Deconstructing The Constitution

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

The U.S. Constitution gets the Rodney Dangerfield treatment (“no respect”) in academia probably more than anywhere else.

At first blush, Ray Raphael’s book, Constitutional Myths: What We Get Wrong and How To Get It Right, looks like another manifestation of this animus. It does display an obvious partisanship: the so-called mythologists he quotes are overwhelmingly Republican.

Nevertheless, Raphael, a senior research fellow at Humboldt State University in Northern California, dedicates his book to the founding fathers, who he quotes a lot. Indeed, Constitutional Myths is strongest when Raphael is quoting the framers and weakest when the author offers his own paraphrases and interpretation.

This is particularly so when Raphael’s analysis appears to disconnect with the founders’ original quotes. For example, Chapter 2 is entitled “Myth: The Framers Hated Taxes.”  “A strong and prosperous nation cannot exist without sound taxation, and that is precisely why the framers granted the people’s representative in Congress such sweeping authority to raise revenues sufficient to meet ‘the public exigencies,’” Raphael concludes. But the framers also clearly stated what the primary exigency was.

The Constitution itself makes this clear by listing “the common defence” as the primary responsibility of the federal government. “It is the utmost folly to say that a government could be carried on without this great agent of human affairs,” Governor Edmond Randolph of Virginia said of the national government’s taxing power. “Wars cannot be carried on without a full and uncontrolled discretionary power to raise money in an eligible manner.” A little bit of perspective: “In 2012, 19 percent of the budget, or $689 billion, paid for defense and security-related international activities,” according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a left-leaning think tank that wishes it were even less.

As well, Raphael claims, “In the colonists’ fight against British imperial policies, the public good often trumped concerns for individual rights.” To illustrate this point, he reproduces a quote from Samuel Adams: “Have you not a right if you please, to set fire to your own houses, because they are your own, tho in probablility it will destroy a whole neighborhood, perhaps a whole city! Where did you learn that in a state or society you had a right to do as you please? And that it was an infringement of that right to restrain you?”

Not many libertarians, let alone strict Constitutionalists, would claim arson is a property right.


Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail