I propose that the purpose of the next American revolution, collective and/or individual, peaceful and/or violent — and in some of those forms, it may already have begun — should be to bring about a Constitutional Convention that will undertake an appropriate rewrite of the nation’s Constitution.
I did not invent the idea of a Constitutional Convention. There was, first, the Constitutional Convention of 1787, in which the Constitution was written. That one was called for the purpose of rewriting the Articles of Confederation, but as discussion got underway, the need for a new document became apparent. There have been substantial revisions since then, beginning with the Bill of Rights that produced the first ten amendments to the Constitution in 1791 and continuing with other amendments, notably the Reconstruction Amendments following the Civil War in 1865-1870. I did write a piece three years ago, advising President Obama to endorse a Constitutional Convention, but the idea has been a topic of interest, on and off, over the decades (see e.g., Rogers-Kingsbury, 1987).
There has been some attention, recently, to the possibility of a Constitutional Convention, due to action that may have made Michigan the 34th state to call for such a convention. (Thirty-four exceeds two-thirds of fifty, the fraction required by the Constitution’s Article V.) Debate apparently continues on whether those states’ calls should all be counted together. Whatever the outcome of that debate, the point here is simply that a convention is necessary and that an appropriate rewrite of the Constitution should be considered the focus of revolutionary activity.
The possibility of violent revolution arises in, for instance, the prospect that the National Rifle Association (NRA) would no longer have the existing Second Amendment with which to militarize the American public. Debate on a replacement for that amendment would feature moderate positions, with compromises on such matters as whether households need hand grenades and whether gun manufacturers should be held liable in court as tobacco companies and auto manufacturers are held liable. It would likely also feature extreme positions, staked out with actual and/or threatened violence.
As that example suggests, a serious rewrite of the existing Constitution would jeopardize many entrenched interests. One could expect the NRA to take all possible measures to preserve the existing Second Amendment and to insert a similar provision in a new Constitution. Similar reactions would flow from others who stand to gain little from major changes in the rules that make them wealthy and powerful. For instance, justices on today’s Supreme Court might not favor proposals for competency tests and term limits to protect the public against judicial senility and ivory-tower (or wealthy-suburb) detachment from contemporary realities; many corporations would oppose any effort to pare back that Court’s decisions granting them the rights of individual citizens.
The test of an “appropriate” rewrite of the Constitution, for purposes of this post, is that the resulting document must reflect the consent of the governed. Achieving such a document will not be easy. It will surely take years. Yet the difficulty of the process is intrinsic to the future strength of the document and, ultimately, of the nation. People need to understand, be party to– and, in the end, consent to — the concessions made and the compromises reached. The public as a whole must understand and approve the form of government that results from the process.
The proposal offered here is, essentially, that a new American constitution is an appropriate goal for any moderate or extreme political activity that people — liberal or conservative, rich or poor, young or old — may contemplate now, or in the years to come. As indicated in present and future posts in this blog and elsewhere, major changes need to be made. A suitable constitution would provide an appropriate basis for those changes.