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Why our Constitution Can’t “Live” by Bruce Frohnen

Why our Constitution Can’t “Live”

by Bruce Frohnen


For more than a half century, now, we have heard that we have a “living” constitution. And it has always been difficult to argue with this position. After all, the opposite of a “living” constitution is a dead one.  And who wants to be seen defending the dead hand of the past? Wouldn’t we all want to be defenders of life, breath, progress, and all good things?

But the question we have to come to grips with in considering our Constitution is not “do you like living, breathing, and other good things?” It is, rather, “do Constitutions breathe?” Or, if you prefer, “do we have to treat our constitution as a living, breathing being in order to support the good things we want to have come out of our political system?”

After all, we all have people, and even pets, we want to make certain breath so that they can live. We love our families, and even our pets. And most of us are rather fond of our Constitution as well. But a constitution does not live or breath, nor should be made to jump around as if it did.

But, if a constitution can’t breathe, then why is the metaphor so prevalent, and seemingly powerful? Because it is useful. It presents us with a stark choice, between standing on the side of old, bad things like slavery or segregation, or insisting that the government ought to act in a fashion that is, in essence, moral. Continue reading

Night of the “Living” Constitution by Bruce Frohnen

living_constitution_by_kiwiNight of the “Living” Constitution

by Bruce Frohnen

Senator Ted Cruz’s 2013 fillibuster didn’t do much to change the dynamic of politics in Washington or to stop Obamacare from becoming the last brick in the wall of social democracy separating Americans from their traditions of self-reliance and local community control. But, to someone interested in the constitutional basis of such things (there are a few of us left), it serves as of a reminder of how we got to this point.

First, what point exactly? The point at which a significant number of members of Congress feel compelled by angry “activist” constituents to oppose a program they may or may not like, but generally see as the natural, inevitable extension of decades of government expansion. The point at which “responsible” members of Congress openly criticize and threaten their colleagues for “obstructing democracy” by putting constituents’ demands above the demands of the mainstream media and academe to “make Washington work.” The point many of us recognize as the point of no return, at which we cease to be the Constitutional republic we once were. Continue reading

Why “Value” Families? by Bruce Frohnen

Why “Value” Families?

happy_familyIn responding to a post of mine criticizing our liberal culture for its hostility toward the traditional family, a commenter wrote: “I don’t know a single liberal who…doesn’t value (and participate in) both traditional and non-traditional families.” I think it is important to examine this liberal response to conservative criticism, not because the issue can be “settled,” but because it can tell us why liberals and conservatives so often seem to be talking past one another when it comes to social issues.

Conservatives (like me) often are accused of being unfairly censorious in accusing liberals of undermining primary institutions like the family.  After all, the argument goes, we talk about “attacks” on relationships liberals genuinely value.  And there is a way in which this is true—a way that shows why the “culture wars” are not likely to end any time soon.

When someone tells you that he and his liberals friends “value (and participate in) both traditional and non-traditional families” that person expects a fight about just what a “non-traditional family” might be. Most liberals, in my experience, are loaded for bear on this question. “What, you mean just because both parents aren’t present, or both happen to be male, or female, or the family is a mixed one, having been through one or more divorces, or there is no marriage certificate, that it somehow isn’t ‘real’?  Well how intolerant and narrow-minded is that?”

If true, this charge would be a serious one. But it is not. Tragedies occur, as they always have. Children are left to be raised by a single parent—neither death nor abandonment is new. Children are raised by maiden aunts, struggling uncles, and other relatives or adoptive parents. Broken families seek to reform in the wake of one or more tragedies.  And common law marriage grew up to recognize the rights of children and spouses in situations where marriages are difficult to obtain or one spouse (or both) persists in refusing to solemnize the relationship.

The real issue is not what exact form of family we value, but what it means to “value” this fundamental institution of social life.  The difference between the traditional and liberal position, here, is summed up in the term “broken family.”  The term is considered rude, today, because it is seen as indicating that there is something wrong with single parent and other “non-traditional” families. In reality, it is a recognition that something tragic has occurred when spouses die, abuse, walk away, or never marry, leaving children to be raised by fewer or more distant relations.  Countless children have overcome the struggles caused by such a tragedy, and we have a duty to help them in that endeavor.  But pretending that nothing bad has happened is something we do for our own benefit (so that we will not “feel guilty”) not for theirs.

The issue, then, is not the particular shape of a particular family, but rather the understanding of what purpose a family is by nature intended to serve.  Perhaps it is best, here, to go a bit deeper into the charge against conservatives:  not only are we narrow-minded for denying the status of “family” to “non-traditional” relationships, we are, in effect, denying the validity of the feelings of those who live in intimate relationships that don’t fit our definition of “family.”  That is, we are accused of somehow claiming that the feelings of homosexual couples, or non-married co-habitants, or persons in other relationships, are false.

Continue reading

The Olympic Bomb by Bruce Frohnen

The Olympic Bomb
by Bruce Frohnen

Anyone harboring concerns over the state of British culture should have had their fears laid to rest by the London Olympics’ opening ceremonies. British culture is well and truly dead. From the “signing” choir that could hardly sing, to the parade of “notable” left-wing figures carrying the flag around the stadium, the mish-mash of bad music, left-wing politics, and dancing that ranged from silly to abominable showed how truly decrepit Britain’s “thinking” classes have become, now that they rule without opposition from any meaningful political, religious, or ethnic quarter.

It was not just the race and gender balancing; after all, such symbols, combined with public monies, were what silenced meaningful ethnic opposition to the “multiculturalism” of state dependency. It was not just the overtly preachy scenarios (Peter Pan as a celebration of socialized medicine). It was the utter mindlessness of a marathon performance that turned the spirit of civilized competition into a very long episode of glee that showed just how little Danny Boyle (the filmmaker who orchestrated the fiasco) and his friends in the British entertainment industry have to offer. Even the network announcer, gamely repeating the liberal platitudes about unity and the “pride” of Britain in her socialized institutions, slipped when viewing the giant inflatable baby displayed in the Peter Pan vignette, asking whether it might be “creepy.” I hope he keeps his job; the better instincts of nature have become all too rare on the airwaves these days.

Of course, a nation that takes pride in broadcasting the “f-word” (and pretty much every letter word that is vulgar) along with cheery blasphemies galore during prime time, would not shy from mocking its own ceremonies. Indeed, Mr. Bean’s fantasy of cheating his way to the Gold was, on the whole, the best moment of the festivities. It’s just that the now-familiar British conceit that one is truly “smart” only if one mocks whatever is serious has become quite boring as well as inappropriate.

I confess to finding the central vignette, of Britain uniting under the difficulties of industrialization to forge the rings that represent the Olympics, to be so vapid as to belie serious interpretation. I could only think how sad it was that the nation that produced Shakespeare has ended by celebrating Mary Poppins as its great contribution to the world, and summing up its philosophy with some anonymous techie’s text message “this is for everyone.”

Gee, thanks for that. I don’t know what I’d do without such empty gesticulations.

And that is the point, really. For all the attempts to show the “relevance” of popular culture through mind-numbing rock medleys and seventies-style film collages constituting nothing so much as an ode to individual autonomy, this great showcase of British culture was about as meaningless as it could have been. Civilization reduced to soundbytes—and soundbytes from sitcoms at that.

One might note that the “ceremonies” missed out on one chance to emphasize their commitment to political correctness: there was no paean to gay marriage. Then again, Boyle is probably planning on a sequel.

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