Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Edmund Burke and the Constitution

From Russell Kirk:
Constitutions are something more than lines written upon parchment. When a written constitution endures—and most written constitutions have not been long for this world—that document has been derived successfully from long-established customs, beliefs, statutes, and interests; it has reflected a political order already accepted, tacitly at least, by the dominant element among a people.

True constitutions are not invented: they grow. The Constitution of the United States has endured for two centuries because it arose from the healthy roots of more than two centuries of colonial experience and of several centuries of British experience. For the most part, the American Constitution expressed formally what already was accepted, practiced, and believed in by the people of the new republic. A constitution without deep roots is no true constitution at all.

In a symposium at Kenyon College, three decades ago, I expressed such views. Clinton Rossiter dissented. Why, a constitution can be created overnight, he said; just that had been done in many European countries shortly after the First World War and the Second World War.

"Where are those constitutions now?" I inquired. And today one might ask, with equal pertinence, "Where are now the constitutions of the emergent African states, so grandly promulgated in the 1950s and 1960's?" The framers of a successful constitution must take into account the history, the moral order, the resources, the prospects of a country—and much else besides. Those framers must be endowed with political imagination—which is not at all the same thing as political utopianism—and with much practical knowledge of affairs. Otherwise a constitution may live no longer than a butterfly. (Read entire article.)

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