Levin quotes Jefferson as saying:
It was by the sober sense of our citizens that we were safely and steadily conducted from monarchy to republicanism, and it is by the same agency alone we can be kept from falling back
How true. Constitutional amendments must reflect the will of the people. They cannot alter it.
Given its popularity and age, this book has been reviewed many times. But here’s my two pennies’ worth.
The amendments themselves are mostly very agreeable to me, a conservative libertarian. The problem is, and Levin seems to simultaneously appreciate and ignore this, I am (and you are) weird. My ideology is not widely shared. Some might say it is on the rise, pointing to the large numbers of young people who are die-hard Ron Paul supporters (myself included). Yet, I do think it is undeniable, we are in the minority.
2% of Americans reply to pollsters they are Libertarian unprompted. 9% were rated Libertarian by a Pew Research poll, asking Americans a series of questions. Some good news is that they are more likely to be younger than average. Yet, we are a small minority.
Of course, this is not to deny that a majority of Americans increasingly consider government ‘to be doing too much’, that the deficit is of concern, dislike taxes, and generally, sense big government sucks. But ask them where they would like to cut, and in reality they are rather fond of all the social welfare the government provides them.
Very few are like you and me; people who want to slash taxes, gut big government, throw out most regulations, and in turn, have a balanced budget by eviscerating government spending. This is the biggest flaw of Levin’s argument.
The book begins by describing the means by which he would like to alter The Constitution; a constitutional convention. This requires two thirds of states to call a convention. Sound difficult? Not as difficult as then requiring three quarters to ratify any amendments.
Quite simply, there is no support for his amendments. There is not enough support for many of them to pass by simple majority, I sense, let alone this particular process proposed. And Levin knows this deep down too, I think.
Levin largely argues the need for such a convention arises out of Progressive policies having been implemented over the last century or more. He takes aim especially at FDR for his policies, and his methods; threatening to pack the Supreme Court, behaving in dictatorial fashion etc.
Yet, was not FDR re-elected three times, after winning in 1932? The fact is, his Progressive policies were what the country wanted.
He takes aim at the unconstitutionality of Obamacare, which of course is correct. Nevertheless, Obama has won two elections, and retained control of the Senate. Indeed, the reason why the Republicans have control of the House is because we have been better at Gerrymandering (something Levin also bemoans); the average Republican congressman won his election with less surplus (and wasted) votes than Democratic congressman.
Thus, Levin is right throughout his book. What has happened has been unconstitutional. His interpretations of what the Framers intended, are all correct. For instance, he convincingly states the ‘general welfare’ clause was not intended as a justification for the federal government to do whatever the hell it liked. The powers ascribed to the federal government where few and enumerated, everything else was left to the states.
And he is correct, Wilson’s view that “the federal judiciary was to behave as a perpetual constitutional convention”, has happened and is wrong. Yet, by and large, the people accept this. Bader Ginsburg is not alone in saying a “boldly dynamic interpretation departing radically from the original understanding” of the Constitution is sometimes necessary.
But the reason why the Progressives have advanced their agenda so much, and why the Supreme Court has had to and been able to view the constitution as ‘living’, is because most Americans have and continue to want such government.
Thus, Levin is correct about what the constitution says, and provides lots of interesting points about what has happened is plainly unconstitutional. The Wickard Case for instance, where the Supreme Court ruled what was grown and sold exclusively within Ohio could still be subject to federal quotas based on the interstate commerce clause because prices of wheat might affect commerce, is one such example.
But he seems to argue that this is against the wishes of most Americans, which it is not, despite himself occasionally coming close to admitting as much.
For instance, he bemoans the income tax. But this was the result of a constitutional amendment. Clearly, it must have commanded popular approval. He provides no convincing reason for why such Progressive legislation keeps managing to find its way onto the President’s desk, who then usually signs it.
Another problem is he provides no mechanism to solve the great problem he addresses. What will prevent judicial activism from merely eroding the amendments passed at the convention Levin calls for? Levin offers some very unlikely fixes, such as term-limits for Supreme Court Justices. They have done it so many times before, what will stop them again?
If you have a constitution, this is a constant problem. It can’t really be defended against (if there is a way, neither I nor seemingly Levin know how). But, it didn’t happen much in the first century of America, perhaps because the people themselves were much more attached to the ideals of the Founding, than they later became.
Still, it was a highly enjoyable read. I think Levin knows his convention, right now, is doomed to failure. Yet, this book has got a lot of us talking, and hopefully recruited a great deal more Libertarians to our cause. I don’t consider it a sign of Levin’s naivety that he wrote this book. What would I prefer he say? We are all doomed, America is lost?
Before this convention can be successful, more Americans must support a literalist reading of the Constitution. This book helps in that regard.
As for matters of style, Levin writes clearly and in a way to attract casual readers. Nevertheless, there must be an easier way for him to say; “It is an obtuse and defeatist notion of moderation that accepts the disposition of inevitable societal self-destruction without recourse to an available escape”.