The Constitution Is Not Holy Writ

Christians Should Understand Political Reality

America is no longer governed by the founders’ Constitution.

Some think the Constitution was dead on arrival. Others think Lincoln was a tyrant who shredded it, thereby bringing about big government. Maybe the early Progressives, such as Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, were the main culprits who thwarted it, both at the level of political theory and practice. For others it’s FDR and the New Deal. Or LBJ and the Great Society. Lately, it has become acceptable to blame the Civil Rights Acts of 1964. Others have argued that wave after wave of liberalism worked to erode the Constitution’s foundations, turning our republic into a government of, by, and for the kleptocrats. 

In any case, despite some disagreement about particulars, the claim that the U.S. Constitution has ceased to guide the American political system should be Politics 101 for those on the Right. We may still abide by the bare forms the Constitution set in place such as age requirements for Congress and the president. The three branches are still present today, as are the titles of those holding political office. 

But though the exterior looks to be holding up well in its old age, the interior structures are burned beyond recognition. Professor Kevin Slack of Hillsdale College has cogently noted that “the Constitution and documents like The Federalist no longer explain how government actually works. Indeed they expose its illegitimacy.” 

Conservatives have been making the argument for decades that the Left has mangled the Constitution, rejecting the original intent of those who drafted it. The only consideration that could stop one from openly describing the present state of government in America now is prudence. But how prudent is it to continue speeding toward a cliff and remain calm, acting as though a return to constitutional government is just over the horizon? 

In place of the founders’ Constitution is the Regime Constitution. It was founded upon the authority of “We the Cosmopolitans” to establish anarcho-tyranny, ensure domestic upheaval for middle America, provide for the defense of the protected classes, promote the Welfare of the elites, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to wine moms and their cats. Joe Biden is the Manager in Chief of our national decline while the managers of the bureaucracies do the real work of governing, backed by phalanxes of public and private institutions that enforce the social mores to which everyone must conform.

The Regime Constitution is a complicated, often extra-political system that centers around the administrative state. Thanks to the Supreme Court in the twentieth century, the administrative state functionally holds all three powers of government, a situation James Madison called “the very definition of tyranny.” It has gobbled up the powers delegated to it by members of Congress, who have preferred to abdicate their responsibility to the public good altogether for getting re-elected.

What we mistakenly call “politics” is fundamentally about empty suits giving B-movie performances that are meant to conceal the fact that they no longer govern in any meaningful sense. As our “political representatives” preen moralistically, countries are bombed, the immigration spigot is kept on full blast, and the chief executive himself can be targeted by the very agencies and departments that are supposed to be under his control.

While Congress used to pass general laws, today they pass gargantuan bills in the dead of night that no one reads, which are filled with giveaways to lobbyists and defense contractors. The Pentagon fails audit after audit but faces nothing more than the strongly-worded letter brigade in Congress. Who in a position of power has ever been held responsible, much less fired, for the Covid debacle or the myriad failures in Afghanistan and Iraq?

How is any of this constitutional according to the founders and those who practiced their traditions?

But for reasons that are hard to fathom, noticing the present state of modern America—that is, the very evils conservatives have been complaining about for decades—is suddenly verboten. What has traditionally been a conservative mainstay is suddenly not conservative.

The most recent dust up in our age of political realignment was set off by American Reformer co-founder Nate Fischer, who posted the following observation:

I understand nostalgia for the constitution, or longing to restore the principles the founders established. But if you will not accept the reality that this is long gone—if you judge others based on fidelity to a set of “principles” that govern no one—then you are a fool.

Screenshots were shared by those, Christians included, who were extremely confident that Fischer supposedly exposed his inner fascist. While a few thoughtful attempts were made to answer him—to his credit, Andrew Walker offered reasoned arguments and not instant vitriol—most, again Christians included, offered uncharitable readings in the extreme. 

Erick Erickson, a conservative pundit and member of Fischer’s own denomination, perplexingly called his analysis Marxism, simply misstating Fischer’s argument by wrongly claiming that he “doesn’t actually want the system the founders gave us, but something else.” Lutheran pastor Jordan Cooper misread Fischer’s argument in the exactly same way, thinking he critiqued “the longing to restore of the principles the founders established” itself rather than the feasibility of that project given today’s circumstances. 

Former ERLC comms director Dan Darling labeled Fischer’s argument neither a “conservative nor a Christian approach. It’s the same logic of postmodernism reflected in the 1619 project.” A search through his X replies showed no subsequent attempt to substantiate these claims. 

What exactly is it about Fischer’s analysis that is beyond the pale? Having the political opinion that the Constitution has been discarded in no way ushers in Caesarism. Describing the current situation is not wishing for it. Noticing reality does not logically entail that one wants to establish tyranny. A description of present realities and a prescriptive argument are two entirely different things. 

Casey Wheatland has rightly commented that “America today is increasingly an empire not of laws but of corrupt men. Those who point this out are not conspiracy theorists or dangerous militants…but simply men with functioning eyes and ears.” Having an accurate sense of political reality prepares us to get ready for what may be coming next, which is a far better place than keeping our eyes trained on a mirage.

Ironically, as C. Jay Engel pointed out, the conservatives’ own project of returning to the founders’ Constitution, a goal they’ve claimed to have sought for decades, would be a monumental act of revolution in 2024. It would entail rolling back decades of precedent in constitutional law and practice on the federal, state, and local levels. It would mean impeaching batches of rogue judges. And it would mean fundamentally changing what’s being taught in many of our top law schools and even propagated by the conservative legal movement.

In a related point from Andrew Isker, one wonder how these conservatives would have fared at the time of the Constitution’s creation. After all, the Constitution itself was the product of a revolution against the Articles of Confederation. As James Madison wrote in Federalist 43, the framers appealed to “the great principle of self-preservation; to the transcendent law of nature and of nature’s God, which declares that the safety and happiness of society are the objects at which all political institutions aim, and to which all such institutions must be sacrificed.” If the conservative critics of noticing reality were transported back to those times, like Isker I would imagine they’d be on a one-way ship back to jolly old England, condemning the colonists for treason against the Crown. 

Furthermore, it is especially strange to see determined critics of Christian nationalism treat the Constitution as a sacred document, even implying that political opinions like Fischer’s are somehow sinful. 

Paul Miller, for instance, claimed that “reports of the constitution’s death have been greatly exaggerated.” This is a political statement that is perfectly open to rebuttal. But it is not an infallible truth from Scripture that must bind all Christians. Politics sometimes demands arguing about the character of the political order itself and whether it has drifted from its foundations—not closing off debate a priori. Christians should not anathematize a perfectly defensible assessment of our present political realities, acting as though it’s somehow out of the bounds of Christian discourse.

And Miller’s second point is just as problematic as his first: “Saying the constitution is dead gives one permission to act extra-constitutionally. That’s a dangerous and self-serving argument.” I’m not sure how under this criterion it would ever be acceptable to point out what the Left has done over at least the last 100 years to destroy constitutional government. And if the Constitution he is speaking of is the present one, the Regime Constitution, how exactly could one even begin to go about reestablishing republican government without working outside of its parameters? Straitjacketing ourselves within a document that in fundamental ways is a dead letter while the Left gets to do what they want merely perpetuates our suicidal status quo.

There is no returning to 1787. It is an open question whether Americans possess the requisite morality and religious habits that are required for constitutional government. We face very different conditions than the founders’ generation, and new statesmen must rise and act to these new realities. An overweening nostalgia combined with moralistic gatekeeping and a doctrinaire approach that Christianizes the present regime will only hasten our slide into chaos.  

Instead, American Christians must become knowledgeable about the present state of things. They must understand their duty to oppose the threats they face and cultivate the virtues necessary to combat them. And importantly, they must work to reassert the political in an age that, to quote Leo Strauss, has “an unmanly contempt for politics.” Nothing less will save our country from impending disaster.

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Mike Sabo

Mike Sabo is a Contributing Editor of American Reformer and an Assistant Editor of The American Mind, the online journal of the Claremont Institute. His writing has appeared at RealClearPolitics, The Federalist, Public Discourse, and American Greatness, among other outlets. He lives with his wife and son in Cincinnati.

8 thoughts on “The Constitution Is Not Holy Writ

  1. The above gives another example of a black-white worldview that is a foundational part of authoritarianism. Conservatives are for the real Constitution, Biden, liberals, and progressives are for the Regime Constitution. It’s Christians and Fly-Over America against the rest.

    Let’s remember that it was adherence to The Constitution that protected us from Trump’s insurrection. Let’s remember that the fault with our government is not found in any lack of adherence to The Constitution; the fault rests with the lack of integrity of our government officials. The Constitution provides only limited protection against elected officials who lack integrity. And let’s also remember what George Carlin said about our politicians: they are products of American society.

    What is the core problem of America today? IMO, it is that of the two main institutions that make up America, Americans are more influenced by the Free Market than by Democracy. With the former comes the tenet that one’s only moral obligation is the seeking of self-interest. With the latter comes not only the seeking of self-interest, but the seeking of the interests of others TOO. That in seeking self-interest, we not only refrain from infringing on the equality of others, we seek to defend their equality.

    If Democracy is more important to us than the Free Market, we would see a more equitable sharing of wealth in our nation. If the Free Market is more important to us than Democracy, we would see a cut-throat competition for power in government. So what do we see in government today?

    The Constitution was designed to provide mechanisms and some procedural guidelines along with a set of protections for the rights of the individual. The Constitution was never designed to protect us from the effects of people, and their elected representatives, who favor the Free Market over Democracy. And one of the reasons for that is because most of the participants in the 1787 Constitutional Convention belonged to the financial elites of their time. And they came together to write The Constitution because they felt threatened by the widespread discontent over the economics of the time including Shays Rebellion. And so those elites sought a more centralized government that could respond to that dissent and conflict. And the government they formed has tradeoffs for the people.

    This black-white worldview that scapegoats others while claiming innocence and victimhood for one’s own group most often gives one an overly simplistic view of the world and enters one into an audition for the role of the Pharisee from the parable the two men praying.

    Finally, for those of us Christians who feel threatened by the private personal choices of others, what’s causing our fears is freedom. And we can’t have freedom without equality. So what does that say about us?

    1. Curt Day delenda est.
      Or, you know what? I’m sick of being coy.
      Curt Day must be destroyed.

    2. In the view you presented, the Constitution serves only to hinder the right because the right still respects the constitution. The left pays very little heed to it. The constitution, in their view, is only a means to leftwing ends.

      In the one constitutional victory that the right has had in the last century (reversing Roe V Wade), we have only restored the right to self-determination by states, and even then, the left just seeks to put the right people on the court to restore abortion without restriction.

      The words of the constitution mean far, far less than who interprets it. It is time that conservatives play the same game that the left has done for a century: interpret the constitution solely with ideological ends in mind. Forget what the words actually say, just rule according to what end you want.

      Does that idea sound good? Absolutely not, it’s terrifying, but that is now the constitutional order in which we find ourselves. The left has ruled in accordance with ideology over constitution for a century. The right is only just now realizing it and is going to start doing the same. Our legal system is in shambles, which is threatening the legitimacy of the government itself. A revolution is GOING to happen.

      1. Dylan,
        Do you call what was attempted by Trump to overthrow the fair election respecting The Constitution? Do you call the censoring of CRT and LGBT materials in libraries and schools respecting The Constitution? I don’t for both questions.

        I am interested in your answers to these next two questions. Can you give specific examples of where The Constitution is hindering the Right? And can you do the same regarding your claim that the Left pays little heed to The Constitution and uses its ideology to interpret it?

        1. Trump is an outlier on the right, which is why he was so impactful. He is an example of the exact point that I am trying to make, but maybe failing to do so: The old paradigm is ending. Trump was willing to interpret the constitution in the way he pleased in order to win. He interpreted the use of the Vice President as being able to reject the delegates if election malfeasance was suspected. What is interesting is that Pence declined to do so. This was a clash between the new order (represented by Trump) and the old order (represented by Pence). The new right no longer holds the constitution with the same regard as the old. As to your point about censoring CRT and LGBT materials, that is a featured success of the new right, largely driven by Chris Rufo. Could you imagine the right of 30 years ago doing that? I couldn’t. We are working with an entirely new political paradigm.

          As to your second set of questions, abortion is a good example for both that is pretty widely known. Roe V Wade was always a major stretch in constitutional interpretation, and even leftwing lawyers knew it was highly vulnerable. It was an interpretation made on ideological grounds, not on sound interpretation of the text of the constitution. And of course, this was not contested in any meaningful way by the right, who nobly respected the constitutional order.

          But then consider the issue of gun rights. The supreme court has ruled repeatedly that the 2nd amendment is absolute. Yet, can anyone reasonably claim that the cities of NYC or LA are holding to those rulings? The left is more than willing to interpret even established rulings to their own ideological ends. The old right would never. They viewed the constitution as a sacred document, meant to be followed to the letter. The left viewed it as an obstacle to overcome. That was the old paradigm.

          To put a cap on my thoughts on this, this new paradigm is not to be gladly welcomed but borne with grim acceptance. This is going to lead to real conflict and strife in our country. However, it is necessary, because the old paradigm was unworkable. The nation my grandfather was born into is wholly unrecognizable from the one we see today. This is largely due to a rightwing that was ideologically unequipped to combat the excesses of the left, which has led to the decay of morality across the nation. One of the phrases that sticks with me is that “our politics have no functioned as a pendulum, but a ratchet.” The left takes control, and advances its ideals in society. The right takes control and only pauses the left’s advance long enough for the left to take control again. The right had to change, and in the long run, our society will be better for it.

          1. Dylan,
            Trump does, and did, more than reinterpret The Constitution, he has criticized and defied parts of it. Trying to get Pence to change how the electoral college votes are to be counted and inspiring a crowd to stop the Constitutional process of counting those electoral college votes, along with other words and actions, shows a rejection of part of The Constitution.

            As for Roe v. Wade, I don’t think it was as wrong Constitutionally as conservatives say. For example, what if the issue was about how a woman wanted to control her digestive system by getting surgery to reduce the size of her stomach? Could a law that banned such a procedure for women be constitutionally defended? Could a woman challenge such a law based on its Constitutionality?

            The problem with Roe v. Wade is that SCOTUS could not find a consensus on when human life began. In reality, I believe they were looking for when personhood, which is when we could count the unborn as a person, began. Personhood and life begin at different stages. If SCOTUS found such a consensus, then perhaps Roe v. Wade would have never been decided in favor of Roe. Other than that, I don’t see why the decision was Constitutionally flawed. Could you provide an explanation and where I am wrong there?

  2. One of the great ironies is the right’s refusal to use power out of principle. They say that “if we were to do that, then the left could do that to us when they get in power!” Then the left gets in power and does just that very thing. The right refuses to recognize that the left has long abandoned any pretense of constitutional order. That is changing, but it also means that things are going to heat up.

    I don’t believe the solution is going to come from Congress, the president, or the supreme court. The solution is going to come from Governors, who still maintain some autonomy from the feds and still have to maintain some semblance of fealty to the people of their state. We need governors that are willing to defy the federal government in meaningful ways.

    1. Dylan,
      Your characterizations of both the right and left are too general and don’t fit the facts. Excluding Trump, we have Bush and his Patriot Act and Reagan’s attacks on unions showed a significant use of power relative to their time. And then there was Nixon.

      Excluding Trump, the right is using power to censor sources of information that make them feel uncomfortable and do not fit in their agenda.

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