control” as one of the permanent problems confronting people charged with devising the fundamental law for a society’s institutions of government (its constitution).  As Madison wrote (Federalist 51):

“In framing a government that is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”   

So, applying the rubric relied upon by advocates of gun control, how are we to evaluate the mayhem that results from a constitution that makes little or no provision for “government-control”?  Looking back on the experience of Europe in the centuries before their work, the framers of the Constitution saw atrocities, perpetrated by unchecked government powers, that killed at least tens of thousands of people.  So they took the problem seriously.

People like “Professor” Penrose want us to believe that they take the rubric of deaths caused by inadequate provisions of law very seriously.  Yet when we look back on the atrocities perpetrated by unchecked government power in the 20th century we must count the deaths in at least the tens of millions.  In the full dawn of the 21st century do we therefore have more or less reason than the Framers of U.S. Constitution to be concerned with the fatal consequences of unchecked government power?  The answer is so obvious that failure to take account of it indicates purposeful deception, or a definite “lack of ability to learn and understand things.”

The notion that the underlying concern of the Framers is archaic or obsolete is thus absurd on the face of it.  People can pretend if they like that humanity has passed beyond the motives of religious fanaticism that ambitious rulers promoted as the excuse for 17th century atrocities.  But Americans know firsthand, from our experience with violent Islamic jihadists, that this is nonsense. Still, in our day religiously instigated atrocity doesn’t yet rise to the level of fatality associated with ideologically driven government murders in the 20th century. Such murders were especially associated with governments rooted in ideologies that understand human affairs in terms of godless, pseudo-scientific “dialectical materialism.” The socialist drive toward pervasive, totalitarian government control makes serious provisions for controlling government more relevant than ever.

Unless we’re out to prove how stupid we are, we can’t take it as coincidental that the people most likely to pretend that gun-related episodes demand gun-control laws are also the ones most like to ignore the government-related mass murders which prove that constitutional provisions for government-control are far from OBE. We can’t ignore the increasing resort to government coercion in the name of “gay rights” or access to abortion, in pursuit of a religiously ideological vendetta against certain Christian moral ideas and practices. (That’s so 17th century!)

When it comes to the need for government-control, the main difference between the 18th century and the 21st  is the vastly improved armory of noxious instruments governments have at their disposal for inflicting massive death and fatal misery on people. On this account we should let it become “fashionable”to leave people defenseless against their government?   Every day we have reason to appreciate Churchill’s prescience when he warned of “a new Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.” This hardly seems like the right time to embrace the whimsical stupidity of pretentious, self-serving pseudo-intellectuals (including, by the way, Barack Obama) when they declare or imply that 21st century Americans should treat the reason and logic of America’s founding as irrelevant and obsolete. As one of those Founders might say, the recent “experience of all mankind” teaches us that the government-control agenda is more urgent than ever.

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