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.


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:

“I will not ask favours for my vote, and my vote cannot be bought. My freedom lies in me, not in the government, and I expect to exercise it by my own lights under a just law that is the same for all. Call me a citizen, and nothing else, for I want to be equal to all other citizens before the law, with no special rights or privileges over them, with no exceptions for me, or them, for my neighbour, my province, or those who govern me.

I want to be left to my work, my family, my friends, my community, and my dreams of a nation in which we speak much less of rights and more of duties. I want to rise by my own efforts, and I only want help if I truly fail, and only then if friends and family fail me first. I want no one forcing any language upon me, my children, or my enterprise. I want to sell my labour and my goods to my fellow citizen unimpeded, and ask what I will, and receive what I can.

And I will not be taxed in any way unless with the people I vote directly on how much. In this way, we will always know the difference between giving to the common good, at the least cost, and having what is ours taken by force to be squandered. I consent to be governed only by those who promise to serve the people, and if they end by serving themselves, I insist on the right to remove them.

I want to speak my mind openly and freely within the bounds of truth and human decency. I insist on a government with the wisdom to know that the least government is the best; that the State is a device invented by the people to serve their interests, not to serve its own interests, and that it serves the people best by restraining itself. And so I want the means to remove quickly from power those who would lead us into fiscal ruin.

To protect citizens from oppression by those who think might is always right, I will fight for a community of sovereign provinces in a sovereign nation, with clearly divided powers, and always in principle resist the encroachment of a higher government upon any lower one. For my efforts and my property are my own, and I relish the duty to protect myself and my family for the future. Therefore I reject any notion of a constitutional right to things provided by others, because such false rights by nature defile the independence of both parties.

So I accept all laws that wisely forbid me to behave in certain ways, but not laws that force me to behave in any way, whatsoever. And so all the laws to which I agree to submit must ultimately be made, altered, or ended by the people, and the people alone. Such a free society must grow naturally, under a just law, from the several wishes of the people, and I will not allow it to be bent or warped by government program or policy to serve the visions of any man, or party, or judge, or written constitution. If I agree to live under any constitution it will be one that ensures my rights and freedoms against the government, not by the government. I insist on a government of laws, and not a government of men, a constitution that by due effort and persuasion the people may change at will in order to remain free.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. L. Collier

    Yes! This is what I want. Who will be our champion? Who will it be? Whoever it will be, I will support.

    1. William Gairdner

      Thx for this enthusiastic reply! I dare say, the champion, is you, and every one of us. The price of freedom (and not just freedom) as they say, is eternal vigilance. And remember Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is that good men do nothing.” We must all do something.

Leave a Reply

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.