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Is the Constitution Outdated?

April 13, 2011

Disclaimer: In this blog post, I discuss emotionally charged topics, such as gay marriage and abortion. I do not express my personal beliefs or opinions on the subjects – instead, I question the process by which we evaluate them in the United States. I don’t intend to start a political debate about the topics themselves. Rather, I use them as examples of modern debates that are being analyzed using traditional methods and examine the relevance of those methods.

After studying and discussing Mill, I started thinking about the importance and effect of tradition. Mill says that we shouldn’t take what has worked before as our guide for what will work now or in the future, and we should instead figure out what works for ourselves through reason. This made me wonder how tradition affects – both positively and negatively – our ability to change society. More specifically, I thought about the U.S. Constitution and the laws that have been guiding our society for more than 200 years. Obviously, life is much different now than it was when the Constitution was written. However, we’re still using the same documents to evaluate modern scenarios. I think it’s worth it to ask: is this appropriate, or do laws promote tradition and limit change? Societies change through time – that is irrefutable. While I do think it’s important to have a default guide of societal rules (like the Constitution) in order to maintain social and political order, is there a point where it simply becomes outdated?

Below is a video of a Fox News segment discussion whether the Constitution is relevant to terrorism – something that wasn’t an issue when it was written:

Other politically, socially, religiously, and emotionally charged subjects like abortion and gay marriage are two more examples that come to mind. Policies concerning both topics are not explicitly written in the constitution – most likely because they simply weren’t hot topics back then like they are now. So how do we adapt? Do we try to justify one decision or the other by using words in the Constitution – that likely were not written to specifically address these issues – or do we write new laws?

Of course, this brings into question the ease of writing new laws. Needless to say, it’s not the easiest task, and for good reason. If writing new laws and changing what’s written in traditional documents like the U.S. Constitution were simple, there could be tons of crazy and detrimental laws in place. However, is it such a lengthy and difficult process that the formation of new laws can’t keep up with the rate of change in society?

What do you think? Are using traditional documents (such as the Constitution) and traditional ideas (such as marriage being solely between a man and a woman) relevant to modern issues that were irrelevant when the documents were written?

3 Comments
  1. Brian Wandschneider permalink
    April 13, 2011 5:40 PM

    I agree that it is hard to interpret the Constitution on certain topics, such as gay marriage, because the laws were not written with those things in mind. However, it is important, as you mentioned, to have a central set of rules that guide the actions for all. If we had a bunch of loosely connected laws that were created, revised, and destroyed over time, the rules of society would be confusing and contradictory. Also, I think it is important to realize that the Founding Fathers delegated the creation of laws for these modern controversial topics to the states, not the federal government. The federal government, under the Constitution, is is no place to create laws in regards to gay marriage, for example. People can find ways to interpret the Constitution any way they want to support an argument, which is why some things are out of the realm of the national government’s control. I don’t think the Constitution is outdated, and think it is a necessary part of American life, but the power to new rules were given to the people and to the states.

  2. Layne Simescu permalink
    April 13, 2011 8:48 PM

    I, too, believe that the Constitution is a go0d base for the laws of America today, but some parts of the Constitution are clearly outdated. For instance, the right to bear arms. I think people read way too much into this law. Just because it’s in the Constitution doesn’t necessarily it is applicable for today’s society. The second amendment was enacted in 1791 at a time when defense was needed against the oppression of the European monarchy. The amendment was enacted to keep the local militias in arms and ready to fight the enemy. In a time when citizens are not forced to house British soldiers or threatened by the thought of British invasion, is there really any use for guns in the common household? Gun-related crimes and accidents occur everyday in America. It is estimated that in 2010, there were 31,224 gun related deaths. According to Time magazine, of 23 high-income countries, the U.S. had 80% of the gun deaths, and a gun homicide rate 20 times higher than the rest. The right to bear arms also makes it easier for gun-related accidents, especially in homes with children. So is the second amendment really necessary in today’s society? Why do people need to carry deadly weapons. The threat of European monarchy is over. There are no soldiers invading American towns. Guns just give people an easier opportunity to hurt themselves and the people around them.

  3. jasonkraman permalink
    April 14, 2011 12:28 PM

    I believe the constitution is not outdated if it is interpreted the right way. Although I realize your point about Mill and that prior tradition should not lead to future adherence to the practice, I think the constitution is an exception. It is the very basis of our government and should not be thrown out, ever. However, I do believe that interpreting the law we should not take a strict “originalist” view and instead should take a “living constitution” angle. Basing off Mill, I believe we need to take the constitution for its worth and use it to interpret and assist us in governing today, but not to read it word for word. In this way we can still utilize and respect the constitution without strictly adhering to everyone of its archaic words.

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