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The Reactionary Utopian – Classic
March 17, 2010

Our Constitution, the "K" Word, and Samuel Johnson's Cure
by Joseph Sobran

What Happened to Our Constitution?

DUNN LORING, VA — Regnery's Politically Incorrect Guides, despite their coy titles, are an excellent series of correctives to liberal propaganda. I’d be tempted to call the 2007 book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution, by Kevin Gutzman, one of the most inspired, if only the other volumes I’ve seen weren’t so hard to top.

How to discuss this book without gushing superlatives? I find it even better than its advance praise announced. I’ve studied this subject for most of my adult life, and I can hardly imagine a better book of its kind — fearless, incisive, going straight for the intellectual jugular.

Gutzman contends that the American judiciary, legal establishment, law schools, and media have completely misled the public about the meaning and history of the U.S. Constitution, substituting case law — the accumulated opinions of the courts — for the simple truth. Flimsy “precedent” has usurped the place of history, fact, reason, and even logic. So precedents take precedence, as it were, over the actual words of the Constitution.

The U.S. Supreme Court winds up treating its own rulings — in Roe v. Wade, for example — as more authoritative than the Constitution itself. No wonder the public is confused: The whole system is incoherent and — well, “corrupt” is a mild term for it. The Constitution becomes whatever the courts say it is. This is a recipe for unbridled, arbitrary power, such as we are already experiencing.

Gutzman puts his finger on the key issue: state sovereignty. Abraham Lincoln falsely said that the states had never been sovereign, even under the Articles of Confederation — a lie plainly refuted by the second of the articles: “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence....” Mark you that: “retains”! So much for “Honest Abe.” (And he was honest, in little things. Like Shakespeare’s Honest Iago, he saved his whoppers for large matters.)

Unless the states retain their sovereignty, including the ultimate right to secede, there is no real check on “federal” tyranny. The whim of a Court majority can literally mean violent death for millions. If even one state had been able to threaten secession over Roe, the Court would never have dared to foist such a monstrous ruling on us. Yet nobody even proposed impeaching those who had usurped the states’ most basic right: the right to protect innocence from violence.

Gutzman’s conclusion is gloomy, but I find it hard to see how he can be accused of undue pessimism; to me it seems simple realism. I reached the same conclusion long ago and see no way around it, no “solution” except for the remote possibility that a stupid and sinful populace and its equally depraved rulers will have a massive conversion. This is about as likely as George W. Bush’s suddenly speaking in Miltonic periods, Johnsonian paragraphs, and Chestertonian epigrams.

When it comes to the U.S. Constitution, idiocy has been institutionalized so thoroughly that any hope for a return to reason seems like sheer fantasy. Gutzman shows that the truth can still be known and uttered, but not that it has any hope of prevailing in any future we can foresee.

The K-Word’s Debut
Judith Warner, defending late-term feticide in The New York Times, complains that it “could become legally risky for doctors to use digoxin — a cardiac drug — to kill the fetus up to one day in advance of the procedure.”

Well, blow me down! This is the first time I have ever seen anyone in the Paper of Record use the word “kill” to describe what abortion does. Next thing you know, they’ll be calling those dead things “babies.”
Dr. Johnson’s Cure
I’ve managed to recover a beloved piece of my old library: James Boswell’s classic, The Life of Samuel Johnson, one of the great treasures of the English language, given to me by a kind young friend. What an antidote to loneliness, among other things!

It’s not really a biography, but then, neither are the Gospels. It’s the record of a long friendship and of one of the world’s most brilliant conversationalists, a staunch Tory and Anglican with powerful “papist” leanings and a mortal enemy of cant and nonsense. I’ve read it many times, but never with more pleasure than now. Dr. Johnson’s wit, warmth, piety, generosity, and depth of insight have made both him and his young friend vivid and immortal companions to millions of readers.

We go to Dr. Johnson (1709–1784) first because he has amusing opinions on almost every subject under the sun. “Amusing” is not the first word one would use to describe Dr. Johnson’s essays, which are serious, solemn, and Latinate to a degree; but his conversation is quite a different matter: colloquial, colorful, biting, playful. But in either key, he expresses himself with wondrous precision.

Though he wrote poems, essays, criticism, biography, drama, and fiction (he dashed off a remarkably popular little novel in one week!), and also edited the plays of Shakespeare, Dr. Johnson’s greatest literary work was his Dictionary of the English Language (1755), a tremendous feat of learning and eloquence that has lost its utility as a reference book but remains a joy to read, stamped with the huge personality of its author.

Space precludes dealing here with Dr. Johnson’s deep spiritual wisdom, but I may mention that his fluency in conversation astounded noted scholars: I mean his fluency in conversing in Latin. It was extremely hard for an Englishman to convert to Catholicism in his day, but few men of his race did more to counteract heresy. He was, as it were, instinctively orthodox. What a great Catholic he would have made! He and Benedict were made for each other.

One word you won’t find in his great dictionary is “nonjudgmental.” Dr. Johnson is one of the most gloriously judgmental men who ever lived.

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Copyright © by Joe Sobran and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation.
All rights reserved. These items originally appeared in Joseph Sobran's "Washington Watch" column in the August 23, 2007 and July 19, 2007 editions of The Wanderer, the national Catholic weekly, www.thewandererpress.com. Editor may use this column if copyright information is included.

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