A couple of days ago, I offended one of you who thought I was being facetious at Canada’s expense (which I only do in terms of accent, and which is my right as a linguist. Also, because my accent is the funniest of them all) when I said they’d had something like 10 constitutions. I was in fact repeating the claim of a Canadian (and patriotic) commenter who thought this flexibility of their uniting legal principle made Canada superior to us, hide bound Americans.
Turns out this is wrong… but maybe not as wrong as we thought. Canada has only had two constitutions. However, it has had several revisions.
Now, you’re going to say so has America. We’re up to how many amendments? And that’s true. Except that our amendments aren’t as sweeping. They usually concentrate on one topic and also technically can’t go against the tenor or thrust of the founding documents.
Note I said generally. I’d rather you didn’t get lost in minutia about the prohib– Oh, who the heck am I kidding. You guys will battle out the small details in obsessive frenzy and still remain friends and Huns. That’s what makes this place so much fun. So carry on.
At any rate this is not about Canada’s Constitution, because I’m really not in a place where I can take time to research it and do it justice, but about the thought it sparked.
The reasons the original commenter was so proud of Canada’s flexibility was that he pointed out it allowed them to “modernize” and grant citizens “positive rights.”
In fact the lack of positive rights is a reason our Pres(id)ent Affliction thinks the constitution is passe and should be revoked.
For those of you who don’t know what positive rights are, they’re not “I’m dang right positive that you can’t do anything the constitution doesn’t allow, and I’ve got this here gun to positively ensure that.” (One kinda wishes it were though.)
Positive rights are guaranteeing things, usually material, that are in the “rights of men” (a well known Soviet tool to fire back at free countries that called it on its abuses) but not ah… accruing to the human condition.
For instance, some countries guarantee “minimal sustenance” or a “minimum income” or “housing” or “health.”
The problem with these guarantees are that you can’t obtain any of those things without taking them from another human being. Just saying “you have a right” doesn’t cause them to appear out of clear air. So the “positive right” of one person is the “negative theft of the other.”
While I think all taxation is theft (hey, I’m clear headed on this, okay) I think some theft is sometimes vaguely justified on the grounds of “we need to have common defense and we’ll defend the guy we stole from, too.
Mind you, this is not particularly morally right, but in a world where just being inoffensive doesn’t guarantee you’re not attacked (on the contrary) it’s necessary for collective survival.
However while you can extract penumbras and emanations where “to make everyone minimally affluent is good for everyone.” (Government is a word for the things we choose to do together, like drunken orgies and baby sacrifice!) Those are a bit far fetched. It’s pretty easy to prove it’s easier and more profitable to defend x amount of territory and everyone in it than one individual here and one there, by themselves. It’s harder to prove that making sure Miss Aramintha Smith in Kentucky having a minimum of 20k she doesn’t have to work for is better for me, and so I should make that amount over at a minimum per year. I think Miss Aramintha should get off her behind and go to work.
(It’s even harder to prove that I derive benefit from sending 20k of my money a year to the Palestinian authority or that I derive benefit from paying for Nancy Pelosi’s liquor which is about the same amount, give or take a million. Which just goes to show our Constitution is a fine thing and we should try following it, sometime.)
None of which means, understand, that I’m against helping people in need. In fact, if that’s where it stayed it would be fine.
As some of you comment with SS Marriage, (Yes that topic is still closed, because no one is going to change his/her mind. However I CAN see your point in this regard.) is that it slides. Same Sex Marriage being legal the perpetual agitators will move on to polygamy and incest and whatever. (I just suggest making it hard and fast TWO consenting adults and then ignoring the shrieking.) Part of this is of course Marxism. The serpent might be gone (or perhaps undead. Hello Mr. Putin. But its agit prop lives on.) And part of it is intellectuals. Those of you in the sf/f community where we all “think too much” know exactly what I’m talking about. Having staked out an extreme position, no one stays happy with it. You must prove how enlightened you are by claiming yet a more extreme position. This is why, btw, the Social Justice Warrying is now moving to “trans rights” which will render them irrelevant because those are a minority of a minority.
But this happens with everything, not just sex. So if we grant SOME positive rights, like say the right to a safe living place (how we keep it safe is something else) and food, next thing you know we’ll see articles on the plight of the poor who can’t take European vacations. Even though a lot of the employed and “wealthy” can’t either. But the argument would be they could if they chose to/spent all their money/put it on credit. While the poor can’t.
This is one of the reasons I’m against life imprisonment instead of the death penalty. I’ve seen this road in Portugal. First you say “we’ll lock them and throw away the key.” And next thing you know there are articles on the horrible punishment of being locked up for life, and are they really a danger when they’re old? Then it will be “Aren’t twenty years enough?”
I don’t know now, but when I came to the US the penalty for murder was about 7 years, with time off for good behavior. (Keep that in mind when they lament how many people are incarcerated in the US.)
So… How many “rights” plausible of interpretation do we want to “grant?” It starts with aid to women and children, and it ends up with subsidizing college and medical care for non citizens here illegally. This is a provable course of “positive rights” where the government grants you benefits at others’ expense.
And since “positive rights” is a proven normal thing for people to demand of their governing bodies (mostly because it looks like the money comes out of nowhere. They don’t have to see that they’re stealing someone’s savings or retirement fund. They just see “the government gave me this”) the only defense against them (THE ONLY defense against them) is to have a founding document that lays out the rules and is not easily revised. And one which points out there are very few things government as power over.
If government can change the rules at will, in an endless game of Calvin Ball, what you have Is not a country, but an ever changing dance where the partners move around but the government gets more and more power, no matter under what guise of benevolence, until the “law” is what government says.
That goes for easily revisable constitutions and it goes double with salt on it for the penumbras and shadows of the “Living Constitution.” You want to add Health Care to it? Or a right to privacy, for that matter, or even a right to Drugs, Sex and Rock and Roll? Fine. You stop peering into that venerable document like a fake seer into a glass ball and discerning shapes that were never there. Instead, you come out in the open and say “I want to change this” and “this is different.” And then – then – we can have a vote on it like civilized human beings. You might still blunder – the Prohibition, again – but at least it will be a common blunder.
This “Living Constitution” and “executive power” thing are tattered masks pulled over the Will To Power you know damn well your fellow citizens wouldn’t grant you.
Which of course is why you employ these.
Stop it. We can see your face. It’s old as sin and new as the Stalinist purges.
And we are not amused.