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Tuesday, August 06, 2002
Over at frontpagemag.com, David Horowitz attempts to refute a book reivew that is critical of the U.S. Constitution by Rick Hertzberg that recently appeared in The New Yorker. Horowitiz's piece doesn't appear to have much of a point other than that America is good and leftists are bad so it is interesting just how many points the former traitor gets wrong or are just plain odd:
Challenging America’s founding principles is fair enough, even perhaps at a time when both the nation and its ideals are under ferocious attack. But Hertzberg’s authorial voice in this article has an emotional edge and a disturbing animus that does not seem so fair.What does Horowitz want Hertzberg to do? Say he is wrong and then make his argument?
Prefacing his assault, Hertzberg notes that he is not the first to strike at the Founding: "Treating the Constitution as imperfect is not new. The angrier abolitionists saw it, in William Lloyd Garrison’s words, as a ‘covenant with death and an agreement with hell.’… Academic paint balls have splattered the parchment with some regularity." According to Hertzberg, however, this critical facility is confined to intellectual and political elites. For the unwashed mass, questioning the Constitution remains unthinkable: "But in the public square the Constitution is beyond criticism. The American civic religion affords it Biblical or Koranic status, even to the point of seeing it as divinely inspired. It’s the flag in prose." This makes the terrain dangerous for vanguard reformers like himself, particularly now: "The Constitution of the United States is emphatically not something to be debunked, especially in the afterglow of sole-superpower triumphalism."The examples that Horowitz cites only show how deeply engrained the Constitution is as, save for scrapping the Electoral College, all of these other ideas have originally and largely been argued within the context of how they would fulfill the existing Constitution. And how much talk of getting rid of the Electoral College has there actually been?
What really upsets Hertzberg is not any superstitious attachment Americans may have to the sacred cow of their Constitution, but his own isolation from the conviction of ordinary Americans that the system has worked pretty well — enough to make America a "beacon of light" to the rest of the world.Horowitz could be exhibit A in terms of showcasing the existence of a "superstitious attachment" to the Constitution since he himself believes that nobody should argue against the document sans saying that they are wrong before they begin.
Hertzberg’s perverse distance from his countrymen is even more manifest in his opening remarks about the Founding itself "The most blatantly undemocratic feature of the document that the framers adopted in Philadelphia in 1787 was its acceptance — indeed, its enshrinement — of slavery, which in its American form was as vicious and repugnant as any institution ever devised by man."Horowitz seems incapable of understanding that Hertzberg didn't say slavery was worse than those other horrors, he merely said it was at least as bad.
And on the second point, Horowitz seems oblivious to the fact that it was an invention of the "new world" that slavery got passed down from generation to generation. Furthermore a lot of data suggests that towards the final years of slavery in the U.S., that slaves had a higher standard of living than freemen who were common laborers. Should slaves have been happy with their lot because it was better than what others had and those other people largely had chosen their lot in life. Horowitz seems to want to justify slavery here.
To write, as Hertzberg does, that the Constitution enshrined slavery is worse than a mere distortion of the facts. Far from glorifying the institution, the framers avoided even using the words "slave" or "slavery" because the majority of them abhorred the institution and were determined to end it — in fact were convinced it would shortly die of its own reactionary weight.The point that Horowitz misses is that the Constitution did not consider some humans to be real humans and that to place it on the pedestal as the greatest statement of liberty ever is going a bit far.
Hertzberg’s distortion of this history is even worse than it appears, because it is based on the suppression of a more basic fact: All the constitutional compromises with slavery were necessary in order to achieve the Union that, within twenty years, abolished the slave trade and, within a single generation, freed the slaves themselves...My guess is no later than 1865 since Great Britain abolished slavery in England and all of its colonies in the 1833. Now it is possible that the ability to retain the land now known as the U.S. might have extended the life of slavery in Great Britain so all of this is, as Horowitz correctly implies, speculation. But while we can't make precise judgement -especially becuase it is unclear how to correctly factor in the likely continued rebellion and resistance by the inhabitants of the land that would come to be known as the U.S.-, this doesn't not mean that we don't have an idea and it is a mixture of arrogance and ignorance on the part of Horowitz to think that slavery might never have been abolished if the U.S. had not remained independent of Britain.
It is also odd to argue that the Constitution lead to the abolition of slavery when one factor lead to the Union defeating the Confederacy in the Civil war was Abraham Lincoln's unconstitutional suspension of habeas corpus. In short, the abolition of slavery only happened in the U.S. after the Constitution was violated. The Constitution and liberty were on different sides of the aisle.
But that probably isn't a big deal to Horowitz since it appears that the writers of frontpagemag.com, which is run by Horowitz, don't have any problem with habeas corpus being suspended in the case of Jose Padilla. All of which leads to the question, does Horowitz really believe in the Constitution?