If you’re still wondering if the US Constitution of 1787 failed to protect liberty, then just look around you. That scrap of parchment is an obvious failure. The US government is the hugest government in the world and meddles in the lives of its citizens (and people worldwide) in every way imaginable. The government accepts no limits on its power whatsoever. The president rules by decree.
This isn’t done under some new constitution. This is all done under the 1787 one. Lots of liberty activists argue that the Supreme Court is just reading the document incorrectly, but one simply cannot deny that virtually everyone in government, as well as most of the general population, is perfectly fine with most of what government does today, and thinks it’s constitutional. If one can plausibly claim that the constitution authorizes most of what the US government does today, then the document’s language is obviously feeble, ineffective, and useless for the purposes of preserving liberty.
Even among those “constitutionalist” types, many of whom are militarists, you’ll find plenty of support for unconstitutional measures such as a standing army, drug prohibition, and other government programs beloved by conservatives, but which are obviously not authorized by the enumerated powers of the constitution.
Rothbard had this figured out a long time ago:
From any libertarian, or even conservative, point of view, it has failed and failed abysmally; for let us never forget that every one of the despotic incursions on man’s rights in this century, before, during and after the New Deal, have received the official stamp of Constitutional blessing.
At a recent meeting of Students for Liberty, John Stossel spoke to some students of Rothbard:
Kelly Kidwell, a sophomore from Tulane University, said, “Regardless of what its intent was, we still have the (big) government that we have now — so the Constitution has either provided for that government, or failed to prevent it.”
Stossel went on:
That’s an argument that libertarian economist Murray Rothbard used to make. He took the pessimistic view that the Constitution’s “limited government” was an experiment that had already failed, since 200 years later, government was barely limited at all. He concluded that libertarians should be not just constitutionalists, but anarchists — get rid of government completely.
That idea sounds extreme to me, and to some libertarians at the conference — not to mention the few pro-big-government speakers, like movie director Oliver Stone. But I’m happy that students ask those sorts of questions rather than wondering which regulations to pass, what to tax and whom to censor for “insensitive” speech.
UPDATE: A reader points out this statement from Lysander Spooner:
But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain — that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.