I sometimes think that in an era when "history" means who won last season's American Idol, one of the hardest things to get people to understand is that the assault on the American Constitution didn't begin with George W. Bush. The systematic attempt to expand and centralize State power at the expense of individual liberty goes much farther back in our past ... probably to the very adoption of the Constitution in place of the Articles of Confederation, but at least, as Thomas Woods and Kevin Gutzman argue, to the first world war. Indeed, as I saw someone express it recently, George W. Bush is a pro-bono attorney for the ACLU compared to that true monster, Woodrow Wilson.
So that's the first thing about "Who Killed the Constitution?": the authors' well-grounded historical viewpoint. The second is their research and documentation. It would be one thing to disregard them as ideologists if all they were doing was huffing and puffing like a Fox News pundit. But for them to marshal facts and citations and many, many quotations, as they do, makes this not pontificating but important investigative history. Discounting the seriousness of their argument would require ... well, exactly what has been happening for that last century or so ... the bald-faced denial of the evidence of our senses and reason. But if the rational reader can't see through that after a few hours in these pages, then I'm not sure what more we can do.
Of course, I'm not entirely sure what we can do anyway. I was all set to write that I wished I shared the authors' belief that Something Can Be Done, that the Republic is salvageable, and what's been lost can be regained. I had even prepared to title my review something like "A great book, heartbreakingly irrelevant."
I should have paid more attention to the title.
You see, the authors are not asking *whether* the Constitution is dead. They know it is. It was murdered by presidents, legislators, and jurists who sought Constitutional cover to create a veil of legitimacy around what they had already planned to do. Once they've come up with the arguments in which to clothe their intentions (the Constitution's "capacity for adaptation is indefinitely flexible," Justice George Sutherland wrote in 1919 [p. 162]), they lift the Constitution into the air like a shamanistic totem and the rest of us fall into line, hand over heart, like they knew we would.
Imperial ipsedixitism triumphs again.
So then what's left for the remnant? To their credit, the authors are more skilled than I at avoiding resignation. They write in their final paragraph that it's up to the American people to decide what to do with the information here presented. As I asked in my review of Woods' 33 Questions About American History You're Not Supposed to Ask, what if they're right? Whether this great book does in fact turn out to be heart-breakingly irrelevant is one, I suppose, that will only be answered in hindsight.
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About the reviewer
Andrew S. Rogers (Cascadian)
Mostly, I'm a moderately prolific Amazon.com reviewer who's giving Lunch a try as another venue for my reviews.
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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, readWho 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 ofThe 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. ...