Victor Nuovo: The U.S. Constitution: Why we have a duty to defend our fundamental law
“The People of the United States” is not an anarchic aggregation of individuals, nor a populist crowd, nor an unruly mob. It is a sovereign person, eminently rational, a self-regulating body that exists over time under a fundamental law instituted by itself.
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American Constitutionalism is a system of government founded on a fundamental law, which is not biased to the wishes and whims of a monarch, or the fancies of a demagogue, or the privilege of a particular social class; rather, one that has been ratified by the people, which pertains to the whole nation, enfranchises all, and obligates all equally and in the same way and for the same just purpose.
A constitution is a founding law, a set of basic rules by which a nation is organized and governed. It may be written or unwritten. The British Constitution, if it may be called such, is largely unwritten, and, in any case, it is rooted in dubious traditions vaguely defined and mired in privilege. In contrast to it, the Constitution of the United States of America is a relatively short written document that describes an entire system of government and its practices as well as the rights and duties of its officials and its people together with the means of amending it; it is the product of rational deliberation and moral judgment and the people’s will; it is a work of genius.
The Constitution of the United States is the first of its kind in recorded history and also the longest lasting, and, since its ratification in 1787, has become a model for new nations and for old nations seeking renewal. We should take pride in this, but of far greater importance is to understand it, and even more, to recognize our duty towards it. For our first duty as citizens is to support and defend the Constitution, just as it is the duty of public officials to “preserve, protect, and defend” it. It is the basis of our very existence as a nation, a nation whose foundation is law, and a guarantee of its future.
The terms, “constitution” and “fundamental law” convey this meaning. To found or constitute a thing is to give it existence as an organized being. The constitution of an animal body describes its parts, how they are connected, and how they function. But all this is matter of fact.
Likewise, taking a page from Hobbes, a political constitution describes an artificial animal, a civil society, a state. The framing and enactment of a political constitution by the American states created something new, a nation, the United States of America. By ratifying it, the people willed it into existence, established it, and ordained that the Constitution be their fundamental law, “the supreme law of the land.” How this was done is no mystery; although the sessions of the constitutional convention were closed, the issues considered and the arguments made for and against are known, were recorded in the notes and diaries of the delegates. Ratification by the states was an open process. It was a rational process, involving critical judgment and compromise, which is as good as it gets in politics.
Article VI of the Constitution declares that all laws enacted in accordance with its articles and all treaties entered into under its authority thereby also become law, so that this nation remains in perpetuity a nation under laws authorized by the Constitution.
By what authority did this happen? One need only read the Preamble for an answer:
We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, so ordain and establish this Constitution for the United Stated of America.
By the People’s act of ordaining and establishing the Constitution, the United States of America became a nation, and the People became subjects to the law they established.
It follows that “The People of the United States” is not an anarchic aggregation of individuals, nor a populist crowd, nor an unruly mob. It is a sovereign person, eminently rational, a self-regulating body that exists over time under a fundamental law instituted by itself.
Finally, the goals and purposes of the Constitution are clearly stated: Justice, Domestic Tranquility, the Common Defense, the General Welfare, and the guarantee of the Blessings of Liberty to this and all succeeding generations. These are the necessary and sufficient conditions of our flourishing as a nation.
The United States of America has many dimensions: it has a place — this broad land and the sky above it, and it has a history that extends through time. And we, the people of the United States, are its citizens. In this era of identity politics, this should be our primary identity as persons who live together under the same law, insisting always on its fair and impartial application, excluding no one, beneficial to all.
The very idea of the United States of America is contained in these words: THE RULE OF LAW. And under law, this nation, the United States of America, has grown more just. For whereas in 1787 “The People of the United States” denoted only adult white males, it has become over time and through struggle more inclusive so that that people of the United States now comprises persons of any gender, race, ethnicity, culture, sexual preference and religion, a mixture of all, native born and immigrant, united, ever growing more inclusive and more equal under the rule of Law, the Constitution. This very idea is the apex of the life of the mind in America, the American sublime!
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