Book Review: Who Killed the Constitution?


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 The Constitution is dead. That blunt but unavoidable truth should be clear by now. The examples from the past century of American constitutional history cited in this book reveal how the federal government’s actions often bear no resemblance to what the Constitution’s ratifiers intended, and in fact run directly counter to the plain text of the Constitution.
~Page 199

“Who Killed the Constitution?”, written by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. and Kevin R. C. Gutzman, attempts to chronicle the slow death of the Constitution of the United States of America. It focuses on twelve especially grievous examples of the Government usurping power from the time around World War I up to the Presidency of George W. Bush. These twelve examples touch all aspects of America’s eroding liberties from state sovereignty to personal and financial freedoms. Through them, the authors of this book have been able to create a definitive proof that the Constitution has been overrun by the politicians and judges sworn to uphold it. They also show that this destruction did not happen overnight. It was government building on itself, over time, that allowed this to happen.

The assaults on the Constitution are not the work of one branch of government, or of one party, and they did not and could not emerge overnight.
~Page 2

The authors of this book smartly chose to avoid laying the blame at the feet of one party over the other. In fact, the book starts with the abuses of Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, and ends with George W. Bush, a Republican. The book points out that those blinded by partisanship often see wrong doing in those on the “other side of the aisle”, but fail to see any when it is their “team”. They also do a great job pointing out that it is not just the fault of “activist judges” or any other single branch of the government. All three branches have failed to act as the “checks and balances” to each other as they are Constitutionally obligated. Instead, they have conceded powers to one another, such as giving the President almost unlimited war powers. They have then turned to the states and to the people to find new powers to obtain. This fact crosses both partisan ideologies and, as this book has show, no matter how much lip service to the Constitution or outrage shown over the other party flaunting it, few politicians from either side will actually work to restore it.

[I]f we are truly to confront a government that has destroyed our allegedly hallowed Constitution, we must not shy away from calling attention to abuses, regardless of whom it offends.
~Pages 3-4

One of the strongest aspects of this book is that it does not shy away from controversy in making its case of Constitutional abuse. Instead of only cherry-picking examples that are both unconstitutional and are glaringly harmful to the citizens, the authors have also chosen some examples that seem like the government was doing the right thing. One such example is the matter in which schools were integrated. Almost everyone can agree that segregation was a horrible thing, but that does not necessarily mean that the Federal Government had carte blanche to end it. Some of the action that the government took to stop segregation, and discrimination in general, were unconstitutional, and in fact, discriminatory. By calling out this and other “taboo” examples, the authors are able to build a much stronger case about the government leaving its Constitutional bounds. It would have been very easy to use only government actions that they disagree with on a personal level, but that would have been little more then partisan whining.

In plain English, Madison was saying that Congress had only a few powers… The power to build roads, bridges, and canals was not among them.
~Page 75

The book also casts a harsh light onto things that the American people take for granted as government responsibilities and powers. There are many things that the American people no longer bother questioning whether they are even Constitutional. It is assumed that the government handles roads and has the power to make fiat money. This was not always the case and the government had to absorb those powers in steps. There has been a change in the American way of thinking that instead of the government having to prove that its actions are Constitutional, they are now assumed to be. This way of thinking has permeated all the way up to the Supreme Court. It has become so accepted that the government should have a role in every aspect of American life, that it has become almost impossible to “prove” that the government has assumed a power that does not belong to it.

By calling attention to what the Constitution really says, we can alert the people to just how consistently and dramatically their fundamental law has been betrayed.
~Page 202

This book succeeds at its goals admirably. It lays out a clear case that the government has destroyed the Constitution, and has been doing so for almost a century. By not laying the blame solely at the feet of either party or branch of the government, they show that they are not simple partisan hacks. By pointing out that what is “right” is not always Constitutional, they show that the concessions that Americans are often so willing to make are not acceptable if we are to reign in our government. Finally, by questioning government institutions and privileges that are taken for granted, they show that it is up to us to cast a stern eye on our government, no matter how “accepted” their actions are. We did not end up here nor will we leave here overnight. If we are ever to limit our government again, it is up to us no matter how hard it may be.

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