Uncommon Sense

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Monday, October 21, 2002

John Adams tells us why we no longer fit the Constitution

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I am of the opinion that the USA no longer exists as a Republic under the Constitution of 1787. Our citizens no longer understand the Constitution--they don't even read it!

Some suggest that this change has been wrought by the domestic Welfare State, or by overseas "imperialist war-mongering," or by the school prayer court decisions (really!). I think those are merely effects, not causes. Herewith, my take on part of the cause of America's shift from federal republic to ... something else, anyway.

What did John Adams Mean?

John Adams said, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

Some modern Fundamentalists mistake this, thinking it means the federal Constitution encodes Christianity. But Adams' point is far more subtle, and far more damning of our current society.

A Republic depends on public virtue. The Republic devised by our Founders does not require any specific religion--Jews and Buddhists alike can flourish under it--but it absolutely requires in its nature that the vast majority of citizens aspire to traditional Protestant values--work ethic, lifelong monogamy, self-sacrifice, restraint, honesty and charity. It also requires that leading citizens (politicians, business executives) exhibit these behaviors even more fully than ordinary citizens.

The people who tune in Baywatch every night, invest in dot-coms to get rich quick, speak earnestly of "starter marriages", seek undemanding "spirituality" rather than rigorous religion, steal pencils and loot pension funds are not capable of retaining the Republic of the Constitution. It's just not possible.

And, contrary to what some Fundamentalists think, "Christian" legislation and prayer in schools and "under God" in the Pledge aren't going to change that. At best, such measures might move a few people to change their lives for the better.

Even a second revolution by itself wouldn't change our nation's downward path. Only a massive change of both attitude and behavior among the citizens of the US can reverse our course and restore the liberty under law given to us by the Founders.