The Preamble Reconsidered

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The Preamble to the United States Constitution is surely one of the most sublime paragraphs ever written. Before this dissection begins, let's prop it up and admire it in all its glory:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Okay, Nurse; the patient being sedated, hand me that scalpel, please.

"WE THE PEOPLE of the United States . . ."

Mendacity, we're told, has three grades: lies, damned lies, and statistics. Let's start by seeing into which category fall these opening words.

The Constitution was signed by 39 dead white males (though they weren't dead at the time, of course) who had been elected by the respective legislatures to represent their states. The members of those legislatures had in turn been elected by the several peoples, or those of the people who were at the time entitled to vote; more dead white males, with property.

Historians more diligent than I can perhaps tell us by what majorities this two-stage election process placed the 39 signers in Philadelphia , but to illustrate the problem let me guess: that each stage was of 75%. The probability that the 39 enjoyed the support of "the people" would then have been 0.752 or 0.56--a bare majority of 56%--of property-owning males, that is. Of all adults, that would be 28%, and of all The People including children, perhaps about 21%--just over one person in five. Yet these liars asserted that they were acting in the name of all "The People." Was that just a damned lie, or did it also fall into the dark, bottomless chasm of a statistic? You be the judge.

We also know that as well as the vigorous debate in Philly that preceded the compromise wording of the Constitution, there was an even more vigorous one raging countrywide, between Federalists (who wanted to constitute a new government) and everyone else (who did not)--and that the later ratification process was hardly a slam dunk. The sizes of the respective numbers matters less than the certain fact that the entire process was highly controversial; that these first seven words of the Preamble were therefore at best a Damned Lie.

". . . in Order to form a more perfect Union . . ."

Usage changes over the centuries, and this would be bad grammar if written today--but in 1783 they probably meant that the Continental Confederation had, like the Remington razor, shaved "incredibly close" but that they wanted a Union that shaved "even closer" to perfection. This tells us how little they understood perfection.

That confederacy had failed properly to pay, clothe or arm the Revolutionary Army despite many heart-rending appeals from General Washington. The War had started well: a group of New England farmers under threat of having their guns stolen by the government spontaneously banded together and killed many of its soldiers, in a battle worthy of chapter space in John Ross' Unintended Consequences--but was finally won only with the help of the French, who shared with the rebels nothing whatever except hostility to Britain and would, had the 13 colonies belonged to King Louis instead of King George, have savaged them even more brutally than the Brits. So to call that Union "perfect" was really bending the language; and whether or not the replacement Union was "more perfect" can now be seen rather clearly; it certainly is to those who run it, but is certainly not to those whom it runs. Another huge lie.

". . . establish Justice . . ."

Oh, really? Let's leave aside the monstrous caricature of justice that the government monopoly has become, and notice just the theoretical nature of what the Constitution put in place.

They first monopolized it--government (in its several levels) was to administer the whole industry, with no competition allowed. Appeals were to be possible, but the Supreme Court was not to be obliged to hear them. Very few specific powers were either granted or prohibited to the judicial branch by Article 3, leaving the whole system wide open to self-monitored abuse--an opportunity of which it has taken full advantage.

Then they based it upon retribution. Yes, civil cases were contemplated, but the essence of their idea of "justice" was that of crime and punishment, not injury and recompense. This is barbaric and to this day a victim or his survivors can be seen vindictively celebrating if a defendant is found guilty of harming him and sentenced harshly. He walks out of court happy with what he thinks is "closure," but without a penny in compensation. The perp is left to rot behind bars and the taxpayer is forced at gunpoint to foot the bill. Some justice.

The Founders showed no evidence of having thought through what justice truly is, and their claim in this Preamble to have "established" it is therefore so much hokum.

". . . insure domestic Tranquility . . ."

Hmmm. In Philly they had faced the slavery issue and had resolved firmly to pretend it wasn't there, except by reference (in Article 1, Section 2) to a census which counted a Black as three fifths of a person. They were all learned men familiar with political procedure yet they then failed to make any mention of whether or not States joining the new Union were free later to secede; the second of these omissions was the primary cause of the major bloodbath 80 years later and the first was a contributing factor. Some tranquility. Some insurance.

". . . provide for the common defence . . ."

So ignorant were the Founders of freedom and economics (admittedly a rather new science at the time) that they established a socialist defense system; one for all, all for one, collectivism at its worst. It's interesting: They had all just been through five years of war whose origins lay in what we'd call guerilla warfare and whose outcome was settled by large, expensive, traditional armies--and of course by the French navy, without which Yorktown would have been lost. Of the two models, they chose the latter: collectivism.

The unwanted British rulers could have been persuaded to leave just by small-scale guerilla tactics, at far less cost except probably in terms of time, and without setting any precedent for a military establishment that might one day dominate the world. Today's Iraqi insurgents have one merit (and one only)--they understand that. The Founders did not.

One can defend with either model; one can offend only with the second. Yet that is what the Founders chose, and then called it "defence"--a lie which they began, and which has become more blatant every year.

". . . promote the general Welfare . . ."

It may not be fair to blame the authors too heavily for the mayhem that has resulted from this ill-composed phrase, for they may have had benevolence, of a sort, in mind. Perhaps they could not foresee that later pols would take the word "general" and twist it round to mean "particular" while leaving the name "general" in place. Perhaps. But for sure they did create the opportunity for later abuse, so proving they had no idea how evil government really is; or else that they knew but did not care.

". . . and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity . . ."

Here is where we can be certain of either the profound ignorance or else the deep hypocrisy of the Preamble's authors. Echoing the Declaration of Independence, they actually proposed that government is capable of securing liberty. As Aristotle (and Rand) well observed: There is no such thing as a contradiction, except in the minds of those who fail to think clearly.

We know what "liberty" is: It's the ability for everybody to own and operate his or her own life without constraint. We also know what government is: an organization in the business of governing; that is, of imposing control over people, operating their lives for them in some degree large or small. The two are therefore absolutely and permanently opposed to one another; the more government, the less liberty, as surely as a see-saw. To set government to secure liberty is to set a fox to guard the henhouse.

The Founders cannot have failed to understand that, yet they penned this blatant contradiction, showing conclusively that they were either stupid or evil. Take your pick, but I don't think they were particularly dumb.

And so it was "ordained and established"--the wind was sown. Today, we reap the whirlwind.

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Jim Davies's picture
Columns on STR: 243

Jim Davies is a retired businessman in New Hampshire who led the development of an on-line school of liberty in 2006, and who wrote A Vision of Liberty" , "Transition to Liberty" and, in 2010, "Denial of Liberty" and "To FREEDOM from Fascism, America!" He started The Zero Government Blog in the same year.
In 2012 Jim launched http://TinyURL.com/QuitGov , to help lead government workers to an honest life.
In 2013 he wrote his fifth book, a concise and rational introduction to the Christian religion called "Which Church (if any)?"