Wisdom and Strict Constructionism
I have just finished the last of 12 lectures in Thomas Pangle’s course on the Constitution. There are a couple of points that I find particularly interesting, one regarding the independence of the judiciary, the other the Federalist reluctance to have a Bill of Rights.
In listening to Professor Pangle on the Federalists’ interest in an independent judiciary, I couldn’t help but hear echoes of the difference between fundamentalist Christianity and Catholicism. For fundamentalist Christians, the Bible is not only the true and literal word of God, but the whole of all that is needed to live one’s life. Catholics, on the other hand, not only believe in the wisdom of tradition handed down, but in the power of humans, the Magistrate, guided by the Holy Spirit, to pronounce on belief and the life of its followers.
The Federalists favored an independent judiciary, made up of especially learned and wise individuals, who could pronounce on the life of the nation based not only on the Constitution, but on their personal wisdom. This sounds much like Catholicism. Today’s federalists, on the other hand, take as their judicial philosophy strict constructionism, which much like fundamentalist Christianity’s take on the Bible, believe not only that they must follow the literal word of the Constitution, but that the words there are all that is necessary to guide the nation.
The second item of interest is the Federalist reluctance to include a Bill of Rights. Though this has many facets, the one I find interesting is the notion that if we enumerate the rights which the people have, then we will limit their rights to just those things which have been enumerated. This, too, has that same air of strict constructionism, and we hear arguments made for and against laws and opinions based on whether or not we can make a clear connection with some explicit section of the Constitution. It seems, from Professor Pangle’s explication of the Federalist reluctance to have a Bill of Rights, that they intended for the universe of rights which the people have to be broader than what could be enumerated. This dovetails nicely with the belief in an independent judiciary which could apply learning and wisdom beyond the mere words of the Constitution to the life of the nation.
When presented with differences of opinion as between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists, or between the living document’ists and the strict constructionists, I think that the fundamental question that they are trying to answer, and end up answering differently, is: Who do we trust when it comes to running our lives? Do we let the past tell us how to lead our lives in the present, since what has been handed down to us has passed the test of time; or do we think that in the end we have only ourselves to rely on, so we may as well trust ourselves to decide how to lead our lives.