Tuesday, May 5, 2015

True and False Constitutions

Þe Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin wrote some wise words on constitutions in a 1948 essay (trans. by Mark Hackard).  The reader may note their likeness to ideas spoken of highly by Western traditionalists from Edmund Burke to Russell Kirk, namely, that a constitution is something organic that grows out of the habits of a people through long years, not something abstract that is written on a piece of paper in the span of a few weeks or months to which the theod (people, country) is to be fitted to.

 . . .

Suvorov prepared every battle, explaining to his soldiers the course and meaning of an upcoming operation; and exactly thanks to that he won one battle after another. So it is in political life: it is made by living men, their patriotic love, their understanding of sovereignty, sense of duty, organizational skills, and their respect for the law. All this must be cultivated. It is ridiculous to introduce a sovereign form into a country without considering the level and habits of the popular consciousness of justice. Further, a sovereign form must reckon with the territorial size of the country and the numerical strength of its population. In the Republic of San Marino, executive power to this day belongs to two captains elected by the Grand Council (parliament) for six months. And to this day some very small Swiss cantons gather once a year for their “one-day chamber” on a square, or in the case of rain, under umbrellas. In the majority of Switzerland’s remaining cantons, this is already impossible.

Further, a sovereign form must consider the climate and nature of a land. A harsh climate hinders the whole organization of a people, all relationships, and all government. Nature influences the character of men, the country’s produce, and its industry; it determines its geographic and strategic borders, its defense, and the character and frequency of its wars. All this must be accounted for in a sovereign form.

The multinational composition of a population presents its requirements to a sovereign form. I can become a factor of disintegration and lead to ruinous civil wars. Yet this danger can be overcome: by the nature of the country and the mountaineers’ love of freedom among peoples in solidarity with each other (Switzerland); or the longtime and free selection of emigrants, the overseas position of the country and the commercial-industrial character of the state (United States); or, finally, the religious-cultural predominance and successful political leadership of the numerically strongest tribe, if it is distinguished by genuine accommodation and kindness (Russia).

Our conclusions: every people and every land are a living individuality with their special characteristics, their own unrepeatable history, soul, and nature. To every people is therefore due its own special individual form of sovereignty and a constitution corresponding to that people only. There are no identical peoples, and there should not be identical forms of sovereignty and constitutions. Blind borrowing and imitation is absurd, dangerous, and can become ruinous.

Plants demand individual care. Animals in a zoological park have – by their species and type – individual schedules. Even people are sewn clothing by their measurements… Whence, then, comes this ridiculous idea that a system of sovereignty can be transferred by mechanical adoption from one country to another? Whence comes this naïve conception that the most unique English sovereignty, which was forged over centuries in a unique land (The blending of blood! An island! The sea! Climate! History!) by a most unique people (Character! Temperament! Sense of justice! Culture!), can be reproduced by any people with any sense of law and any character, and in any country of any size with any climate?! Can we truly think that educated politicians have never read any of Aristotle, Machiavelli, Montesquieu, or Buckle?

 . . .

Source:  ‘On Forms of Sovereignty’, Soul of the East, http://souloftheeast.org/2015/04/24/ivan-ilyin-on-forms-of-sovereignty/, posted 24 April 2015, accessed 30 April 2015

Southerners likewise held to such a view.  George Fitzhugh wrote in Sociology for the South (1854),

 . . . Men's minds were heated and blinded when they [the Declaration of Independence and Virginia's Bill of Rights--W. G.] were written, as well by patriotic zeal, as by a false philosophy, which, beginning with Locke, in a refined materialism, had ripened on the Continent into open infidelity. In England, the doctrine of prescriptive government, the divine right of kings, had met with signal overthrow, and in France there was faith in nothing, speculation about everything. The human mind became extremely presumptuous, and undertook to form governments on exact philosophical principles, just as men make clocks, watches or mills. They confounded the moral with the physical world, and this was not strange, because they had begun to doubt whether there was any other than a physical world. Society seemed to them a thing whose movement and action could be controlled with as much certainty as the motion of a spinning wheel, provided it was organized on proper principles. It would have been less presumptuous in them to have attempted to have made a tree, for a tree is not half so complex as a society of human beings, each of whom is fearfully and wonderfully compounded of soul and body, and whose aggregate, society, is still more complex and difficult of comprehension than its individual members. Trees grow and man may lop, trim, train and cultivate them, and thus hasten their growth, and improve their size, beauty and fruitfulness. Laws, institutions, societies, and governments grow, and men may aid their growth, improve their strength and beauty, and lop off their deformities and excrescences, by punishing crime and rewarding virtue. When society has worked long enough, under the hand of God and nature, man observing its operations, may discover its laws and constitution. The common law of England and the constitution of England, were discoveries of this kind. Fortunately for us, we adopted, with little change, that common law and that constitution. Our institutions and our ancestry were English. Those institutions were the growth and accretions of many ages, not the work of legislating philosophers.

 . . .

Moses and Confucius, Solon, Lycurgus and English Alfred, were Reformers, Revisors of the Code. They, too, were philosophers, but too profound to mistake the province of philosophy and attempt to usurp that of nature. They did not frame government on abstract principles, they indulged in no "a priori" reasoning; but simply lopped off what was bad, and retained, modified and simplified what was good in existing institutions –

                        "And thats as high,
                        As metaphysic wit can fly."

 . . .

Institutions are what men can sees feel, venerate and understand. The institutions of Moses and of Alfred remain to this day, those of Numa and Lycurgus had a long and flourishing life. These sages laid down no abstract propositions, founded their institutions on no general principles, had no written constitutions. They were wise from experience, adopted what history and experience had tested, and never trusted to a priori speculations, like a More, a Locke, a Jefferson, or an Abbe Sieyes. Constitutions should never be written till several centuries after governments have been instituted, for it requires that length of time to ascertain how institutions will operate. No matter how you define and limit, in words, the powers and duties of each department of government, they will each be sure to exercise as much power as possible, and to encroach to the utmost of their ability on the powers of other departments. When the Commons were invoked to Parliament, the king had no idea they would usurp the taxing powers; but having successfully done so; it became part of the English constitution, that the people alone could tax themselves. It was never intended that ninety-nine guilty should escape, sooner than one innocent man be punished; yet, finding that the result of the English judicial system, the judges and lawyers made a merit of necessity, and adopted it as a maxim of the common law. So, in a hundred instances we could show, that in England a constitution means the modus operandi of institutions, not prescribed, but ascertained from experience. In this country we shall soon have two constitutions, that a priori thing which nobody regards, and that practical constitution deduced from observation of the workings of our institutions. - Whigs disregard our written constitution, when banks, tariffs or internal improvements are in question; Democrats respect it not when there is a chance to get more territory; and Young America, the dominant party of the day, will jump through its paper obstructions with as much dexterity as harlequin does through the hoop. State governments, and senators, and representatives, and militia, and cities, and churches, and colleges, and universities, and landed property, are institutions. Things of flesh and blood, that know their rights, "and knowing dare maintain them." We should cherish them. They will give permanence to government, and security to State Rights. But the abstract doctrines of nullification and secession, the general principles laid down in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and Constitution of the United States, afford no protection of rights, no valid limitations of power, no security to State Rights. The power to construe them, is the power to nullify them. Mere paper guarantees, like the constitutions of Abbe Sieyes, are as worthless as the paper on which they are written.

        Our institutions, founded on such generalities and abstractions as those of which we are treating, are like a splendid edifice built upon kegs of gunpowder.  . . .

Source:  http://docsouth.unc.edu/southlit/fitzhughsoc/fitzhugh.html, posted 1998, accessed 5 May 2015 (© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.)

It is no good for the American neocons/neo-Puritans trying to ‘export democracy’ to all the countries of the world.  It will only end in sadness and suffering for those involved (see Iraq, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and the Ukraine for some ensamples of late).  Instead, let all peoples embrace their own unique inheritance, the wisdom and work of their forefathers.  For the South, as Fitzhugh says, there are these (but not limited to them):  ‘State governments, and senators, and representatives, and militia, and cities, and churches, and colleges, and universities, and landed property’. 

It is significant that he made a connection between the South and King Ælfred (Dixie’s patron saint).  For we are truly children of his English kingdom, and he never ceases to intercede at the throne of the Most Holy Trinity for all Englishmen, whithersoever they have settled in the world, including us Southrons.  Of all our inheritance, this is the most important for us to embrace - the saints of our forefathers of Ireland, Scotland, Africa, England, and so on.  Knowing their lives and asking them to pray for us individually and as a whole people will do more good for us than all the constitutional amendments man could dream up.

O Holy Saints of our Souðern forefathers, pray for us sinners at the South!

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