Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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Monday, June 06, 2005
In contrast to Zimbabwe, Australia has been peaceful, prosperous and democratic for more than a century. Michael Jennings praises the Australian constitution, which combines elements from the British and American systems. Whether the "lucky country" is lucky because of its constitution I do not know.

Still on the subject of constitutions, JEM wrote:

In short, the fundamental difference between the American Constitution and virtually all others is that it was not attempting to change the status quo but merely to affirm it and set it in stone. Indeed the entire American Revolution/War of Independence (select title to taste) was not a revolution at all but simply a fight to retain the existing "rights of Englishmen", as the 'revolutionaries' themselves put it; really it was a civil war.

By the way, the American Constitution is not necessarily as unimpeachable as many suppose. The story is told of the day in 1940 when Einstein and his friend Kurt Gödel (of Gödel's Theorm and Douglas Hofstadter's monumental and brilliant metaphorical fugue on minds and machines, 'Gödel, Escher, Bach : An Eternal Golden Braid' fame) went from Princeton to the NJ state capital Trenton, to appear before Judge Philip Forman to be examined with a view to being inducted into US citizenship. The Judge turned to Gödel and began, "You have German citizenship up to now." Gödel interrupted him, "Excuse me sir, Austrian." "Anyhow, the wicked dictator! but fortunately that is not possible in America." "On the contrary," Gödel interjected, "I know how that can happen. I have discovered a logical and legal way of transforming the United States into a dictatorship." It took all Einstein's efforts to stop the discussion continuing in this direction, and turn it back to safer topics.

In any case, there have been imitators of the American Constitution. For example, when Bismarck came to create a constitution for the Kaiserreich in the 1870s, he followed the US example to the letter, except that instead of an elected President as head of state and chief executive there was an hereditary Kaiser. Stalin's constitution for the Soviet Union was a virtual word-for-word translation of the US original, and a lot of good it did too.

The point, I would suggest, is that things like constitutions only work if they do little more than confirm the existing way; they can, of themselves, change virtually nothing. And when the existing way is in general considered satisfactory, a formal constitution would make little difference. This is the argument against a written British constitution although I am not personally convinced by this line of reasoning, as a written constitution would be at least be some sort of bulwark against future erosion of rights.

But then remember Gödel...