Liberty Chronicles, Ep 26; The Constitution as Counter-Revolution, with Sheldon Richman

Anthony Comegna: Libertarians understand better
than most that history is something built from the bottom up, from the innumerable and
largely unnoticed stream of individual choices, actions, and events. Yet even we have a tendency to fall for mythological
history from above when it suits our own values or interests. For decades, Sheldon Richman has been a staple
of modern libertarianism. His work builds on a long tradition of libertarianism
[00:00:30] from below, which while it may emphasize the lives, works, and interests
of great men from time to time, decidedly shows that politicians do not build societies. Welcome to Liberty Chronicles, a product of I’m Anthony Comegna. [00:01:00] So plenty of historians have kind
of said that the Articles of Confederation were the logical outcome of the Revolutionary
War. The ideas that went into it, the kind of activism
that fueled it, and the political coalition that actually made it happen, that naturally,
logically, those people would create the kind of government that they did [00:01:30] during
the 1780s. Could you explain this for us, and break it
down a bit? Sheldon Richman: That would be the dominant
view, but it’s not the unanimous view. One of the imminent historians of this whole
period is Merrill Jensen, who points out that the men who wrote the Constitution were a
very different group of men from those who wrote the Declaration of Independence, and
this sort of theme is also picked up by a historian [00:02:00] of this period, Gordon
Wood, who virtually describes the movement toward the Constitution, and the ratification,
as a counter-revolution, that the revolution was radical, but the movement that led to
the Constitution was actually conservative, not radical. Anthony Comegna: So, in what regard, then,
was the revolution radical, in your view? If there was a counter-revolution later, there
must have actually been something revolutionary [00:02:30] about the revolution, so what really
was that? Sheldon Richman: Well, I agree with Wood and
other historians, who take this perspective that the revolution was, in fact, radical,
in the sense that not only was it breaking away from this dominant empire, British Empire,
but that it was, in a very real sense, an egalitarian revolution. By egalitarian, I don’t mean economically
egalitarian, where everyone has the same income, and [00:03:00] measures of that nature, but
rather, it was anti-aristocratic. The British were seen as an aristocracy, but
not just the British. The individual colonies had their own homegrown
aristocracies, which fed off the privileges of the Crown, of course the British Crown,
but they had a more or less rigid, aristocratic structure, and that the Constitution, the
revolution was really … Jensen puts it this way, so does Wood, as both an [00:03:30] internal
and external revolution. Not only was it aimed at throwing off British
rule. It was aimed at throwing off homegrown aristocratic
rule, and that’s what was ushered into the states, the new states, after the victory
over Britain in the revolution. That’s the counter-revolution. There’s a reaction to this egalitarianism,
and we might call it the radical democracy, although there’s a lot of misconceptions about
that, [00:04:00] but the movement to centralize power, that came to fruition in Philadelphia
in 1787, and then 1789, was a reaction against this egalitarianism. Anthony Comegna: So let’s dig into that egalitarianism
a little bit, because I think a lot of libertarians today would be very skeptical about some of
the liberties that revolutionaries thought they were protecting or expanding upon, [00:04:30]
like paper money for example, the liberty to print their own paper money in the colonies. Well, we’re no friends of paper money today,
generally speaking, or the freedom to restrict trade, at the local or colonial state level. So what do we do with that, then? Sheldon Richman: Yeah, these are fascinating
issues, and of course they’re complicated, and I want to stress at the beginning, that
the two large groups that we talk about, the federalists [00:05:00] versus the anti-federalists,
that, by definition, by nature, is a gross oversimplification of course. History is always complicated, and dangers
always lie in trying to simplify. I mean, you’ve got to do it, but you’ve got
to be careful when you do it. The federalists were not monolithic, and the
anti-federalists were even less monolithic than the federalists were. There was a huge range of views. So I plead guilty right at the start, to oversimplifying,
and plenty [00:05:30] of people could come up with counter-examples and say, “But so-and-so
said this,” so that’s just in the nature of the beast. But, talking about the two issues you raised,
which was money and trade, let’s take trade first, because huge misconceptions about trade. One of the big defenses of the Constitution,
that libertarians also will invoke, is that the Constitution, some people might say in
effect, simply created [00:06:00] a free trade zone among the 13 states, and this accounts
for economic growth, and lots of good things. Well, of course we’re for free trade, and
libertarians would want the whole world to be a free trade zone, but the misconception
there, as brought up by Jensen and others, is that the period under the Articles of Confederation
was a free trade zone. It’s just a myth that states were erecting
trade [00:06:30] barriers to each other in this period. Now, the one exception, which is minor, is
that I think one or two of the states would demand duties on, say, European good that
came into New Jersey, and then passed into New York. They had duties against European goods. They weren’t Adam Smith free traders. They weren’t free traders on either side,
pure free traders. So, New [00:07:00] Jersey or New York might
demand the duty that they would have gotten on European goods had they come directly into
New York, so if they came through New Jersey, they would impose a duty, but that was, I
believe, the exception, and it was minor. What you didn’t have were duties against New
Jersey goods coming into, say, New York, so there was a free trade zone, and one of the
proofs of this is that, in the Federalist Papers, Hamilton, in arguing for … Of course,
the Federalist [00:07:30] Papers were what … They were sales pitches, right? To the ratification, at conventions, in The
States, sales pitches on behalf of ratification of the Constitution. He argued that if the Constitution were to
be ratified, the level of tariffs could be tripled against the outside world. In other words, the tariffs weren’t high enough,
and you could see why they wouldn’t be, because The States were basically in a competitive
posture against one another, and that might have the effect of driving down tariffs, in
[00:08:00] a way to get goods into the states, into their respective states, from Europe
and elsewhere. So here’s Hamilton saying, “We can’t be protectionist
enough, under the Articles. We need a central power, to set trade policy,”
which was one of the very big motives for centralizing power, to be able to enact a
national trade policy. That’s not something that should thrill libertarians. On paper money, well of course, the national
government didn’t [00:08:30] exactly end the problem of paper money. I need not say that to libertarians today. I’m thinking of Ron Paul’s campaigns of “End
the …” you know, with his chants of “End the fed,” and even the Constitution itself
didn’t end paper money, because although the states were forbidden to emit paper money
on their own, they were allowed to charter banks that emitted paper money, and the country
was awash in paper money in the 19th century, in the early 19th century, especially, and
the Americans liked [00:09:00] paper money. One of the myths is that Americans didn’t
like paper money. Well, if you can read financial histories
of the United States, by various people, and I have my book on the Constitution, America’s
Counter-Revolution, discusses this in some detail. There was lots of paper money. Americans didn’t dislike paper money, and
in 1818, Alfred [Barring 00:09:23], of the famous financial family in England, the Barring
family, was speaking [00:09:30] to some government commission, and he said, “You know, there’s
more paper money in the United States than in any other country on Earth. So Americans were not averse to paper money. Now, paper money is problematic, as you said. Huge problems. The national government, during the Confederation
government, during the war, issued continentals, and that was a disaster, and of course we
had the famous phrase, comes out of that, “Not worth a continental,” so that’s one thing. And [00:10:00] states themselves did issue
money, for various purposes, but sometimes they ran into problems. But other times they didn’t. For some reason, I don’t know the reasons,
but it was a moderate issuance of money, and it didn’t lead to huge depreciation and economic
upheaval. They just were careful about it, which is
not an endorsement of a paper money regime, but [00:10:30] it just shows it’s not an automatic
disaster. Now, one of the things that paper money did
in those days, in the Confederation period, was it functioned in lieu of taxation, and
the critics of inflation, libertarians among them, often point out that inflation is an
implicit form of taxation, right? Because it transfers purchasing power from
people, the people, to the politicians, right? If you issue money, the money [inaudible 00:10:58],
people can buy less, [00:11:00] but the government can take that new money and buy things, so
there’s a transfer of purchasing power. Well, taxation’s a transfer of purchasing
power, right? You hand your money over to the government. You lost the purchasing power, and the government
now has the purchasing power. So, as I say, inflation is an implicit form
of taxation. That actually didn’t work out so badly in
many cases in The States, the ones that were more moderate, because people found that more
preferable, that form of paying taxes preferable to an armed [00:11:30] taxman coming to your
farm, and confiscating your goods, your crops, your horses, whatever, because you didn’t
pay your taxes. They actually preferred that, plus, as a way
of mitigating the depreciation effects, it was easy for farmers to evade cash altogether. Most people, of course, were farmers, and
you could stay out of the cash economy if you wanted to. You could barter with neighbors with crops
and things like that, so that had a way [00:12:00] of tamping it down. So we shouldn’t throw the word “Paper money”
around just to scare people, and I’m against government currency. I’m for free money. I’m unwilling to say “Hard money.” I’m for market-based money, which may be hard
and may not be hard. May be Bitcoin for all I know. But the point is, that wasn’t an automatic
disaster, and it actually had some benefits, given the choices available at the time. Anthony Comegna: So, can you tell us a bit
about the Articles of [00:12:30] Confederation, then, and what exactly were some of the key
provisions, who put them in place, and what interests did the Articles protect? Sheldon Richman: Well, during the colonial
period, there were two continental congresses, which Britain, I guess, overlooked, or the
king didn’t care about, or I’m not really sure what his attitude is, but states sent
representatives to the continental congress. If you’ve seen the movie 1776, which is about
the writing of the Declaration of Independence, [00:13:00] that whole movie takes place inside
the second continental congress. It was that congress that declared independence,
and authorized a committee that included Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, to write
the Declaration of Independence. At the same time, there was a committee writing
Articles of Confederation, looking ahead to when Britain was no longer ruling the colonies. The colonies were then sovereign states, would
then be sovereign states, which [00:13:30] is how most people saw it, but they’d be in
a confederation, in other words a club, I think they actually called it a perpetual
union, that would not have any jurisdiction over the internal affairs of the sovereign
states, but would have jurisdiction over external affairs, that the states were getting together
and handled, thinking that individually, they couldn’t handle them, mainly foreign relations
and things of [00:14:00] that sort. It had one branch of government. It had congress, and the congress elected
a president who presided over the congress, and his title was president of the United
States in congress assembled. The first president was a guy named … Oh,
gosh, Samuel Huntington. We sometimes, historians debate who should
really be considered the first, because Huntington’s two year term straddled the pre-Articles period
[00:14:30] and the post-Articles period, so some people don’t count him. Then, the second guy, Richard Henry Lee, I
believe, left early to become governor of Virginia, I think it is, so John Hanson is
sometimes considered the first president under the Articles, because he served a full term,
fully within the period of the Articles. So, technically we could say he was the first
president of the United States, and that was his title, not George Washington, but of course
he didn’t have the PR that George Washington have. He didn’t have wooden teeth, he didn’t chop
down a cherry [00:15:00] tree when he was a kid, so people forget him. So anyway, we have a president who was a member
of congress, sort of like a prime minister in that sense. You could call it a parliamentary system. It had term limits. You couldn’t serve more than, I don’t know,
three out of six years, stuff like that. There was no separate executive. There was no separate judiciary. It was basically a one branch government. Importantly, I use the term government, but
maybe we should properly call it a quasi-government, because it lacked certain key powers, [00:15:30]
which all governments have. I think at least one of them is part of the
definition of government. There was no power to tax, and I think that
qualifies it therefore as a quasi-government. Now, why was it a government at all, because
its money came from taxation, but it was taxation levied by the states, so it was a second order
taxing power, let’s say. They could requisition money from the states. They could basically ask for money, and the
states sometimes delayed, or said the check was in the mail, [00:16:00] or something like
that. They didn’t always come up with the money
when they needed it. So, this government could not directly tax
people. Anthony Comegna: Was there any central authority
to compel a state to act on anything? Sheldon Richman: I don’t really think there
was a formal authority to compel. There was lots of discussion about that, and
lots of discussion in this Confederation congress, about giving [00:16:30] congress some independent
power to tax. The most popular proposal was a 5% tariff,
which relates to my other point. There was no power to regulate trade. These two very important powers, and the third,
I might as well add right here. Couldn’t raise an army. Had to go to the states to get men for the
army, so imagine a government that could not tax, could not regulate or promote trade,
and could not raise an army. That sounds like that’s my kind of government,
although it’s more than I want. Anthony Comegna: Sure, [00:17:00] sure. Sheldon Richman: But I take that as a first
step. So that alone would be of great interest to
libertarians, that this “Government” lacked these three powers. The proposals to give congress an independent
tariff failed a couple times. There was an amendment to the Articles, that
had to be unanimously accepted by the 13 states, and one state or another, Rhode Island I think
comes to mind, would block it on the two occasions. And this gets the nationalists [00:17:30]
thinking, the people that wanted America to be a great nation, and I say that intentionally,
because not only did they use the word, but these days, with Trump, it’s a relevant phrase,
right? They wanted to make America great. Not again, because it wasn’t great yet, but
they were wearing baseball caps that said, “Make America great.” Okay, just MAG, not MAGA. This gets them thinking, “Look, we can’t live
with the Articles [00:18:00] of Confederation.” You know, 14 days, less than two weeks actually,
into the period of the Articles, 14 days after it had gone into effect, James Madison, who
was a member of the second continental congress, is looking for ways to expand the power under
the Articles. He tried. He tried to use the treaty power. They tested various things. He couldn’t get anywhere. Just did not give them anything to work with. It was like grabbing at a cloud. It just wasn’t anything to get your teeth
into. And this is what begins to give people thoughts
[00:18:30] that maybe we need to get together and come up with a new plan for the government,
and that’s various events pushed things in that direction, and that’s of course what
happened. Anthony Comegna: Well now, that’s my next
question, because it seems that, seen in this light, this decade or so is a very, very special
time in history, where these sort of sister nation states are all peacefully cooperating
with one another for their mutual benefit, [00:19:00] under a central organization with
no compulsory powers, or at least that can’t use them easily, whatever powers there may
be hidden in there, and there is what some may characterize as a conspiracy and coup
d’�tat cooked up over the course of the decade, to overthrow this government, and
replace it with one of their own creation. So who were these people? Sheldon Richman: Well, they’re names that
are well known to us. There’s Alexander [00:19:30] Hamilton, Madison
… Madison is a little bit ambivalent, but he’s in Hamilton’s camp, almost fully at this
stage. Later on, he becomes more Jeffersonian. He’s a friend of Jefferson’s, and there’s
a lot of correspondence with Jefferson, who’s suspicious of this. We have the two Morrises. We have Robert Morris and Gouverneur Morris,
who were finance guys, and merchants, and very influential. Gouverneur Morris was made like superintendent
of finance during the Confederation congress, [00:20:00] and wanted a central bank. Basically, the Hamilton program, or later
the Henry Clay America system, a central bank, permanent debt, standing army. They wanted all these things. They were pushing for these things. And so there was a lot of intrigue. The Morrises were trying to get the officers,
the revolutionary officers, interested in putting pressure on congress, to [00:20:30]
basically set up this constitutional convention, so they could move toward greater power, the
promise being, “Your pensions. You’ll have your pensions paid in full.” They tried to enlist various interests, to
push for centralization. There was this near coup in Newburgh, New
York, that Washington famously quashed, by pointing out that he had basically gone blind
in the revolution, [00:21:00] and made this [inaudible 00:21:00] sacrifice, “So please
don’t do this.” He was afraid that there’d be some military
coup. Then the creditors, the people that were owed
money from the states because of the war, they had lent money, or produced goods and
gave the goods to the government to prosecute the war, and the centralizers would go to
them and say, “You’ll have a better chance of getting your loans repaid if we centralize
power and change this system.” [00:21:30] I mean, the states, in some different
ways, were trying to pay off the debts, but the centralizers would go to the creditors,
and said, “You’re going to do better if we centralize power. Look, we’ll have a taxing power. We’ll be able to promote trade. It’ll be good, and you’ll benefit from all
this.” So you can see how they tried to put a coalition
together, and it was kind of behind the scenes. It wasn’t some open thing. I don’t want to overplay the conspiracy theory,
but it had some whiff of conspiracy. Let’s get the creditors, [00:22:00] the officers
together, and push for centralization. Then, one of the crowning blows is you get
Shays’ Rebellion, in the 1780s, which was a tax revolt in Western Massachusetts, because
Massachusetts had a big war debt, and really jack up taxes on the farmers, and it was crushing,
and farmers, when they paid their taxes they couldn’t pay their mortgages, so there were
foreclosures going on, and [00:22:30] this created a little rebellion, right? Shays led a movement that shut down the courts,
to stop the evictions from the farms. This used to be interpreted as a class struggle,
right? You had simply debtors rebelling against creditors,
but more historians now understand that it was a tax rebellion. It was not a class rebellion, and the nationalists
saw what was going on in Massachusetts, [00:23:00] and said, “We got to do something about this. This is dangerous.” They didn’t like that state legislatures were
electing … or the people were electing to the state legislatures working class kind
of people, not the elite, and they got very nervous, and then you see what happened as
a result of Shays’, a new governor is elected. It’s John Hancock, by the way, is elected,
and they moderate the taxes on the farmers. They bow to the pressure, and that either
scared the hell [00:23:30] out of the nationalists, or at least they pretended to be scared. They spooked George Washington and said, “You
got to come to the …” The convention was already being arranged at this point, and
Washington wasn’t sure he wanted to go. He’s the most prestigious man in the country,
let’s remember, and the nationalists, his friends, people who were aids to him during
the war, said, “You have to go. Look what’s happening in Massachusetts. We have outright rebellion. This is going to happen. It’s anarchy. It’s foreign-fueled.” They [00:24:00] would talk about, “These are
foreign agents.” They scared the hell out of Washington, even
though I’m not sure the people trying to scare them totally believed it themselves, and that
pushed Washington over the edge, and he decided he’d come and then preside at the constitutional
convention. So it was this effort to scare people into
thinking, “This system is unstable. It’s anarchic, and everything’s going to go
to hell unless we come up with a new plan.” Anthony Comegna: Now, I want to push back
a little bit on using that word “Conspiracy,” because [00:24:30] as I understand his thinking
at least, Alexander Hamilton revered the British system for its graft, and its ability for
conspiracies to thrive, because that’s what actually drove policy through, the coalition
building, the wheeling and dealing between aristocrats at court, and people in parliament,
and interest groups outside of the government, that’s what made the whole great machine turn,
in Hamilton’s mind, so that’s sort of what these people thought politics was all [00:25:00]
about, making conspiracies and following through on them. Sheldon Richman: [crosstalk 00:25:04] Maybe
we’re using conspiracy in a slightly different way. I guess I was saying there weren’t just a
bunch of men in a smoke-filled room, [crosstalk 00:25:12]
Anthony Comegna: Oh, no no. George Soros wasn’t around yet, right? Sheldon Richman: Yeah. Yeah. I take your point. See, Hamilton, and Madison, and these others
who pushed for the Constitution did have in mind the sort of things you’re talking about. [00:25:30] One thing Gordon Wood points out
is that by the end of the lives of the various founders, they were all disillusioned. They thought the experiment was a failure
with the country, because they didn’t get the civic republican society they expected. People were too concerned about making a living,
looking after their financial interests, and not focused on the good, the general welfare. Both sides, the Hamiltonians and the Jeffersonians,
were [00:26:00] bothered by this. Hamilton’s view, and Madison’s view, was that
if you have a national government, and you filter out the sort of hoi polloi, you get
the sort of better type of person being a representative, which they figure would happen
if you have a small legislature outside of the states, far from the individual states,
you’re going to get a better class of people, and not that that better class [00:26:30]
of people would be self-regarding. No, they would be the above-the-fray mediators
of the various interests that were competing, and using state legislatures for their advantage. And that’s what they wanted. According to Gordon Wood, the Constitution
was going to be a sieve. It was going to filter out undesirables, because
they were too easily getting into state legislatures. You know, they really wanted to downgrade
the states. We talk about how to the states, federalism’s
sort of a dead letter now, but it was [00:27:00] a dying letter back then. Madison wanted the federal government to have
the power to veto state laws. John Jay said states should just become counties,
as it were, as the way counties are to states, states would become counties in relation to
the national government. They really wanted to downgrade the states. Don’t forget, people’s general political identification
in those days was with the states. Patrick Henry says, “Virginia is my country.” The [00:27:30] peace treaty with the king
of England named the individual, sovereign states. It was, in effect, a separate peace treaty
with each of the states. When the Constitution is first unveiled, and
put out for ratification, you have anti-federalists, you have Patrick Henry, and you have Sam Adams,
and others saying, “What’s this ‘We the people?'” The very first words are “We the people,”
not “We the states.” They could see that a change was attempting
to be affected in the country, by this shift, and of course the ratification conventions
were not the state legislatures. [00:28:00] They were special conventions selected
for that purpose. Anthony Comegna: Now, a big part of your argument
throughout the book is that the intrusiveness and parasitism of government that we’re all
so familiar with by now was not accidental, over time. It was actually baked into the design early
on, by these conspirators if you will, people like Hamilton, and you juxtapose that with
what [00:28:30] you call “The real constitution,” the sort of average, everyday practices of
life, and rules that govern real, lived experience, and real behavior, outside the halls of government. Can you elaborate on that idea of “The real
constitution,” and what exactly what the real constitution of the day? Sheldon Richman: Well, I have a chapter at
the end of my book, called “The constitution of anarchy,” which is also a play on Hayek’s
Constitution of Liberty, [00:29:00] and I’m really just reformulating, I think, some very
valid points, important points for libertarians, made by Roderick Long, the libertarian philosopher
at Auburn University, and other people, which points out that any society, by definition,
has an implicit constitution, because when we say “Society,” we already are referring
to the idea of order, right? Otherwise, I don’t think we would call it
a society. We would call it [00:29:30] just mob, or chaos,
or Hobbesian situation. Society already suggests the idea of customs,
mores, implicit rules, rules which might not be written down anywhere, or even articulated,
but just the day-to-day expectations that people have, that most people, most of the
time, observe. It doesn’t mean that nobody does. Of course, there are outlaws, and people who
break the expectations, but by and large, if we’re talking about a society, that’s what
we mean. [00:30:00] That’s the very idea of it. So, I wanted to make the point that you don’t
need a written constitution to have a constitution. England, for one thing, doesn’t have a written
constitution. Then, on the other end of the spectrum, the
Soviet constitution said some good things, right? Didn’t the Soviet constitution declare there
be freedom of speech, and freedom of press, but of course, we know there wasn’t freedom
of speech and freedom of press under the Soviet Union. So what’s written down may not be what the
real rules are. Another person [00:30:30] who was very good
at spelling this out, well Elinor Ostrom, for example, Nobel Prize winner who talks
about how common pool resources have been governed without government, and James C.
Scott, in Seeing Like a State, stresses this point too. The real rules may not be the rules that are
written on parchment, or hanging in the national archives, or any formal rule. The real rules are the rules that are being
observed every day by people, that form people’s expectations, and that people [00:31:00] build
plans around, and build their lives around, because they’re generally observed. That’s the true constitution of any society. Now, we have a constitution that says some
things, and libertarians and others lament that the certain constitutional provisions
have just sort of disappeared, although they haven’t disappeared from the document. For example, Congress is supposed to have
the power to declare war, but Congress has not declared war since … I think it declared
war on Germany in, what, 1942, so that was the last time there’s [00:31:30] been a declaration
of war. Other things have gone away. Supposedly imminent domain was only supposed
to be for taking property for public use, but now with the Kelo case, from the 2000s,
the Supreme Court said, “Well, if it’s for private use, but there’s going to be some
public benefit, that’s good enough. That satisfies it.” So first of all, constitutions, like laws,
are never written [00:32:00] down in a final form. In other words, they’re always going to be
subject to interpretation. So, what’s written down may not be what governs
at some later time. This brings us into the subject of a living
constitution. My point is that constitutions necessarily
are always living, because people have to interpret them. We can’t say, “What did Madison mean by this? Let’s just do what Madison meant,” or that
would be one originalist approach. [00:32:30] Another originalist approach would
be, “Well, what did people think the words meant in those days?” That doesn’t get you anywhere, because you
know, which people, and how do you know what they thought? It’s a hopeless thing, so the Constitution
was a political document. It was the product of compromise, right? You had many different views represented in
the convention. It wasn’t just a whole bunch of Madisons or
a whole bunch of Hamiltons. They had different views. There were some anti-federalist types in the
convention. George Mason, I think was in [00:33:00] the
convention. So, they had to hammer out a compromise, and
Hamilton, Madison, did not leave Philadelphia believing that the lines between the three
branches of government, or the lines between t federal government and the states, had been
defined, clearly, once and for all. They were under no such illusion. They knew those things were going to be fought
out politically in the coming years, so a constitution, by definition, is living, so
it just seems Quixotic to say [00:33:30] we have to fight this idea of a living constitution. I know Thomas Sowell is a big critic of living
constitution. He once said, “A living constitution is a
dead constitution.” Well, in a way he’s got a point. I mean, how can it … It can’t be a set of
fixed rules if it’s subject to interpretation, but his mistake is in thinking there’s some
alternative. It’s always going to be subject to interpretation,
and any interpretation, as Wittgenstein put it, [00:34:00] any interpretation is floating
in the air alongside the rule that its interpreting, because then all we do is we shift the argument
to what the interpretation means. We never can get out of this. So the Constitution cannot be … This written
constitution cannot be some sort of anchor, and there’s no way … We sometimes think,
people talk as if the Constitution … as if there’s some computer somewhere, that has
the right interpretation of the Constitution programmed into it, and all we need to do
is take [00:34:30] any dispute, feed it in, and it can spit out the right thing to do. That’s ridiculous. Any legal system is internal to the society,
and it’s not as if you can go to the Wizard of Oz or something, and say, “What’s the right
thing to do under the Constitution?” That’s impossible, but I think that colors
a lot of people’s thinking about the Constitution, and how the political system should work. Anthony Comegna: [00:35:00] Sheldon Richman
is the executive editor of the Libertarian Institute, chairman of the board of trustees
at the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at He writes a weekly column for the American
Institute for Economic Research, and his latest books include America’s Counter-Revolution:
The Constitution Revisited, Separating School and State, Tethered Citizens, and Your Money
or Your Life: Why [00:35:30] We Must Abolish the Income Tax. Liberty Chronicles is a project of It is produced by Tess Terrible. If you’ve enjoyed this episode of Liberty
Chronicles, please rate, review, and subscribe to us on iTunes. For more information on Liberty Chronicles,

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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