Wednesday, February 16, 2011


We've had religious fundamentalism and Biblical literalism since the early 19th century.

Now we have "market fundamentalism" where capitalism (around in one form or another since the 11th century) becomes a political ideology whose principles become much more literally interpreted than the Classical economists ever intended. Adam Smith himself would fail today's ideological purity tests. He favored workers' rights to bargain collectively and he believed that some taxation and government regulation were necessary to maintain a decent society. Unlike today's ideologues, he had no illusions about "market forces" creating a civil society.

So too we have now Constitutional Originalism, a kind of legal fundamentalism that transforms a social contract drawn up by mortal men with deeply conflicting views and interests into Holy Writ that was divinely inspired, perhaps authored by God Himself. Originalist interpretation of the Constitution is very similar to extreme Protestant views of the Bible. As extreme Protestants wanted to go back to what they understood to be the "original" intention of Scripture buried beneath later accretions, so the Originalist would do likewise to the Constitution, even to the point of stripping out amendments and 2 centuries worth of legal precedent. Such views fail to take into account why "later accretions" (like the Bill of Rights) were created in the first place. The amendments and the legal precedents answered urgent questions which the original document left unaddressed or badly addressed (such as black males counting for only three fifths of a person).

"The letter killeth. The Spirit giveth life."

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