Constitutional Scripturalism

Ted Cruz setting himself on fire at the GOP convention is a good example of how things are not always what they seem. The Wuss Right cheered because they hoped it would hurt Trump. They never cared for Cruz, which is why they refused to back him until the last days of the primary. Even those who were willing to back Cruz early on were muted in their enthusiasm. Once there was nothing to lose and he was throwing one last rock at Trump, they could let loose with full-throated cheers for Lion Ted.

The Wuss Right’s reticence with regards to Cruz is not all wrong. Cruz is a weasel, who can’t be trusted. He proved that the other night. He’s also revealed himself to be a fanatic, fully capable of stepping on a rake that he laid in front of his own path. Cruz seems to believe the things Glenn Beck says about him. He imagines himself as the throne half of the team, while Beck imagines himself representing the altar side of their thing. Their thing is a strange movement that blends evangelical Christianity, Mormonism and evangelical Constitutionalism.

Conservatives tend to define themselves as people who are faithful to the spirit of the law, as well as the letter. When it comes to the Constitution, the Right typically takes a narrow view. If it is not explicitly in the document, then it is assumed to not be in the document. This is in line with the traditional negative liberty that is the bedrock of the American system of governance. The state only has powers specifically granted to it. Put another way, the state must get permission from the citizens to act.

Listen to a Ted Cruz speech and he talks about the Constitution in the same way preachers talk about Scripture. You either read the document as the literal word of God or you are a sinner. An America that is not organized around the literal reading of the original document is failing in its duty to God. Similarly, liberty is a stand-in for salvation. One is either in a state of liberty or outside the light of the Founders. When a guy like Ted Cruz talks of religious liberty, it clearly means more than just being left to worship as you please. It’s liberty as a religion.

The irony of this evangelical constitutionalism is that it was Evangelicals who ushered in the whole “living constitution” stuff. The Christian reformers of the 19th century badgered the courts to accept a more expansive role in law making. This always meant chipping away at property rights in order to eradicate immorality from national life. The Abolitionist Movement was, after all, an attack on property rights. Slaves were property and freeing slaves is, legally speaking, no different than “freeing” someone’s car or their cash.

Treating the founding documents as holy texts and the Founders as messengers of God seems like a natural evolution of Evangelical politics. In the 70’s and 80’s, Christian conservatives got involved in politics and ended up as a reliable Republican constituency. This traditional approach to politics got them nothing but disappointment as the liberals steamrolled conservatives in Washington on social issues. Strategy shifted to backing coreligionists, thinking that would result in more reliable politicians. Eight years of George Bush disabused most Christians of that belief.

Holding up a holy text as something more than words on a page is to expected. Religions only work when the rules are set forth by an authority higher than man. Otherwise, it’s just coercion. Deifying the Constitution the way we see with guys like Cruz and Beck, inevitably deifies the men who wrote it. It also assumes a transcendence that the writers never imagined. The men who wrote the Constitution fully understood that it was a grab-bag of compromises that were necessary in order to organize thirteen nations into a single country.

Just as important, the men who founded the country relied upon the work of others to form their opinions and debate how to best organize the newly independent country. Jefferson, for example, borrowed heavily from The Declaration of Rights with which Parliament asserted its rights against the King in the Glorious Revolution. Imbuing the Constitution with sacred authority inevitably turns the writers into something they were not and strips them of their humanity. The Founders were just men, but they were still men.

That’s what makes the Cruz speech and his refusal to back Trump interesting. The Wuss Right, filled with hatred for the rise of Trump and his nationalist backers, cheered Cruz as the heir to Reagan. The Cruz people, however, are not looking for Reagan. They tried that and got nowhere. They saw the Cruz speech and saw their savior, a man in the line of the Founders, sent by God to bring his people back into the light of the Constitution. It’s why his followers are sure God will punish America for rejecting their man.

Ted Cruz says he will run in 2020 no matter what happens in 2016. It remains to be seen whether this movement he is leading has legs. These things often fizzle out. With high profile people like Glenn Beck and Erick Erickson signing on and preaching from their Internet pulpits every day, it’s probably going to be with us for a while. Ted Cruz is the leader of the political version of the Westboro Baptist Church now. The founding documents are holy scripture and the leaders are men of God, sent by God.

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Christopher in MA
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Christopher in MA

“The founding documents are holy scripture and the leaders are men of God, sent by God.”

Which I find amusing, in that Pauline Maier, an MIT history professor (FWIW), wrote a book concerning the drafting and editing of the Declaration called “American Scripture” in 1998.

BTW, have been reading your blog for a few months now, and enjoy it. It’s a daily stop for me now.

LetsPlay
Member
LetsPlay

Sure and your great professor of history at corrupt institutions of higher learning, along with her husband at Havvaaad, probably filled a lot of heads with socialist mush. To wit: In an interview with CommonWealth magazine in 1998, Professor Maier told of sharing a cab in Washington, as people often do. Her companion told her that she was from Africa, and Professor Maier replied that Africa must be beautiful. The woman said that the United States was better, and Professor Maier casually asked why she thought so, expecting the woman to extol perhaps the country’s wealth or job opportunities. The… Read more »

Meema
Guest

I thought this was interesting:
http://www.eutimes.net/2016/07/ted-cruz-met-with-obama-prior-to-rnc-endorses-hillary-rick-perry-set-to-destroy-cruz/

If you read the comments you find a lot of Ted Excusers. But the question is still begged – why was he on Air Force One and what did they talk about? Grand kids? No, wait, Ted isn’t old enough to have grands yet.

cali
Guest
cali

Great post! Cruz is a arrogant little man full of false pride that felt entitled to be president. It goes back to his father and their nutty church – the dominionist ideology. Cruz was told long ago by his father that ‘he is the anointed king’. They both are dreaming of turning the US into a theocracy as similar as Iran without the beheadings. In Cruz’ father church and their beliefs has convinced Cruz that he must cleanse the earth of all sinners, homosexuals etc to enable Jesus Christ’s return. That is what he believes based on the church of… Read more »

James LePore
Guest

When someone who you perceive as your enemy invites you into his home, you have two choices: decline, or go and be gracious while you’re there. Cruz went and pissed on the floor, which I believe turned off pretty much everyone who was watching and ended any chance of his ever becoming president.

Severian
Guest

Honestly, I wish Cruz types actually would go ahead and deify Washington, Jefferson, et al. It’s the second-best alternative to the current mess, it worked for the Romans, after a fashion, and it’s certainly better than deifying an abstract concept — Rousseau defied the political process itself (the “General Will”), Hegel took it a step further and deified the State, and of course Marx built on all that and deified History. The body count rose exponentially each time. Second-best alternative: a Cult of Personality. Trump, I’m told, is busy building one. Good! That’s the only way to change course in… Read more »

Member

Very nice posting. I like your succinct summary of the history of political philosophy married to its body count. History may yet decide that the burden of guilt for the premature deaths of many over course of modernity should be laid at the feet of men of letters rather than the men of action dealing with the consequences of those ideas.

Severian
Guest

It’s fun (for certain horribly depressing values of “fun”) to play the old “travel in time, kill baby Hitler” game when you’re an adult and know some intellectual history. Killing Hitler wouldn’t have solved anything; something like that was inevitable given Marxism. But killing Marx wouldn’t do anything, given Hegel, and Hegel was inevitable given Rousseau…. one can only wish that the Inquisition had gotten whoever it was who first decided that we can force the Second Coming by killing off all the sinners. He’s got everyone else’s body count on his hands, too.

David in Cal
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Cruz is very eager to see our government follow the Constitution, and this is BAD??

Adama
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Adama

Constitutional obedience is something, I’m sure, most regulars here approve of. But, to Z’s point, obedience by way of zealotry is too high a price to pay. Tolerating undesirable means for the sake of achieving a desirable can seriously backfire, as those means can also be used to achieve other undesirable ends.

The Constitution does just find standing on its intellectual merits alone, it doesn’t require consecration.

LetsPlay
Member
LetsPlay

And just who is doing the wrecking of America? Talk about zealotry.

I would rather agree with Bary Goldwater circa 1964:

Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Tolerance in the face of tyranny is no virtue.
Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.
Moderation in the protection of liberty is no virtue; extremism in the defense of freedom is no vice.

Adama
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Adama

I have no problem with extremism in certain forms; extremes are relative positions anyway. And if a rational analysis takes you to the extreme end of a particular issue’s belief spectrum, then fine. But there is a difference between being, let’s say, a principled extremist and a zealot.

Zealots have a habit of turning things into articles of faith. Articles of faith aren’t reasoned into or in any way questioned.They’re just accepted as an act of religious devotion. The Constitution is a pretty damn solid effort, affirming it doesn’t need to be a sacrament. That’s all I’m saying.

LetsPlay
Member
LetsPlay

And all I am saying is it is not Christians or strict Constitutionalists who are taking away freedoms or transforming America. It is the other guys, liberals aided and abetted by corrupt politicians and uber greedy capitalists.

Pat Baker
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Pat Baker

The Constitution was crafted as a peace treaty between American Puritans and Cavaliers, not holy writ.
Zman is correct.

Drake
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Drake

But… If the Ninth and Tenth Amendments weren’t thrown in the trash a century ago by the Progressives, we wouldn’t need a zealot to get the federal government back into the constitutional box.

Nobody else, other than the Pauls, seems to remember those Amendments are still part of the Constitution.

Uncola
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Uncola

“An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it is also more nourishing.” – (H.L. Mencken) When considering the yin and yang of liberty once must balance Isaiah Berlin’s “I am slave to no man” with “I am my own master”. It is moral law, therefore, constituting the line in the sand separating free society from anarchy. Or, perhaps in the case of Hobbes, that which separates a benevolent monarchy from tyranny. John Locke claimed: “The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom.… Read more »

Lulu
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Lulu

Few of those who ended up (desperately?) going for “constitutionalist” Ted on the conservative forums started out rooting for him. Some were actually very strongly against him before they were for him. When attrition (wearing a Brioni suit and a Make America Great Again cap) stripped away their first, second, third, etc., etc., choices and Cruz appeared to be the only non-Trump standing (Kasich never counted), they built him up (sort of like the DNC does) with his “constitution as religion” and his faux “religiosity”. A nutcase “pastor” father in a bogus faux religion helped a lot. That was and… Read more »

Frank
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Frank

I am a fairly long time reader and I would first like to say how much I enjoy your blog. You are an outstanding writer and thinker and your writing actually relaxes me while informing, which I believe indicates that there is predominate truth in your writing (and thinking). Your historical perspective in everything is so critically important as the nature of man only changes over very long time scales, and society in general in shorter, but still fairly long time scales. With that said, I truly hoped that Cruz would win the nomination. He is the first person I… Read more »

notsothoreau
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notsothoreau

Cruz is not capable of disrupting anything. How effective was his filibuster? Not very. He is incapable of working with other people. He’s interested in the Senate only as a means to run for president. The real disruptive force is the person that can get past the main stream media to make their voice heard. Cruz will never be that guy. Trump is. Cruz thinks things will be the same in 2020 but he is completely wrong. The country will have changed. If Hillary gets in, it will be almost unrecognizable and he won’t have a chance to win. If… Read more »

Lulu
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Lulu

Agree, though God knows he tries to disrupt.

“If Hillary gets in”…..thanks for that nightmare! 😉

RedFred
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RedFred

I don’t want to go over top, while suggesting you might be a bit over top accusing Cruz supporters of going over the top, even though it’s clear that Glenn and Ted are now definitely over the top.Especially Glenn. But I think there’s a few of us (ex?) Cruz voters who simply agree that the founders put together the best set of limits they could at the time, as you say. And we think that those limits on government should be strictly adhered to, for the good of the country and the protection of us all. And if you don’t… Read more »

Notsothoreau
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Notsothoreau

The problem is that Conservatives try and pass as keepers of the flame. But they don’t act that way when they get in office. They vote for stupid trade deals and unwinnable wars. They don’t do a single thing to shrink government programs. They don’t seem to have an interest in protecting our culture. And they run and hide if you call them a racist. If your most recent victories were when Reagan was in office, your movement is dead.

RedFred
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RedFred

Damned auto-correct! Over THE top, over THE top!

Al from da Nort
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Al from da Nort

Z Man; So, are you saying that the only reason we Evangelicals supported Cruz is religious zealotry_? That, sir, is an insult_! Seriously, let me just say that presuming to know what Evangelicals think portrays a certain unfamiliarity with the demographic. I can confidently state that there is no such thing as THE Evangelical position on almost any question, even theological ones. We, sir, are a fractious lot. However, one thing I can say with considerable confidence is that almost all Evangelicals do NOT think the US Constitution a divinely inspired equivalent to Holy Scripture. I hope and imagine that… Read more »

james wilson
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james wilson

Ben Franklin, who if anything was a doubter, thought the deliberations were divinely inspired and gave a speech recorded by Madison to that effect, so it might be assumed that a number of the Founders believed likewise, none of whom were anti-Federalist of course. But the way was cleared for that shiny city on the hill. How interesting would life be had the anti-Federalist won.

LetsPlay
Member
LetsPlay

ZMan. I don’t know where to start. I know you are being provocative so here is my response point by point. 1. You are a smart guy. Why do you seem to focus so much on Beck? Sure he has his followers but he is not the danger that Hillary or the Dems/Liberals are. I don’t want to be an apologist for Beck but I take him as a Paul, the Apostle, formerly the persecutor of Christians and Tax collector Saul, who is simply crying out in the wilderness trying to get America to turn from it’s hedonistic and materialistic… Read more »

Pat Baker
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Pat Baker

The miracle of America was not the instrument employed (the Constitution, mediating between the rival folkway groups), but, rather, the Judeo-Christian belief that rival folkway groups could peacefully co-exist if their first loyalty was to the same God – an ecclesial nationalism: one nation under God, composed of many nations/tribes/folkways; the twelve tribes of Israel as the inherited and applied model, already in practice by every denomination in the colonies. The old world thought and proclaimed that this could never work, having witnessed the failure of the empire of the universal (Catholic) Church and it’s dissolution into warring, ethnic self-worshipping… Read more »

Member

Excellent post, with many excellent comments; I am most closely aligned with “cali” who has made many of the comments that I would have made. Once I was very pro-Ted Cruz, to the point of sending him money and posting a lot of remarks in comments on lots of blogs about how badly this country needed a Constitutional purist such as Ted. Then I started finding out about him. What I found was disconcerting. For a great deal of background information and discussion about Ted Cruz, please check out The Last Refuge, AKA The Conservative Treehouse; it is an up-front… Read more »

Clayton Bigsby
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Clayton Bigsby

Phew….lotta good stuff in this thread…my $.02 is that Glenn Beck (aka douche bag beck) is quite possibly insane…..and should be blabbering from a cardboard box on a subway grate …. not worthy of being the subject of discussion on this blog…..
The fact that Ted Cruz is his Annointed One, should be of no surprise and makes perfect sense….