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July 4th: The Constitution vs. Progressives

Thomas Sowell's picture

The Fourth of July may be just a holiday for fireworks to some people. But it was a momentous day for the history of this country and the history of the world.

Not only did July 4, 1776 mark American independence from England, it marked a radically different kind of government from the governments that prevailed around the world at the time — and the kinds of governments that had prevailed for thousands of years before.

The American Revolution was not simply a rebellion against the King of England, it was a rebellion against being ruled by kings in general. That is why the opening salvo of the American Revolution was called “the shot heard round the world.”

Autocratic rulers and their subjects heard that shot — and things that had not been questioned for millennia were now open to challenge. As the generations went by, more and more autocratic governments around the world proved unable to meet that challenge.

Some clever people today ask whether the United States has really been “exceptional.” You couldn’t be more exceptional in the 18th century than to create your fundamental document — the Constitution of the United States — by opening with the momentous words, “We the people...”

Those three words were a slap in the face to those who thought themselves entitled to rule, and who regarded the people as if they were simply human livestock, destined to be herded and shepherded by their betters. Indeed, to this very day, elites who think that way — and that includes many among the intelligentsia, as well as political messiahs — find the Constitution of the United States a real pain because it stands in the way of their imposing their will and their presumptions on the rest of us.

More than a hundred years ago, so-called “Progressives” began a campaign to undermine the Constitution’s strict limitations on government, which stood in the way of self-anointed political crusaders imposing their grand schemes on all the rest of us. That effort to discredit the Constitution continues to this day, and the arguments haven’t really changed much in a hundred years.

The cover story in the July 4th issue of Time magazine is a classic example of this arrogance. It asks of the Constitution: “Does it still matter?”

A long and rambling essay by Time magazine’s managing editor, Richard Stengel, manages to create a toxic blend of the irrelevant and the erroneous.

The irrelevant comes first, pointing out in big letters that those who wrote the Constitution “did not know about” all sorts of things in the world today, including airplanes, television, computers and DNA.

This may seem like a clever new gambit but, like many clever new gambits, it is a rehash of arguments made long ago. Back in 1908, Woodrow Wilson said, “When the Constitution was framed there were no railways, there was no telegraph, there was no telephone,”

In Mr. Stengel’s rehash of this argument, he declares: “People on the right and left constantly ask what the framers would say about some event that is happening today.”

Maybe that kind of talk goes on where he hangs out. But most people have enough common sense to know that a constitution does not exist to micro-manage particular “events” or express opinions about the passing scene.

A constitution exists to create a framework for government — and the Constitution of the United States tries to keep the government inside that framework.

From the irrelevant to the erroneous is a short step for Mr. Stengel. He says, “If the Constitution was intended to limit the federal government, it certainly doesn’t say so.”

Apparently Mr. Stengel has not read the Tenth Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Perhaps Richard Stengel should follow the advice of another Stengel — Casey Stengel, who said on a number of occasions, “You could look it up.”

Does the Constitution matter? If it doesn’t, then your Freedom doesn’t matter.

[Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His website is] COPYRIGHT 2011 CREATORS.COM


PTC Observer's picture

Is one of the greatest economic thinkers of our generation, an under appreciated scholar of freedom and free markets for the last half century.

Make sure you read some of his works available through

One of particular interest is "Intellectuals and Society" a study of the poltical elite and their "vision" for your future.

Happy 4th of July and all that it means.

carbonunit52's picture

The eighth law of carbonunit dynamics states that if an article by one of the greatest thinkers of our generation sounds like blue sky statements and literary pablum to the carbonunit, then said carbonunit must be a mental midget, or at least a "looking glass" mental midget.

JeffC's picture

Blue sky statements and literary pablum indeed. Well said!

Mr. Sowell fails to recognize (or more likely simply ignores the fact) that his position is the one that is contrary to the Constitution. He is bemoaning decisions Constitutionally legislated that have been declared Constitutional by the Supreme Court according to the Constitution. "Oh No", says Sowell, the system set up under the Constitution, operating as mandated by the Constitution, got it all wrong. Sowell thinks the Constitution is not working because the country apparently hasn't turned out the way he wanted it to.

A pity for him, but a gracious godsend for the rest of us.

I'm glad I've got the Constitution to protect me from the arrogance of the Thomas Sowells of the world. And I'm glad he ain't the king. He doesn't seem to like how "We the People" has turned out.

PTC Observer's picture

Have you read anything that Dr. Sowell has written or is this merely hyperbole on your part? If you have read something, what specific thing do you disagree with concerning his positions. I would be interested in knowing your thoughts on this.

Here's a link to Dr. Sowell's background:

I suppose that it is Dr. Krugman that most democrats follow as the gracious godsend for the left's economics.

Here's a link to Dr. Krugman's background:

Note the elitist, upper class and liberal educational background of Dr. Krugman vs. that of Dr. Sowell. Is it no wonder that this Nobel Prize winner is the progressives "darling" economist? Dr. Krugman has a perfect gig, along with Mr. Gore and Mr. Obama, all at our expense. Lining their pockets with special interest's money and neo-capitalist support.

Sorry, but I will take Dr. Sowell everytime over the likes of these progressives. Besides, he's just plain smarter than those guys.

best was the one about his late-talking kid. I guess that happens when you use Atlas Shrugged as your reading primer for three-year olds!

Go Braves--Gain Some Ground on the Phillies This July 4th!

PTC Observer's picture


There are no "great economic thinkers!"

Harry Truman once said something like this:

I'm looking for a one-handed economist. Every time one talks to me they say the economy on the one hand will do this, and on the other hand it will do that!

Both ways turn out to be wrong due to bandits, wars, idiots, voters, and selfishness!

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