USS Clueless - American robustness

Stardate 20040125.1602

(On Screen): Grant writes:

A good friend of mine is a hopeless lefty and every now and again we have long 'discussions' on what we think the US Govt.'s motives are. She has written quite a good essay (but long) on this that I thought you might be interested in. It covers pretty well the though processes of the left in our country (New Zealand) and contains most of the usual canards about 'Bush Lied' etc but also puts some pretty well reasoned arguments along the lines of the US is the creator of all the current problems not just the victim.

I think that the deepest way in which Grant's friend Annelise and I disagree is in the reading of the phrase a more perfect union from the preamble to the Constitution.

We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

A more perfect union is not a perfect union. What they established was not ideal, but it was better than anything else that existed at the time, without being so radical as to be infeasible to create. It was a compromise between idealism and practicality. It was radical, but not so radical as to risk self-destruction.

The French revolution went much further and attempted to establish an ideal system immediately, or at least what was at the time thought to be an ideal system. But it collapsed in just a few years. What it attempted to establish may well not have been capable of working, and in any case it went too far too fast. The most critical difference is that the Americans were pragmatic, while the French revolutionaries were totally focused on the ideal. (At least some of them, at least initially.)

The Americans compromised and created a system which was in many ways deeply flawed, and many at the time thought it was flawed. In fact, one of the most important compromises made in Philadelphia in 1787 was to defer a large number of contentious issues, and to leave them out of the Constitution initially so as to maximize the chance of the Constitution being ratified.

From the very first, it was understood that it would adapt and change in deep and critical ways, and it was designed to permit change. The Constitution was written in 1787 and once it was ratified, the very first Congress proposed that the charter be radically revised, fulfilling a promise made in Philadelphia in 1787. 12 amendments were approved by the first Congress in 1789 and submitted to the states, and ten of those amendments were ratified by the states by 1791. We call those ten the Bill of Rights.

That was totally unprecedented: not just that a radical charter for government was accepted, but that it was massively changed just two years later and changed peacefully, through formal procedures.

The political system they created was robust, in the sense that an engineer uses the term. It dealt well with adversity and unforeseen challenges, and it was self-correcting and was particularly able to adapt and change. Even when it failed, it exhibited what engineers refer to as "graceful failure".

Because of that, it survived and over the course of time it improved.

She's right that democracy is something that has to be learned. Even democracy at the limited level established in the early Constitution was a great leap into the unknown, and the founders were fearful that it might not work. It took guts to even go as far in that direction as they did.

But it did work, and as a result, over time it began to move even further along that path.

Is the US today flawed? Certainly. But it is less flawed than it was a hundred years ago, and that was less flawed than 200 years ago. It is not a perfect democracy even now (and in any case a perfect democracy is impossible), but it is more democratic now than a hundred years ago, and that was more democratic than 200 years ago.

In 1804, only white men who owned property could vote, and the majority of blacks in the US were slaves. US Senators were selected by the state legislatures, which were dominated by the propertied elite. (In a sense, the US Senate was America's equivalent to the British "House of Lords".)

By 1904, slavery had been outlawed. All men were legally entitled to vote no matter what color they were, but as a practical matter many were not permitted to vote because of the use of poll taxes or other administrative tricks, not to mention direct threat of terrorism by groups like the KKK.

Nowadays, in 2004, women are also legally entitled to vote, and most of the tricks which were used to prevent minorities from voting have been eliminated. And sin

Captured by MemoWeb from on 9/16/2004