Saturday, January 19, 2013

There Should be Awards for Stuff Like This

Alright - I had a Lysander Spooner quote that ended up in my FaceBook feed earlier today, and I made the mistake of thinking that it might be fun to look at the comments. Boy was I ever wrong.

The point in question was of the contractual nature of the Constitution and who it binds and in what manner it does so. Spooner, of course, claims that the supposed binding of the people to the power and privilege of the federal government thus constituted is nonsensical according to our most basic ethical notions. Now, some people were dismissing this out of hand; implying that the quote made no sense because the Constitution does not bind "the people", but rather binds the government. Clearly they were either not thinking hard about the considerable obligations entailed in giving the government specified (or plenary) powers, or they were conflating the Bill of Rights with the Constitution. (To be clear, I'm aware that the Bill of Rights is part of the Constitution - but you could understand how someone would be led to say such a thing if they were simply thinking of the Bill of Rights by itself.)

So, I tried to clear up both points - to illuminate the supposed "binding" which Spooner was seeking to criticize, and which I would also criticize. But we all know that no good deed goes unpunished. I immediately started to get responses from one person who apparently didn't get that I was simply trying to make some more subtle clarifications so that Spooner's point could be better grasped by the aforementioned commenters. He apparently thought, because I showed the manner in which people might feel that they were "bound" by such a document, that I was actually making a normative case for why this would be so. He then proceeded, in subsequent responses, to illustrate the finer points of libertarianism-101. I witnessed such breathtakingly nuanced arguments as:

The Constitution is a compact between the States and National Government."
"The Bill of rights is for the common man."
" Rights are inalienable."
" Natural Law trumps Positive Law."

 I'm not sure exactly who he thought he was arguing with. I have to think it wouldn't take much mental fortitude to figure out that I was in agreement with the initial criticism Spooner was laying out, and simply trying to help point people I felt were confused in the right direction. But apparently I'm wrong. I'd like to claim surprise but this happens constantly on FaceBook and blog comments - particularly among libertarians. We have a propensity to proselytize. It's just unfortunate that it's all too often, even unwittingly at times, to each other. There are certainly little nuances here and there that we bicker about. And that's fine as far as it goes. But when I get lectured about how rights are inalienable, or how positive law supervenes onto natural law something is wrong.

Plus, let's face it, there's something really creepy about people turning common nouns into proper nouns...who trusts libertarians who capitalize the words "National Government?"

Anyways, this wasn't even the main point of the post here. What I wanted to get at was something that was posted way after I had already given up on all humanity. One of the last comments in the thread was the following:

"Nothing more ironic than to see Americans dismiss the U.S. Constitution while they enjoy the freedoms and liberties to do so publicly which are uniquely guaranteed by it. Dismiss the people who are currently corrupting our government, but don't be so ignorant as to think that this is what our forefathers envisioned. Getting back to the Constitution and away from this perversion we call a Congress is the only hope for our future."

Alright, come on people! I can't even make this shit up! This was a (I can only assume) serious response...from a human being...on the subject of the Constitution...directed at LYSANDER SPOONER! This is the type of thing that really just brings out every ounce of misanthropy I can bear to will. It's not that I think that there is no argument for the Constitution, or against Spooner. Far from it. I'd imagine there are plenty of reasonable objections. But this is just willful ignorance at best. He doesn't even realize that what is probably Spooner's most tangible legacy is a short piece that attempts to spearhead this claim precisely, and leave it bleeding and eventually dead. The better part of his entire argument against the Constitution serves to highlight the incredible irony of statements like the one above.

The whole point of the document (the Constitution), and this coincides with the claims of its supporters, is to place strict limits on what government can and cannot do. By asking us to instead dismiss that government's current administrators is to vindicate Spooner's criticism entirely. Not only does the above argument do nothing to put a stop to Spooner's home-run, it gleefully helps to usher the ball over the fence. To say that not replying would have been better is to say too little. I'll instead go ahead and say that there could have been almost no worse response than that. That's how bad it was.

But I'll let you be the judge. You can read Spooner's words for yourself as he takes his victory lap around the bases:

"Inasmuch as the Constitution was never signed, nor agreed to, by anybody, as a contract, and therefore never bound anybody, and is now binding upon nobody; and is, moreover, such an one as no people can ever hereafter be expected to consent to, except as they may be forced to do so at the point of the bayonet, it is perhaps of no importance what its true legal meaning, as a contract, is. Nevertheless, the writer thinks it proper to say that, in his opinion, the Constitution is no such instrument as it has generally been assumed to be; but that by false interpretations, and naked usurpations, the government has been made in practice a very widely, and almost wholly, different thing from what the Constitution itself purports to authorize. He has heretofore written much, and could write much more, to prove that such is the truth. But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain — that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist."

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