Time to reboot?

This semester, we’ve been discussing documents relating to the American Founding in my Social Sciences 2 class, and I asked both my classes: “Should we tear out and start fresh?” There was widespread discomfort with the idea, mostly based in the fear of who would be tasked with writing the new Constitution. I understand that fear, but I think that a lot of the pitfalls could be avoided by means of a ratification process — if the New Founders knew that a two-thirds majority of all American citizens had to approve it, that would presumably keep them from enshrining fetal personhood as a Constitutional principle, for instance. Even in the worst case where the CEO of Goldman Sachs simply dictates the form of the document, I assume the most crazy and unworkable aspects of our system — the recognition of a weird form of quasi-sovereignty for the states and the anti-democratic Senate — would be eliminated just for the sake of simplicity. (I would note that as difficult as amending the Constitution is in any case, state sovereignty and the Senate are two aspects of the Constitution that are nearly impossible to effectively amend away because of clauses stipulating that no state can be involuntarily deprived of equal representation in the Senate. Hence any state that held out and didn’t ratify an amendment to introduce equal representation would still get as many senators as California — and I can’t even imagine the logical paradoxes that would arise with any amendment proposing to do away with the Senate altogether.)

At the same time, I’m reminded of what Bruce Rosenstock has told me on more than one occasion when this topic has come up: the saving grace of the American political system is that the founding document has the status of Scripture, and one should never throw that away. If you attempt a reboot, all bets are off. (I’m paraphrasing — if I’m misconstruing, hopefully he will show up in comments to more accurately portray his views.)

What do you think, dear readers?

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17 Responses to “Time to reboot?”

  1. gerrycanavan Says:

    As I mentioned on Twitter, you could slowly eliminate the Senate’s powers until by custom it was just a pro forma rubberstamp, as has happened to the House of Lords. The other option would be to eliminate Article V by Constitutional Amendment, then eliminate the Senate with a second Amendment. That’s a potential paradox too but if you could pass two such Amendments it would be such an overwhelming social consensus it probably stand.

    Best to just start over, though. It couldn’t be worse.

  2. Greg Says:

    The founders wrote a document that rebooted the American system, but solved both the immediate problems of the Articles, and the age-old problems that plagued historical republics. I think some questions need to be answered before we get to rebooting:
    -What is the goal of the reboot?
    -What are the solutions to solve the problems our current system suffers from?
    -Do those solutions actually solve the problems?

  3. Adam Kotsko Says:

    The goal should be to make the system more democratic and transparent. State autonomy and a state-based house of the federal legislature are the primary causes of the lack of democratic equity and transparency. So eliminate both.

  4. realJeffHanna Says:

    … the saving grace of the American political system is that the founding document has the status of Scripture, and one should never throw that away. If you attempt a reboot, all bets are off.

    What does this mean?

  5. Adam Kotsko Says:

    It means that removing the constitution could mean breaking the political bond altogether.

  6. Adam Kotsko Says:

    …and presumably the break-up of the greatest military power in human history, whose population is also armed to the teeth, would have negative consequences.

  7. realJeffHanna Says:

    Eh. I think it’d be fine.

  8. Craig McFarlane Says:

    Based upon Twitter today, there seems to be a lot of people–especially Americans–who think that the Senate was conceived as a democratic institution. It was conceived as precisely the opposite of this. Thus, all these comments about “those who voted for it represented 63% of the population” are completely and absolutely wrong and should read their Constitution. The Senate did what it is supposed to do: act as a sober aristocratic check on the passions of the mob who are represented by the democratic principle of population in the House, on the one hand, and the lascivious desires and incipient tyranny of the monarch, on the other.

    When you think about it, the political crisis of the United States is identical to that of Westeros: the sober and honourable Ned Stark standing between King Joffrey and the Wildlings. No wonder they cut off his head. The important question today, then, is “Where is our Daenerys? And will she hook up with her half-brother Jon Snow to make beautiful dragon-wolf babies?”

    I’m obviously not attributing this error to Adam.

  9. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Few things annoy me more than people pointing out the undemocratic nature of the Senate like it’s news.

  10. Craig McFarlane Says:

    You should avoid Twitter today. Apparently it’s news.

  11. Aaron Says:

    It seems likely that the populations of certain states would respond in a highly oppositional manner to the proposed end of their quasi-sovereignty. Anti-Federal sentiment runs deep in some parts of the country. But if they didn’t want to join the New Union, perhaps their attainment of actual sovereignty would be a good riddance for the rest of us.

  12. Sam Says:

    The arguments against rewriting source code from scratch might be relevant here, perhaps more so given that rewriting a foundational political document faces vastly greater obstacles.

    Also, it seems to be easier to push for change by arguing that you’re restoring the original principles of the Constitution than by trying to overtly replace them — see civil rights, women’s rights, etc.

  13. ted whalen (@tewhalen) Says:

    “[I]f the New Founders knew that a two-thirds majority of all American citizens had to approve it, that would presumably keep them from enshrining fetal personhood as a Constitutional principle, for instance.”

    If “the new Constitution” and “the 1789 Constitution” are the only two options, I can see that working. If “pass this, or maybe we should just break up” is on the table, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a constitution proposed that couldn’t muster a super-majority. I’m not sure that the forces that impelled the former colonies to band together to form a single nation are quite so salient these days. Back then, there were good reasons for the colonies to hammer out compromises in order to unify. Now, I’m not so sure. Is there going to be strong “we really need Texas on board” sentiment at the convention?

  14. Richard Says:

    “State autonomy and a state-based house of the federal legislature are the primary causes of the lack of democratic equity and transparency.”

    They’re really not. Capital is.

  15. nydwracu Says:

    I hate to be the Moldbug guy, but…

    The problem with a reboot is the problem raised by Moldbug’s reading of Filmer: the king is a king because–there is no because; he’s just the king, the Schelling point, and without him, people would fight until a new king was installed, which is worse than most kings. Things are bad now, but there’s bad and then there’s civil war bad. We’ve seen civil war bad before; until the government sets half the country on fire, a reboot doesn’t sound particularly wise. Unless there’s a way to make the reboot instantly take Schelling-point status, of course–but how do you do that other than through the Constitution? Moldbug argues that’s happened… I think four times before, and certainly there are at least two: the Civil War and the New Deal. But the Civil War was civil war bad and the New Deal restructuring of government was a function of the legislature and the court of the nine kings, and neoliberal control of government is such that it appears there’s hardly any chance we’ll be able to get new ennearchs appointed anytime soon.

    Of course, it’s not like there’s a chance for reboot either, so.

  16. ambzone Says:

    “I hate to be the Moldbug guy, but…”

    oh lawd


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