The United States of America. Gun-wielding, bible-bashing, freedom-loving United States of America. The most liberal place on the planet. You know the history, no taxation without representation, the monarchical power structure suppresses individualism, who said the King was appointed by God anyway? Boom, revolution and we have the Founding Fathers, those 40 or so men who drew up and ratified the Constitution and the Bill of Rights afforded to every American citizen.
Now we fast forward 250 years into the future and invoking certain Constitutional rights has become the most controversial practice one can do in American politics. But, why? There are plenty of things to like about the U.S. Constitution, personally I find the right to a fair trial isn’t all that bad, nor are protections against cruel and unusual punishments. But then you get to the two biggies. The First and Second Amendments. For the uninitiated, these are the right to freedom of speech and the right to bear arms.
I think most people know the arguments for the Second Amendment (whether or not you agree with them), but in regards to the First Amendment, its controversy is caused by the negative social impacts it has in terms of race, sexuality and gender; e.g. the Ku Klux Klan is still allowed to operate thanks to the First Amendment, and unless you are an explicit racist, I think we can all agree that they are a bad thing. The KKK creates a climate of fear and invokes harmful stereotypes to justify impulsive rapine and slaughter.
As it happens I disagree with both of these amendments, so why do I say the Founding Fathers were right? Because of the Ninth Amendment. It’s almost as if the Founding Fathers knew that society would progress after they had died and they wanted to ensure that the people’s individualism was not lost to what they would then deem antiquated rules. After all, that is what they rebelled against in the first place. The Ninth Amendment guarantees the people the right to change the Constitution as they see fit, NRA members seem to forget this when they quote the line “this right shall not be infringed”, when it is completely defunct as the Ninth Amendment is not limited by prior Amendments to the Constitution. Heck! They did it with Prohibition, why not guns?
Foresight is a powerful thing, and the Founding Fathers had it. It’s a basic rule in politics we need to emphasise now more than ever, we never forget the past, but we also never learn from it either. This kind of thinking overcomes party lines and, the harsh restrictions placed on Congress to ratify an Amendment, make it improbable that radical (potentially dangerous) change will come around too quickly. Obviously it has its limitations, but it is a system we have failed to refine, we’ve had 250 years to do so but clearly we don’t care that much. I mean, the present day is where we’re living right? Not the future.
The Founding Fathers were by no means perfect, but the fact that they recognised this is a great deal more than any other powerful group of individuals since; their championing of individual rights is – ironically enough – more beneficial to the collective when used properly. I find it hard then to praise individualism over collectivism because in my eyes that is the inevitable solution, whether it can be found on the left or the right, group identity will always be stronger than personal identity. The Founding Fathers may not have believed this, but their provisions certainly ensured it.
Written by Kimberly Eckersley