By Dr. Harold Pease
On January 30, 2012, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg surprised many by advising those attempting to create a new constitution in Egypt not to use the U.S. Constitution as its model. “I would not look to the US Constitution, if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012,” she told the Egyptian people on national television. “I might look at the constitution of South Africa. … It really is, I think, a great piece of work that was done. Much more recent than the U.S. Constitution: Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It dates from 1982. You would almost certainly look at the European Convention on Human Rights. Yes, why not take advantage of what there is elsewhere in the world,” (U. S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg To Egyptians: Look to the Constitutions of South Africa or Canada, Not to the U.S. Constitution, MEMRI TV Al-Hayat, Egypt, Jan. 30, 2012)?
Those who wish to undermine the Constitution infer that our Constitution may not be a good fit for other cultures like Egypt. On this score they would do well to remember that we have assimilated every language, culture, religious and ethnic group on earth and we did so because all humans share the same basic need for freedom from excessive government to fully flourish. The Constitution is the most flexible governing document with respect to diversity ever written, and unless modified by progressives such as Ginsburg, it always will be.
Implied is the assumption that because it is old, it is outdated and therefore irrelevant to the needs of our day. This document will always be relevant because it is designed to harnesses the negative aspects of human nature and is based upon natural law; items that do not change from century to century. Man is still power hungry, and the people need to be protected from such hunger, whether man rides a horse, drives a car, or flies an airplane. Our Constitution minimizes these forces by dividing, restricting, and listing power. Should some overreach their power we have elections and impeachment to remove them. Finally, we have a Bill of Rights that further harnesses excessive government. None of these measures have shown themselves to no longer be needful. Justice Ginsburg does not seem to understand this.
When confronted with this “horse vs. airplane” nonsense, I ask my students, “What in the Preamble to the Constitution, which is a statement of the needs of man to which government attempts to address, is no longer relevant? Outdated if you will?” Year after year the answer is the same. Nothing! “Were these the same needs of people 600 years ago and will they be the same for those 200 years from now?” Yes!!! “What would you add?” Again, nothing! Then, the basic needs of man do not change and the Preamble must be the most complete summation of those needs ever recorded. It is based upon a long history of human nature that the well-read Founders understood.
But it does not guarantee housing, or medical rights, as does the South African constitution, some might say. Actually it does not distribute wealth or guarantee anything except the freedom to use one’s own talent to do that for himself and in doing so the Constitution created the most energized and therefore the most universally prosperous society in recorded history such that even the lazy have more wealth than those who worked hard in yesteryear. The U. S. Constitution has made this nation the envy of the earth. General Douglas Mac Arthur virtually forced the Japanese to adopt our Constitution and within a single generation they too became a wealthy country even competing economically with our own.
The problem with using a constitution to redistribute wealth, as in the countries cited by Justice Ginsburg, and, as is the socialist dream, is that it kills the incentive to produce of both the productive and the non-productive elements of society. The productive, because their wealth is by force taken from them and given to another, are disincentivized to work harder as are the less productive because the wealth of the more productive is given to them anyway, so why should they work harder? Ironically, the redistribution of wealth does not help the poor unless wealth actually exists to redistribute, and that does not happen unless incentive to produce exists, no matter what the government says or guarantees.
No, Justice Ginsburg, the U.S. Constitution has proven itself to be the most relevant, flexible, wealth producing, governing document on earth and you, of all people, should have made that case to the Egyptians. Strict adherence to the principles locked into this document would make them a more prosperous nation also. All that you gave them were examples of shared poverty. I fear that your lack of incite, in this most fundamental constitutional matter, may facilitate your helping to bring shared poverty to us as well.
Dr. Harold Pease is an expert on the United States Constitution. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and applying that knowledge to current events. He has taught history and political science from this perspective for over 25 years at Taft College. To read more of his weekly articles, please visit www.LibertyUnderFire.org.