America is a nation founded not on a homogeneous ethnic grouping, nor upon a traditional line of kings, nor upon adherence to a particular Christian sect, but on the rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness (or Property, as variants had it). All adult Americans were declared to be free men, noble of spirit, with the rights and responsibilities adhering to nobles in European nations. The equal nobility of all Americans depends on their willingness to act nobly, to keep a common moral code, to rely on themselves, to be honorable and truthful, courageous, generous and patriotic.
This became clear to me when I compared two national Constitutions of approximately the same vintage: Poland; and America. The American Constitution, still in effect, was completed in 1787 and ratified and took effect in 1789. The Polish Constitution was completed in 1791, but the newborn Polish Republican Constitutional Monarchy was thought to be too radically opposed to Royal and Noble privileges and was betrayed by Frederick William II of Prussia and overthrown by Catherine the Great of Russia by 1795. A side-by-side comparison between the tables of contents of the two constitutions is all you need to understand the difference, though the difference will be further amplified if you read the entire text of both.
|Polish Constitution of May 3, 1791||Constitution of the United States of America|
|# 1 Government Act * 1.1 [Preamble]
* 1.2 I. The Dominant Religion
* 1.3 II. The Landed Nobility
* 1.4 III. The Cities and Their Citizens
* 1.5 IV. The Peasants
* 1.6 V. The Government, or Designation of Public Authorities
* 1.7 VI. The Sejm, or Legislative Authority
* 1.8 VII. The King, the Executive Authority
* 1.9 VIII. The Judicial Authority
* 1.10 IX. Regency
* 1.11 X. The Education of Royal Sons
* 1.12 XI. The National Armed Force
* 1.13 [Signers:]# 2 Our Free Royal Cities in the States of the Commonwealth
* 2.1 Article I. On the Cities
|Constitution of the United States of AmericaArticle 1: The Legislature
Article 2: The Executive
Article 3: The Judiciary
Article 4: The States
Article 5: Amendments
Article 6: The Place of the Constitution
Article 7: Ratification
SignersThe Bill of Rights
1st Amendment: Freedoms of Religion, Speech, Press, Association, Assembly, and Petition
2nd Amendment: The Right to Bear Arms
3rd Amendment: Private Property shall not be seized for military use.
4th Amendment: Against unreasonable searches and seizures
5th Amendment: Against arbitrary justice
6th Amendment: Rights of the accused in criminal prosecutions.
7th Amendment: Rights of the accused in lawsuits.
8th Amendment: Against excessive, cruel, and unusual punishments.
…And the two most important Amendments in the Bill of Rights:
Note the attention paid in the Polish Constitution to defining the rights and privileges of Royal, Noble, Peasant and Townsman, and the lack of any sort of delineation of any classes of Americans in the American Constitution. That is key.
The Polish Constitution includes several sections on how citizens of Cities can become Nobles. This is the sort of question that would have been on Americans’ minds as they created their own Constitution. “What are we to be: Townsmen; Nobles; or Peasants?” By explicitly discarding Nobility and the Peasantry as separate American political classes, the Constitutional Convention placed all Americans on the same level. This implied that Americans were of equal status to Nobles. This philosophy had been stated eleven years earlier, in the Declaration of Independence.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
“All men are created equal” was a clear claim to noble status for all Americans. And the Constitution built upon that foundation.
The only delineation in the American Constitution is between the duties of each of the four branches of the American government (Legislature, Executive, Judiciary, States). The American Constitution was an Egalitarian Constitution, the first of its type, and exemplary of the political philosophy that came to be known as Liberalism. To underline this egalitarian statement, there is even specific language in Article 1, Section 9 of the American Constitution prohibiting any establishment of noble or otherwise privileged status, even one granted by a foreign power.
No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.
The American Constitution, with its focus on natural rights, property rights, limited government, and individual freedom from restraint (liberty) is a practical implementation of the principles of classical Liberalism. From the time of the foundational struggle against the British Empire of King George III, America has been a Liberal nation that rebelled against traditional Conservatism, which assumes and furthers class divisions between royalty, nobility, freemen, peasants, and serfs or slaves. Traditional American values include egalitarianism and liberty, and are antithetical to racism, classism, sexism, and all claims of group privilege other than those given to the individual States. The existence of hereditary slavery in America was an insult to American egalitarianism, and was eventually banned by Abraham Lincoln (R) in the Civil War, as the equally non-egalitarian Jim Crow laws were banished after Dwight Eisenhower (R) integrated the Armed Forces and sent the National Guard to Little Rock, Arkansas, inspiring the civil rights movement. The present-day affirmative action laws are also an insult to American egalitarianism, privileging as they do one group of people above another. If the American Constitution holds, there will be a time when they also pass.
What would a Conservative nation be like? To my mind, the Polish Constitution of 1791 is a perfect example of a Conservative constitution. It enshrines the rights of different classes of peoples. It enshrines a single religion. It enshrines Royal and Noble privileges and responsibilities, and defines the Peasantry as an unfree class of people with fewer privileges than free people, but with the right to be taken care of by the nation.
Now to the question in the title. Let’s break the question up by era. First, is America (of 1789) Conservative or Liberal or neither?
Clearly, America of 1789 was a Liberal republic.
How about today? Is America (of 2007) Conservative or Liberal or neither?
America of 2007 suffers under an unfortunate class system, where various privileged victim groups have rights above other groups. The nation takes care of the poor by means of centrally collected taxes and a huge bureaucracy, thus sustaining both a peasant underclass and a privileged bureaucratic class of government functionaries. Laws do not apply equally to all, having been manipulated by the Legislature, written in obscure language, and abused by lawyers for decades of bad precedent. Amendments have weakened some of the separations of powers enumerated in the Constitution by increasing the power of the Legislature (notably, the 17th and 25th Amendments). Questions such as what is right, honorable, or profitable have become secondary to questions about legality, as the legal code has become so massive and impenetrable that it cannot be negotiated except with help from a class of legal mandarins who not only profit from the state of the Law, but make up about half of the Legislature that creates Statute Law (roughly 2/3 of the Senate and 40-50% of the House).
In 2007, America is not Liberal. Nor is it a Conservative society with a hereditary nobility and royalty. America is neither Conservative nor Liberal, but something else. It is a formerly Liberal nation that since the passing of the 16th and 17th Amendments has taken on more and more socialist programs and government-imposed classist affiliations as a result of earmarks and other forms of Legislative vote-buying, with a reduced place for noble virtues, individual rights and responsibilities, and free association.
In other words, it has been going in the wrong direction for a long time now.
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