Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Torch With No Oil

       I have long been an advocate of full "Second Amendment Rights," and have no plans to change my mind.  The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States rather famously states that "the right of the People to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed," and I am quite satisfied with the intentions and language of the Framers.  I am glad that this is a part of the supreme law of the land.

       I recall a short documentary made by Charlton Heston several years ago, when he was president of the National Rifle Association and a prominent advocate of the Second Amendment.   Called "A Torch With No Flame," he warns that a freedom, in this case private individual gun-ownership, is probably not going to survive a generation of voters who do not understand it, and therefore do not value it properly.  In the video, it is clear that Heston knows that he is nearing the end of his life, and he is, or is becoming, very concerned.  I think I agree with him.

       May I offer a similar concern to "Tea Party" constitutionalists?

       I am glad that you are re-discovering your "constitutional rights" and are standing up for them.

       I applaud your discovery, or re-discovery, of the Constitution.  As the final expression (at least so far) of what is often called the "organic law" of the United States, it does speak to many Americans on a level so deep that one might almost call it spiritual.

       When you are having an important political conversation with someone with whom you disagree, whether left-wing, right-wing, or otherwise -- have you experienced inward relief, as I have, when you find that your opponent really believes in the Constitution?  Relief, because you know that whatever differences you may have, you have very, very much in common.

       But much depends upon those words, "real belief."  I think we all realize that waving a flag, or even pledging allegiance to it, or even calling yourself a "patriotic American," does not make you a patriotic American.  In like manner,  waving a Constitution, or taking an oath to protect it, or "standing up for your constitutional rights," does not make you a constitutionalist.

       May I suggest that what decides the question is whether you deeply and really believe that what it says is good and true.  That it gives a good description of what is, and what should be.

       It might be good to set aside a couple of hours of your time, sit down with nothing but the Constitution and a notepad and pen for jotting down your thoughts and questions, and start reading.  I'd suggest starting with the Bill of Rights (the first ten Amendments), as they, along with the Preamble, provide the framework by which the entire document is to be understood.

       Here are some questions that I ask myself.

       Do I really believe in freedom of speech, and of the press?  
       What does the Constitution really say about religion?
       What are cruel and unusual punishments?
       How important is a fair trial?
       What is bail, and what is excessive bail?
       Is there anything that the government is doing that is illegal?
       What is the function of political parties?
       What is a bill of attainder, corruption of blood, or title of nobility, and why does the Constitution forbid or severely regulate them?
       What is habeas corpus, and why and how is it talked about?
       What is an ex post facto law?
       What is treason?
       And of course, there are many more important questions.

       I am no one's judge.  But I suspect that some people's loyalty to the Constitution is quite shallow.  Please don't misunderstand; I am glad for even shallow loyalty these days, because the Constitution is an almost universally disregarded document in our federal and state governments, in the media, and in most folks' minds.  If you seriously care about the Constitution at all, you and I are in a minority group that is probably less than 20% of the total population of the United States of America.  (I hope I am wrong about this.)

       But today -- and always -- the Constitution needs defenders and advocates who know and believe what it says at a deep level of integrity.

       I am afraid that we have self-styled "constitutionalists" today who think they can reconcile the Constitution with torture, with imprisonment without jury trial, with confiscatory anti-drug laws, with federally mandated smoking restrictions, with mandated health-care, with phony money, with a welfare state, with a warfare state, with a police state, with heavy-handed treatment of "illegal aliens," "domestic terrorists,"  "security risks," "people who look like they are middle eastern," people who board airplanes, and so on.

       This kind of thinking may be sincere, but it is sloppy thinking that will probably do more harm than good.  It produces, in Thomas Paine's words, "summer soldiers" and "sunshine patriots."   Not good when the weather turns bad.  When some new media-manufactured fad, or government-manufactured crisis blows through.

       Lacking depth, their convictions will sputter into smoky confusion.  Like a torch with no oil.  Standing up for their own constitutional rights, but unaware of their roots in the natural and moral law, are they going to ignore their responsibility to stand for the precisely equal constitutional rights of us all?

       May it not be so.

*       *       *

       Comments pro and con always welcome.  This topic urgently needs to be discussed; please take part.




  1. Mr. Heid,

    I believe on the whole you and I are fellow wayfarers in this land.

    That said, I am curious why the attachment to the US Constitution?

    Is it applicable to us, i.e, are you or me included in the phrase "We the People"?

    If we are, then where is our protection? If not, then to whom are we adhered?

    Peace and Blessings,
    D Harmon

  2. 'Why the attachment to the Constitution?' Excellent question, with possibly a long answer. But to keep it short, the Constitution, especially in the Bill of Rights, is the best legal source for providing and preserving the crucial elements of natural law as controlling (arbitrary) political law. The Constitution's fidelity to natural law could be improved (read Frederic Bastiat), but it -- the Constitution -- seems to me the best we have, by far.

  3. I meant, best legal source in the USA. Other countries may have better constitutions or arrangements to preserve and advance natural law.

  4. In your assessment, the natural law proceeds from...?

  5. Again, a good question that deserves a good answer; but that would be a book that someone else should write.

    Briefly, natural law proceeds from the conscience of mankind. Rooted in observations about human nature, Mother Nature, God and Creation, how things are, and how things ought to be. It seeks for principles that are stable (lasting) and of broad application.

    One can find it, or references to it, in the classic texts of many cultures -- Persian, Greek, Roman, French, English, etc. In China, in both Laotse and Confucius.

    One finds examples of it in Holy Scripture, particularly in the Book of Genesis, the Psalms, and certain of the prophets. St. Paul refers to it in the Letter to the Romans.

    Opposed to natural law is arbitrary (non-natural or political) "law." This can be sociological, religious, or revolutionary "law."

    Just a start.

  6. Because God's law comes before any other law in my life, I see it as the foundation upon which every other law must rest upon. This is causing me to completely reexamine the issue of the Constitution. It is my opinion (for lack of any studies, polls, or information otherwise) that this movement to walk away from a basic understanding of what the Constitution really states could be a result of the hurry to toss any concept of moral absolutes overboard. I have heard the Constitution called a living, breathing document. There is only one document that I know of that can truly be called a living document. But, I seriously doubt that those who call the Constitution a living document really meant to compare it to the Word. In reality I suspect it is a determination to completely reject that Word that causes people to reject any hint of absolutes and I believe this is the cause for the hatred for the Constitution. One long statement of moral absolute.
    --- Simply some opinionated thoughts.