A Feb. 3 article from the Center for a Stateless Society calls into question the utility of Constitutionalism as a political philosophy. I would have to say that I am completely of accord with the author, Thomas L. Knapp, on this point. When two parties enter into a written contract (like a Constitution), and one party is backed by massive coercive force and one is not, no one should be surprised when the stronger party does not uphold its end of the bargain.
The conservative niche marketing device commonly known as “constitutionalism” — a device which massages the libertarian impulse in a way that makes it an ideal fetish for “smaller government” types to wave at anarchists — boils down to the notion that government could be made to “work” if only we herded it back into the corral of constitutional limitations.
While that’s a very debatable notion, it’s one we don’t really have to reach, because the question it raises is answered in the negative at the word “if.” Government can’t be herded back into the Constitutionally OK Corral. It trampled down that corral’s fences long ago; the corral no longer exists. Any time you see some random piece of government standing in the area that the fences used to surround, what you’re seeing is a mere temporary coincidence of the running battle between that piece of government and some other. Government is an animal run wild. That it happens to occasionally run across the area its old pen used to cover is to be expected.
I have to agree with Knapp. As Ludwig von Mises wisely noted, government is not an institution bound by paper — it is an institution rooted in physical force. In his lecture and essay Liberty and Property, Mises wrote:
[Government] is the opposite of liberty. It is beating, imprisoning, hanging. Whatever a government does it is ultimately supported by the actions of armed constables. If the government operates a school or a hospital, the funds required are collected by taxes, i.e., by payments exacted from the citizens.
Why would we expect to be able to shake a piece of paper in front of these people and have them stop looting us like they have been since before any of us was alive?
The only way to deal with government is to, as much as is possible, strip it of its power through refusal to use, submit to, or support governmental programs, agencies, and entities. In the words of Knapp:
Constitutions can’t protect you from government. It’s a wild, savage animal, and the only way to protect yourself from it is to take it around back of the barn and put it out of your misery.