Friday, May 17, 2013

Ilya Shambat: The Constitutional Pharisees

There have been many Republican and Libertarian politicians claiming that the Democrats have been violating American Constitution. Because so many people are saying this, this claim must be answered.

  As any student of Christianity knows, far more important than obeying the letter of the Bible is obeying its spirit. The people who obeyed the letter and not the spirit were known as Pharisees. These people followed the Biblical law, but they did it for wrong reasons. They did it for social climbing and holier-than-thou one-upmanship and not for the love of God.

  There are people in America who take the same pharisaic approach with the American Constitution.

  What is the spirit of Constitution? It is to give people rights and liberties. The original constitution only applied this to white men; but now, thanks to a lot of political work by the American Left, these rights and liberties also apply to women and to the people of other races. Extending these protections for rights and liberties to women and non-white people is a truthful manifestation of the spirit of the Constitution, even if this was not included originally in its text.

  The people who see these protections as not being in line with the constitutional law are political pharisees. They follow the letter but not the spirit. If Franklin or Jefferson were alive today, they would have almost certainly been in favor of women's rights and civil rights. Their message was liberty; and although this liberty was extended originally to a fraction of the population, it would have overjoyed these people to see it extended to everyone else.

  The concept of following the spirit rather than the letter is central to true Christianity; and it is appropriate that the same understanding be extended to politics. The political pharisees are in violation of the intent of American Founders and cannot be regarded as true American patriots. Much greater patriotism is found in those who have worked to extend the protections afforded by Constitution to parts of the population that it did not originally protect. These people follow the spirit of the Constitution and as such are its true followers.

  Another argument frequently made is that the contemporary taxation system and "big government" are not Constitutional. If that is the case, why did it happen in the first place? For that matter, the founders did not support a standing military either, yet nobody is saying that America should go without a standing military. Both Democrats and Republicans have supported the 20th century system; even Reagan did not dismantle it. One possible reason is that his own family had been saved by the New Deal, otherwise they would have starved to death during the Great Depression. And much good has come from this "big government." America's scientists dominate the world's Nobel Prizes and produce work that's at the root of technology - meaning, at the root of just about everything that business sells. Government projects such as the Interstate and the Internet provide an infrastructure for the business world to do its work. The public education system makes people employable. Social Security means that old people don't starve to death. And workplace-related laws, championed by the unions, are the reason that most Americans aren't working 16-hour days in horrendous conditions and getting put out on the street in case of a workplace injury.

  What do these "strict constitutionalists" want? Probably the same thing desired by pharisees in Christianity. They are people of a fundamentalist persuasion who want to turn back the clock on everything that happened since 1776. And what they do not understand is that for every change - good or bad - there is a reason; and until they understand the reasons for the changes that have taken place during 20th century they are doomed to re-creating conditions that caused these changes to take place.

  The more the workers are mistreated, the more people want stronger unions. The more women are mistreated, the more people believe in a need for feminism and women's rights. The more capricious the job market, and the more jobs go abroad, the more people want job security and trade protections. The more nature is plundered, the more people recognize the need for environmentalism.

  It is in fact true that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it; and we see this with Constitutional pharisees. If they re-create the conditions of the 19th century, they will get slammed with what they dislike about the 20th century - yet again. Far more important than following the letter is following the spirit. And that is not found in today's Republicans. It is found a lot more in the people who are upholding women's rights, civil liberties, and people's right to defend themselves from predatory conduct.

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