America's Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited

Column by Lawrence M. Ludlow.

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In this wonderfully succinct book, America’s Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited(Griffin & Lash, 2016), Sheldon Richman does a great service that clears the air swirling around the concept of limited government and freedom. Best of all, he explodes two common myths that are repeated with great frequency among people who value liberty. In brief, the double myth is that the U.S. Constitution (1) was designed to preserve liberty and (2) that a return to strict observance of its language and original intent would restore our liberties. Not counting Jeffrey Tucker’s introduction, the text itself is remarkably brief: only 117 pages. But there’s no fluff or fat, which makes it even better. 

For those of us who have read through Herbert Storing’s work and the sometimes lengthy tomes that address the anti-federalists and their opposition to the federalists and the Constitution, this concise work is a welcome and well-argued summary of the many arguments against the Constitution – arguments you never encounter in a government school and which are just as rare in conventional circles. And Richman adds to the stack and puts it together into a meaningful narrative that will leave you wanting more. Most importantly, this book reminds us that the Constitution was indeed a coup d’état, as Albert Jay Nock correctly dubbed it many years ago, and it delivers a terrific amount of research from historians and legal analysts.

By labeling the Constitution as a counter-revolution against the American Revolutionary War, Richman reminds us that the Constitution was really a move by revanchists to roll back the clock and re-institute top-down central authority in place of the decentralized and mutually-agreed-upon pact of the 13 independent states that formed the American Confederation under America’s first Constitution: the Articles of Confederation. One by one in his incisive chapters, Sheldon Richman addresses the following points as he shows that the Constitution was not meant to constrain government; it was designed to unleash it:

  • The Constitution was specially designed to re-establish the system of taxation that the American Revolution had just overthrown.
  • The Constitution – which, Richman correctly calls the second Constitution – reintroduced hierarchy, aristocracy, and a truncated form of monarchy in the executive branch.
  • The Constitution is the taproot of the national security state that smothers us today. It not only authorized the slavery of conscription, but it made possible the standing army, which has proven itself to be the source of debt, confiscatory taxation, blowback terrorism, and the big-government deep-state that is the perpetual enemy of liberty.
  • Although the Bill of Rights did not add anything new and has had a muted effect on preserving once-significant liberties, during its drafting, it acted as a successful distraction to divert attention away from the vast and centralizing powers of the new government vs. the reciprocally diminished and decentralized freedom centers that constituted the individual states. 
  • Under the path-breaking Articles of Confederation, Americans were prosperous, free, and at peace as members of a pact between independent states – a pact that was limited primarily to external affairs and did not meddle in local issues. The scare-story “defects” outlined in standard texts are more akin to perfervid nightmares that bore little resemblance to the facts of the case.
  • The replacement of our first Constitution was a mercantilist power-grab against the dispersion of power, and it sought above-all to restore taxation and prohibit free trade by free citizens.
  • The Constitution was a reaction against the historical spirit of liberalism, a counter-revolution designed to bring back much of what the colonials sought to eliminate.
  • The wording of the Constitution was intentionally vague and left open to interpretation by design to facilitate the vast expansion of government power that followed its adoption.
  • James Madison was no friend of liberty. His doctrine of “implied powers” held the noxious seeds of oppressive government; the implications of implied powers are endless.
  • In contrast to the claims of tax-protesters that seek to find legal loopholes and exemptions that are inevitably denied by the court system, the Constitution really did give the new government a limitless power to tax. It created an all-embracing authority to seize wealth that was exhaustive and included the ability to levy all manner of taxes, duties, imposts, and excises – as we can see today by the intergenerational burden it has accumulated.
  • Constitutional language is so contradictory that words in one part of the Constitution are repeatedly undone by words in another part, which removes any effective limit on what Congress can tax.
  • The Constitution was designed to make the re-creation of a European-style empire of conquest possible. “Keeping up with the Joneses” of royalty across the pond was its goal.
  • The unnecessary War of 1812 set the pattern for the new conquest-addicted government that is now bankrupting us financially and morally while destroying our freedoms through surveillance and “protection” against the worldwide hatred that empire always produces.
  • The Constitution ensured that a high-quality, competitive market-style judicial system would never develop, even though the medieval period had already paved the way by instituting competing power structures that can be viewed as the cradle of freedom.

Sheldon’s book will have achieved its purpose if it puts a good dent in wistful assertions that a “return to the true spirit of the Constitution” would result a return of our lost freedoms. If you have been tempted to repeat those sentiments in the past, this book will give you pause.

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Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture
Columns on STR: 37

Lawrence Ludlow is a freelance writer living in San Diego.