"In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." --Thomas Jefferson, fair copy of the drafts of the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798
I am a big fan of some of Mr. Jefferson’s political ideas. I am also not opposed to the spirit of this proposal. People should not be trusted with political power, because people are riddled with the effects of sin.
A little aside: This is one area where a theological consideration cannot be divorced from a political idea. One major divide in political ideas is the matter of what you think of the moral perfectibility of human beings. If you think people can rise above their moral flaws, you simply need to find those people and put them into power. If not, you have to watch people in power carefully. But either approach is a theological position.
Now, back to the main point . . .
I am generally in favor of ‘binding’ people with the ‘chains’ of a constitution. But since Mr. Jefferson’s day one thing we have learned is that this is never, and not nearly, enough for the continued enjoyment of liberty. What we have seen repeated throughout our history is this: people in power will do much of what they want in spite of constitutions.
Sometimes our Constitution is simply ignored. All that is required for this to happen is an un-Constitutional act by either Congress or the President, and the permission of a simply majority of the Supreme Court. And this even presumes that such a matter makes it to the courts. Ordinary people cannot even begin to afford access to the court system for such matters.
Sometimes our Constitution is simply twisted into meaninglessness by faulty interpretation. In these cases, and there have been many of them, the system goes through the motions of working, but in the end liberty is not protected.
Our history is replete with examples in which the Constitution was unable to ‘bind’ those in power. That is because liberty transcends constitutions and positions of power. It requires a culture of individuals who both love and understand liberty to protect and preserve it.
If people prefer slavery to liberty, constitutions which erect the most wonderful and ingenious structures to protect it will be in vain. If you don’t think that is the case, check the political news any day of the week.