Monday, July 12, 2010

Who Killed the Constitution?

Who Killed the Constitution?: The Fate of American Liberty from World War I for George W. Bush
Thomas E. Woods
Kevin Gutzman

Books detailing government violations of the Constitution are common on the American right. Paleolibertarians Woods and Gutzman take pains to chronicle some lesser known, yet still significant abuses. They explore how the executive branch has routinely violated the Constitution and how all too often, the courts have rationalized these abuses.

Woods and Gutzmans' exposition is usually well-done, if sometimes rather dry. The book covers Woodrow Wilson's wholesale violation of freedom of speech, Harry Truman's attempted seizure of the steel mills, Brown v. Board of Education, forced busing, federal road spending, FDR's gold seizure, prayer in public schools, the draft, medical marijuana, presidential power over foreign policy and war, and presidential signing statements.

But probably the most controversial part of the book is their contention that the Constitution is dead; that it provides no restriction on government whatsoever. This goes to far. While it is true that it has regularly been violated, the Constitution continues to provide a benchmark for debates over the powers of the federal government. While the right side doesn't always win, this avoids the need to argue every debate over government power from first principles. It seems hard to argue that we would have nearly as much freedom of speech or gun rights without the first and second amendments, for example. The authors seem sympathetic to the position of some libertarians that the Constitution has no authority since citizens today did not agree to it.

While their analysis goes to far, Who Killed the Constitution remains a worthy catalogue of government abuses.

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