Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Flexible Standards, I: The Living Constitution


A Southern Lady of our acquaintance (please note the capitalization), has been known to turn her nose up at certain things on the grounds that they do not meet her “standuhds.”  Being mostly “standuhds” (or, if you prefer — which we do — “standards”) relating to certain social mores, these are sometimes a trifle flexible, possibly even a little vague at times.

"You're a jerk!" "You're another!"
For example, if one is referring to an ordinary boorish jerk (an ordinary jerk is a Yank — yes, look it up in the dictionary: “Yank (n): a jerk.”), he or (less frequently) she is a “basset.”  A more than usually boorish jerk is a “dirty basset.”  An outstandingly churlish, crude, or crass individual is a “sumbitch” (always said in an undertone if you’re a Southern Lady).

Only individuals exhibiting the absolute dregs of human behavior, combining pertinacity with utter swinishness, are referred to as “bastards.”  Even then, it is generally qualified by admitting that the offending one’s parents were probably married and he (or, rarely, she) is not the technical, but the self-made kind.

"What did you call me, suh?"
The point of this is the absolute importance of maintaining standards not merely in subjective matters, but in those involving objective reality — and it is there in which modern civilization has failed to live up to, well, “standuhds.”  This has given various “fundamentalist” (i.e., reactionary) groups all kinds of leverage to return society to some imagined “Good Old Days” and freeze it there.

This is particularly damaging in two areas, at least in the United States: 1) Money and Credit, and 2) Constitutional Law.  Let’s take the second of these first, since our main point is the first, which we will take second.  (That makes sense if you ever took classical Latin.)

Adler: Abandon reason and might makes right.
This is the theory of “the living constitution.”  In a nutshell, there is no more certain way to kill a constitution than to claim it is a “living” document, the meaning of which changes with the times.

Uh, huh.  Why bother to have a constitution that secures certain things for all time, if by “all time” is meant “as long as it is convenient for those in power”?  Why not just cut straight to the chase and come right out and say, “Might Makes Right”?  As both Mortimer Adler and Heinrich Rommen agreed, getting away from the concept of inherent rights always ends up meaning Might Makes Right.  Without any accepted “general code of human behavior” (i.e., the natural law based on objective human nature instead of someone’s opinion as to the will of some deity) as a standard against which to measure human behavior, anything goes . . . anything, that is, that someone with a bigger club than you have lets you get away with. . . .

#30#

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