The Real Meaning of A Living Constitution

Below are the last words of a little-known, 115-page book I published with Stoddart in 1994, entitled Constitutional Crack-Up, when Quebec was agitating for separation, yet again, and Canada’s Federal Government was wallowing in the confusions and contradictions over what the constitution of a free people is supposed to mean. Five thousand copies were printed, which sold out in three days, but the book was never reprinted. I was trying to illuminate the difference between a written and a living constitution.

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And so there is work to be done. For the solution to our troubles will not come from any written constitution. It will come from the unwritten constitution: from the minds and hearts of the people as they reconsider and then restore the founding values of their nation. This will require a new solidarity and belief in eternal, rock-solid principles, without which no euphoric paper constitution will ever have any meaning, and with which, no attempt to corrupt the constitution can possibly succeed.

Such principles, deeply held and clearly articulated are the only possible shield to protect the people against the ceaseless claims of interest groups, radical ideologues, politicians, and tax-mongers of all kinds, who will hurl themselves against that shield in vain. The living constitution, in other words, lies in the passion of the people for the basic values and principles by which they choose to live, not in any piece of paper. But where there are no values or principles, or where these are forgotten, or undefended, there can be no passion; only confusion, and narrow self-interest. Such a people is soon easily corrupted.

So our first duty as a people is to reflect, to read, to comprehend. And then to stand and speak boldly against the enormous engines of big government and special interests, until they fall defeated. For this to happen, every man and woman must be able to say:

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On Democracy and Reason: A Warning!

Yesterday, I was reminded by a reader, of this essay on “Democracy and Reason,” which I published in 1996 – 22 years ago! – as a newspaper column, and which this kind reader said “was prescient,” given the mob-like, dictatorial tenor of recent public discourse.

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In one of those unctuous political utterances for which he was notorious, the former British Prime Minister John Major once declared that “fascism and communism lie behind us. The two great enemies of reason have been defeated.” This was astonishing from a nation that spent so much blood fighting these very evils – and dead wrong on three counts.

First, fascism and communism may be napping, but are not comatose. Their roots are far too deep for that. Many Eastern European nations, after having been joyously liberated from the horrors of communism in the 90s, turned right around and freely voted it back into power with only a slight change of make-up. As for the much misunderstood fascism, there are signs of it everywhere, both in Europe and in North America, especially in the schools and Universities, which heavily promote ethnic identitarianism.

Second, the implication of his comment was that communism is a demented expression of the left, and fascism, of the right. As a good pluralist, Major wished to blame them equally. Leftist journalists and undergraduates are always eager to echo this balancing reflex by quickly labeling anyone with non-egalitarian views, a “fascist.”

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