The Constitutional Argument is the Weakest Argument
In the fight for liberty and limiting the authority of one group of people (the government) over another, all kinds of arguments have been used. Generally they fall into these categories; in what I believe are descending order of usefulness.
- Historical arguments: "Hitler, Mao and Stalin all misused this power. Our government shouldn't have this power either."
- Moral arguments: "Stealing is wrong. Therefore the income tax is wrong."
- Constitutional arguments: "The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable search and seizure."
The US Constitution is a great document, full of pithy truths, and it has demonstrated through the centuries a prescient wisdom that is quite remarkable. But as far as an argument in favor or against government behaviors, it is by far the weakest of the three. The principles behind the Constitution are so strong, and the historical evidence of unlimited government gone awry so plentiful that there is no reason to make weak appeals to the authority of a piece of paper so few recognize as valid.
To people without special reverence for the Constitution, it is a set of laws that can be changed at any time. To hardcore Constitutionalists and believers in inalienable rights, this is heresy, but it does nothing to strengthen their case in the eyes of those that feel the Constitution is flexible. As far as most people are concerned, the Constitution has been changed many times, the Bill of Rights violated intentionally many times, and no plague of locusts descended on our nation's capital.
Far more important than if something is in the Constitution is why.
Why was free speech and a free press important?
Why did the right to bear arms come next in the minds of the Founding Fathers?
Why did a trial have to be speedy and public?
Why was torture specifically mentioned and outlawed?
There is tremendous historical precedent for all ten amendments, there was when the Constitution was drafted, and the evidence in favor of an empowered population and limited government have only piled higher since.
So, instead of invoking a piece of paper, invoke the real reasons that the Constitution says what it does:
- Q: How many people died at the hands of governments in the 20th century?
- A: Over 200 million.
- Q: What is the necessary first step in committing widespread genocide?
- A: Disarming the population.
And so on. Argue this way.
Adherence to Constitutional principles can be better justified by historical precedent and strong moral argument than any appeal to the document's imagined authority. The Constitution is a great document, not because it is endowed with its own power, but because of what it says and why. If the people that needed convincing already had total faith in the value of the Constitution, there would be no argument to have. But the truth is, the Constitution in itself carries little weight with those that would see it changed. It is only the underlying principles, the central ideas, that have any power to change hearts and minds. Appeal to authority, when that authority is not recognized, is an exercise in futility.