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Who Killed the Constitution?: The Fate of American Liberty from World War I to George W. Bush Hardcover – July 8, 2008
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“If you want to know why the federal government regulates the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the words you speak, read Who Killed the Constitution? . . . When the history of these unfree times is written, Tom Woods’s and Kevin Gutzman’s fearless work will be recognized as the standard against which all others are measured.”
–Judge Andrew Napolitano, Fox News senior judicial analyst and bestselling author of The Constitution in Exile
“It’s about time someone shouted out that the emperor has no clothes.”
–Kirkpatrick Sale, director of the Middlebury Institute and author of Human Scale
"Woods and Gutzman (two bestselling authors in thePolitically Incorrect Guide series) appeal to both left and right in this constitutionalist jeremiad. Liberals will agree about the unconstitutionality of the draft, warrantless wiretapping and presidential signing statements. Conservatives will agree about the unconstitutionality of school busing, bans on school prayer and Roosevelt's suspension of the gold standard. The common thread is the authors' brief for a federal government strictly limited to the powers explicitly granted by the Constitution. The authors' exegeses of the Constitution and court decisions, heavy on original intent arguments, are lucid and telling, but not always consistently supportive of liberty: their reading of the First Amendment implies that state governments may restrict speech, religion and the press. Their attack on expansive federal power-even federal spending on cancer research-is perhaps too successful; it inadvertently supports scholars like Daniel Lazare who argue that the Constitution is too antiquated, constraining and hard to change to keep up with a modern consensus on civil rights and good governance."
About the Author
THOMAS E. WOODS JR., PH.D., is the New York Times bestselling author of The Politically Incorrect Guide™ to American History, How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, and 33 Questions About American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask. A senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and a contributing editor of The American Conservative magazine, he has received the Templeton Enterprise Award and the O. P. Alford III Prize in Libertarian Scholarship, among other honors. He and his family live in Alabama.
KEVIN R. C. GUTZMAN, J.D., PH.D., is the New York Times bestselling author of The Politically Incorrect Guide™ to the Constitution and Virginia’s American Revolution. An associate professor of American history at Western Connecticut State University, Dr. Gutzman has written for numerous popular and scholarly publications.
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Thomas Woods & Kevin Gutzman
In the 1989 screwball comedy "Weekend At Bernie's", Richard and Larry are invited to an all expenses paid wild weekend at the island resort home of Bernie Lomax. Unfortunately they arrive to find their host has been killed. Not wanting to let their opportunity for all expenses paid abandon escape, the party animal pair spend the weekend dragging Bernie's corpse around from one zany adventure to the next. Bernie is simultaneously their meal ticket and entry pass to the high life. It's better to babysit his corpse than to spoil an all expenses paid weekend, especially when it's at someone else's expense. As the two authors of "Who Killed The Constitution?" argue, the US constitution has become a Bernie with the rival candidates of the major parties playing the parts of Dick and Larry.
Economist Kenneth Boulding coined what he called Boulding's law, "Whatever exists is possible." He'd often point out it's amazing how many people don't believe it. Maybe we need a corollary, "Whatever has happened is possible." And it's truly amazing how many people don't believe it.
Authors Thomas Woods and Kevin Gutzman essentially take 'the Boulding's Law corollary' and apply it like a blow torch to 20th century American history. Rights? Forget it, you don't have any. That's the unpalatable lesson and the reality of the behaviour of America's Presidents, Congressmen and Supreme Court justices. And it doesn't matter if you vote red or blue. Woods and Gutzman illustrate how Presidents have imprisoned peaceful Americans for exercising free speech, how a "great" President nationalised a major industry and took the country to war without so much as a Congressional vote, how the great social reform of school integration was bused right over the constitution, it's advocates didn't even attempt to reform by amendment. The authors show how the federal government has become the judge in it's own court and (surprise, surprise) it, and the President's power, has just continued to expand. Presidents, thanks to "the Executive Order" and, now "Signing Statements", have now emerged as a one man legislative branch. Meanwhile over in the 'other legislative branch', the constitution's originally limited provision for internal improvements has become a massive spoils system.
Of contemporary interest is how 'war powers' are now seen as a presidential reserve despite the plainly expressed views of the Founders. The authors make a fascinating side track into how the founders saw conscription and supported the militia as an alternative to the monarch's army. The original revolutionaries plainly were concerned at the incipient monarchism of the presidential branch and sought to keep it on a tight leash. That restraint has now been gnawed through. Instead of the limited government republic it's founders intended, the American polity has now evolved into an elective principality with rival princes, or more exactly their sponsors and marketers, competing for votes across a vast and increasingly atomized electorate.
Gutzman and Woods aren't cynics who see the constitution and it's traditional rights as meaningless. Just the opposite, but they are skeptics, at least when it comes to the power brokers of the three branches of government. They hope that an awareness of loss will galvanise Americans into action, or at least, thought. Can the past achievements be reclaimed? The authors offer no solutions here. And in a sense, just as well. Not everyone will agree on the solution but by focusing on the great abandonment, well meaning men and women from across the political spectrum might just reconsider their agenda.
In a sense, and the authors don't say this, democracy and empire have triumphed over the republic and federalism. Although often disappointing and over-hyped, democracy is of itself not a bad thing, but neither were the republic or federation. The fear that the same process that killed the later will almost certainly kill the former cannot be seen as unsound.
Well written, well argued and plainly and clearly argued. Provocative, and recommended.
The first example cited in this book dealt with the arbitrary laws that violated First Amendment rights of Free Speech and Free Press (1917-1918). U.S. authorities could make arrests and prosecutions for the most innocent remarks that could have been construed as critical of U.S. intervention into W.W. I. What was worse,the authors cited examples of official tattle tales who reported on neighbors'comments. As an aside, Messers Woods and Gutzman demolish the statement alleged by Pres. Woodrow Wilson who supposedly expressed regret for agreeing to the Declaraion of War. The authors clearly that the statement was fabricated by Wilson's sycophants who tried to cover Wilson's blunder. The basic constitutional point made my Messers Woods and Gutzman is that the First Amendment clearly states that Congress shall make no law abridging the rights of Free Speech and Free Press. Yet, power hungry political hacks and unthinking Americans accepted all of this with little protest. One should note that the American people are so poorly read and so ready to believe media accounts that such oppressive laws are no longer necessary. The American media folks have so censored themselves that censorship laws are unnecessary. Too many Americans are too immune to truth and reason to notice.
Messers Woods and Gutzman had a good examination of Pres. Truman's attempt to seize American steel mills because labor union leaders wanted more than steel executives were willing to give. Truman's threat was made to curry favor with steel workers and increase wages. The U.S. Supreme Court Justices ruled against the Truman Administration. However, as Messers Woods and Gutzman noted, the ruling was not strong enough. Also they alerted readers that if a President could seize steel mills, he could also seize steel mills or any industry to REDUCE wages.
The chapters dealing with the civil rights cases were carefully researched and clear. The authors show that in an attempt to end discrimination, they only made it worse. School authorities were scolded because of the changing demographics. Civil rights laws which forbade assigning students to schools by race were ignored by federal judges who ordered busing to schools based on race. The consistently flawed federal rulings that changed almost overnight resulted in such confusion that court orders for busing had to end.
The chapter titled The Great Gold Robbery showed an arbitrary U.S. Government whose authorities went after law abiding citizens whose only crime was that they owned gold. This "legal" basis for this decision was that the federal authorities could do this under W.W. I laws about trading with the enemy (Today U.S. defined enemies change as often as one changes shirts). In other words, U.S. citizens who happened to own gold were suddenly enemies. Such arbitrary power needs no further comment.
This reviewer thought the chapter on "The Wall of Separation" was the weakest, but this chapter was still well written. As an aside, this reviewer is not offended if someone has a menorah or a creche on their premises. If Christians wish me a Merry Christmas or Jews wish me Happy Hanukkah, this reviewer is not offended and accepts the statements in the spirit in which such comments are made. If Hindus or Moslems offter greetings, again, such statements are accepted as gestures of good will.
Messers Woods and Gutzman stated that the people in the states should determine public school or any public display of religious symbols. What should have been considered is that some state authorities can use their power to coerce of intimidate those of a different religion. In other words, state authorities can be as oppressive as federal authorities. Too often legal cases reach the courts because, for example, some school official or coach will demean or intimidate anyone who has different religious convictions. However, the chapter has merit because of "overkill" by those opposed to any religious symbols in public places.
The chapter on military conscription was very good. Messers Woods and Gutzman provided substantial research that the Founding Fathers and early National political leaders were opposed to a national military conscription which started in Europe. The quatation of Danial Webster on the floor of Congress rejecting a draft is worth noting. Readers should note that many who want military conscription want it for everyone else except themselves. Walter Lippman promoted military conscription until he realized he too could be conscripted. He managed to get cushy government while exhorting other Americans to risk their lives (a real hero here). The former U.S. House member Andy Jacobs called such cowards, who want wars but want others to do the killing and the dying, war wimps and chicken hawks. Mr. Jacobs was a decorated Marine during the Korean War.
The chapter titled "Do Americans have a Constitutional Duty to Suffer?" is a good example of judicial stupiidty and bureaucratic nonsense. This chapter cites federal attempts to stop people who are suffering from using medical marijuana. The unreasonable judicial rulings stated that home-grown marijuana could be eliminated by the power of the Interstate Commerece Clause of the Constitution. Since the plants were used for immediate medical use per physicians' prescriptions, the illogic of using the plants could affect interstate commerice is obvious.
The chapters dealing with excutive orders, war powers, and signing statements are ominous. Messers Woods and Gutzman carefully demonstrated that such powers are unconstitutional and lawful. Executive orders began with the administration of the Pres. Theodore Roosevelt when he granted diplomatic recognition to a country when the U.S. Senate refused to do so. Pres. Theodore Roosevelt simply used a different phrase via executive order. The chapter titled "The phony Case for Presidental War Power" offers a stinging rebuke of a law clerk and later government "Justice" Dept. offical name Yoo. Yoo wrote a poorly reasoned law review article which stated that the U.S. President can use his war powers to send combat forces anywhere any time he damned well pleases. The Constitution history and warnings of the Founding Fathers are well cited in this section. The chapter on signing statements would be amusing if not so dangerous. Messers Woods and Gutzman give precise ecamples of how signing statements, which only express a president's disapproval of a section of a bill, have been recently used to violate the law especially duirng the Clinton and Bush administrations. To use signing statements as pretext to violate the law is unconstitutional and illegal. An opinion is not a constitutional power to break the law.
The last chapter titled "Can Anything Be Done?" is not hopeful at all. When most Americans are concerned about what dress some celebrity is wearing, the abuses of the Constitution will never get corrected. As this reviewer has stated elsewhere, the American people have raised thoughtlessness to a virtue.
"Who Killed The Constitution" is a great eye-opener providing some rarely discussed actions of government officials and entities(Truman, FDR, the Treasury Dept, The Federal Reserve System) which the government, I'm sure, would rather keep us ignorant of. After all, THEY know what's in OUR best interest, don't they?