That constitution is best which…
An upcoming study in the New York University Law Review finds that the U.S. Constitution is losing favor as a model for new constitutions around the world, reports the New York Times. Since the 1960s and 1970s, when the American document witnessed its height of popularity, foreign governments have turned to more progressive constitutions such as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for inspiration.
The N.Y. Times article suggests three reasons for the decline in popularity worldwide of our Constitution: (1) America’s decreasing influence and reputation, (2) conservative judges’ insistence that the original intent of the Founding Fathers be considered in rulings, and (3) the absence of rights that are featured in other nations’ constitutions (e.g. rights to travel, food, education, and healthcare).
Should these be causes for concern for Americans?
Addressing the first reason, I think the greatest blows to American reputation happen when the U.S. initiates wars of questionable cause. American involvement in Vietnam and Iraq (2003-2011) soured America’s image around the world during a time when we needed support for broader conflicts (Cold War and the War on Terror, respectively). We should become more wary of beginning a war.
I’m split about the second reason. I think such rhetorical devices as “the Founding Fathers intended that…” are specious constructions. There is no singular “the Founding Fathers.” There were several of them, and they hacked away at each other’s ideas and honor in chambers of congress, newspapers, and back rooms just like politicians do today. In other words, they were men, not demi-gods.
On the other hand, I think we can only profit by “including” people such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, and others in our national dialogue. Our past, when honestly remembered, provides a useful check to our current ideas and actions. The thought-inspiring history of the U.S. Constitution–the world’s oldest active charter–is an American advantage that can’t be replicated by most other nations (the average national constitution is replaced every 19 years).
I also think that there are grounds for improvement on the third reason, the absence of rights. The Democratic Party generally fights to provide food, healthcare, and higher education opportunities for every American even though these aren’t technically constitutional rights. But if they were guaranteed by the document of the Founding Fathers, conservative politicians and judges may be bound to help the needy too.