In an adaptation of a lecture he delivered at Hillsdale College in September, Charles Kesler explains his theory on America’s two constitutions, and how today the country is fighting a “cold civil war.” He writes (abridged):
America Torn Between Two Two Constitutions, Two Cultures, Two Ways of Life
Six years ago I wrote a book about Barack Obama in which I predicted that modern American liberalism, under pressures both fiscal and philosophical, would either go out of business or be forced to radicalize. If it chose the latter, I predicted, it could radicalize along two lines: towards socialism or towards an increasingly post-modern form of leadership.
In the Claremont Review of Books, we have described our current political scene as a cold civil war.
America is torn increasingly between two rival constitutions, two cultures, two ways of life
One vision is based on the original Constitution as amended. This is the Constitution grounded in the natural rights of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution written in 1787 and ratified in 1788.
The other vision is based on what Progressives and liberals, for 100 years now, have called “the living Constitution.” This term implies that the original Constitution is dead—or at least on life support.
The resulting Constitution—let us call it “the liberal Constitution”—is not a constitution of natural rights or individual human rights, but of historical or evolutionary right.
Until the 1960s, most liberals believed it was inevitable that their living Constitution would replace the conservative Constitution through a kind of slow-motion evolution. But during the sixties, the so-called New Left abandoned evolution for revolution, and partly in reaction to that, defenders of the old Constitution began not merely to fight back, but to call for a return to America’s first principles.
There is also today a vast divergence between the liberal and conservative understandings of the First Amendment. Liberals are interested in transforming free speech into what they call equal speech, ensuring that no one gets more than his fair share.
Not surprisingly, the Democratic Party’s 2016 platform called for amending the First Amendment!
In terms of government structure, the liberal Constitution is designed to overcome the separation of powers and most other checks and balances. Liberals consistently support the increased ability to coordinate, concentrate, and enhance government power—as opposed to dividing, restricting, or checking it.
Under present circumstances, the American constitutional future seems to be approaching some kind of crisis—a crisis of the two Constitutions. Let us pray that we and our countrymen will find a way to reason together and to compromise.
Read more here.