Constitutional Idolatry

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Thanks to Lexington at The Economist for the link to Michael Klarman's lecture on the constitution. Interesting stuff, though some of Klarman's points seems a little overstated and (as a result) at odds with each other.

I have four points I want to make today against constitutional idolatry, which is my label for our misguided tendency to blindly worship the Constitution, giving it credit for all the things we love and honor about our country.

(1) The Framers' constitution, to a large degree, represented values we should abhor or at least reject today.

(2) There are parts of the Constitution with which we are still stuck today even though we would never freely choose them and they are impossible to defend based on contemporary values.

(3) For the most part, the Constitution is irrelevant to the current political design of our nation.

(4) The rights protections we do enjoy today, the importance of which I do not minimize, are mostly a function of political and social mores, which have dramatically evolved over time and owe relatively little to courts using the Constitution to protect them.

Under (2) he puts two senators for every state, a dispensation he calls "crazy", because it leads to enormous over-representation of lightly populated states. Whether or not you can defend this formula, its political consequences are painfully (if you are a Democrat) apparent. Without it, the US would be a different country. Yet under (3), supplemented by (4), Klarman argues that the constitution is "for the most part" irrelevant.

Jarring...but as I say a thought-provoking lecture, well worth reading.

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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