Saturday, April 02, 2005

Constitutional principles v. personal principles

I read a novel take on the formulation of one’s position on a particular subject at The Buck Stops Here. In it, Stuart Buck attempts to demonstrate that people often vacillate between competing principles in especially thorny dilemmas.
Let's suppose that a generic liberal values federalism at 3 (out of 10) and a generic conservative values federalism at 8. Do we know that the liberal or conservative are hypocrites for seemingly switching their position on federalism in the Schiavo debate? No. The liberal might simply think that the value of keeping Schiavo alive, given her circumstances, was worth no more than 2; thus, the value of federalism trumps. The conservative who desired congressional involvement might have simply thought that the value of protecting Schiavo's life was worth a 9 or 10, thus outweighing the value of federalism in this particular case. Thus, it is possible that neither one is being a hypocrite at all: They are merely placing different values on the competing interest of keeping Schiavo alive.

It may be that this pragmatic thought process is prudent for individuals, but [his] example considered the Constitution in general and Federalism in particular. I think such confusion of constitutional and personal principles muddy the waters. Actually, as I’ve mentioned before, the general public is (in many ways) ignorant of the role of our constitution(s). These documents are not immutable, but are subject to a well specified process for alteration, which in turn must NOT violate protected individual rights. The notion that the Rule of Law is precarious, malleable and bends to the “will of the people” is, in a word: ludicrous.