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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.
Top customer reviews
The opening chapter deals with the violations of the First Amendment by President Wilson's administration and the passage of the Alien and Espionage Acts during the First World War. Readers should note that the first few words of the First Amendment read "Congress shall make no law..." (you should know the rest) but those rules were thrown out the window and the government proceeded to regulate speech, assembly, etc. The authors go on to cite a few examples of the bogus laws and its implementation harassing many innocent people like Edwin Seidewitz who would eventually commit suicide after being ruined by such nonsensical hysteria. Eugene V. Debbs and many others were victims of these laws.
The next "constitutional" fiasco I'm going to deal with is the chapter dealing with the courts and civil rights in the chapter "Discrimination to End...Discrimination." The civil rights laws passed included that notion of assigning students to schools based on race and forced bussing practices however the courts ignored those laws and penalized many districts where demographics changed or simply parents choose schools that were close to their neighborhoods. In one instance, the authors cite the situation in Denver (a city ahead of its time in integration) falling victim to the forced bussing system by the court and eventually the Denver school system was penalized with a "federal receivership" where "a federal judge would oversee the massive busing scheme" to achieve "desegregated" schools in Denver (a city already integrating prior to the civil rights bills).
The issue of military conscription raised by the authors was interesting. When the draft was first proposed during the War of 1812 Daniel Webster took a bold stand against it and the plans were shelved and that war ended without a draft. However by 1863, during the American Civil War, the idea of the draft surfaced and was executed which caused a civil uproar that led to the infamous New York City draft riots (as well as others). The others move forward by citing Chief Justice Roger B. Taney's refutation of the constitutionality of the draft in a memorandum of his. Another interesting argument is the authors citing of the Thirteenth Amendment reading "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude..." Equating "involuntary servitude" with the draft would make an interesting argument. Then the authors move into the 20th century with Chief Justice Edward White and the court's opinion in the "Selective Draft Laws Cases of 1917." The opinion dismissed the defense argument against conscription and added the idea that other nations have conscription so why don't we have it type argument.
The chapter on presidential war power was spot-on. As for foreign policy in general, the executive branch as usurped many powers formally included congress (specifically the Senate with foreign policy) of the legislature leaving them in many cases on the sidelines on those types of issues. Anyways war powers are another one of those issues the executive has usurped from congress. The authors clearly detail that the power to make/wage war lies within the powers of congress and were not left to the president to decide. The authors pick apart John Yoo's argument in favor of presidential war powers by accurately citing historical examples, etc. Readers should also check out the work of Louis Fisher's Presidential War Power.
Another issue of interest was the presidential signing statements and there use to expand executive power in the chapter The President Enforces The Law...Right? Originally were just a simple statement issued "alongside his approval of a bill," but were never intended to be legally binding or expand the power of the president. The authors note that President Reagan was the first to "explore the legal possibilities" to expand "executive power." Interestingly, Woods and Gutzman show that it was (now court justice) Samuel Alito who explored that possibility. Under the second Bush administration (who also nominated Alito to the court) would later embrace the signing statement as an expansive power, and coincidentally now signing statements have begun to be considered by the supreme court supporting their decisions.
There are many more examples the authors use such as the steel mill seizures, the gold robbery, medical marijuana, etc.
Overall, this was an interesting book to read. Definitely a recommended reading.
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.