This article was originally published in the New Leveller. 

Editor’s Note: This was written in response to the taping of the Stossel show at the International Students For Liberty Conference in February, 2014.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the taping of this week’s Stossel show. The episode as a whole was excellent and informative. Unfortunately there was one segment that exposed the painfully awkward fetish that conservative leaning libertarians, classical liberals, and minarchists have for the Constitution.

During the segment on the Constitution, Stossel threw pocket Constitutions out to the audience. Some of the students loved the document so much, they were leaping up into the air and diving onto the floors just to get their copy. To make matters more awkward for us anti-constitutionalists and adamant non-patriots, a concentrated “USA!” chant broke out during the frenzy. I felt as though I had been transported to the RNC conference where we all prayed to a piece of paper.

Stossel’s guest was Timothy Sandefur, the author of The Conscience of the Constitution. Despite acknowledging the Constitution’s repeated failures at restraining the state, Sandefur remained unyielding in his adoration for the document so close to his heart. In a strange turn of events, the Stossel taping suddenly felt like a biblical awakening. Sandefur explained how when he was in 9th grade he “fell in love with the Constitution,” and following the Tinker vs Des Moines Supreme Court case, “the Constitution reached out and touched” him. Never before has the comparison of statism and religion been so on point.

My mouth was agape at this love fest and I was eager to get up to the microphone so I could ask Sandefur about the Constitution’s lack of authority. I also wanted to bring up how the document was a move towards a more centralized, authoritarian, corporatist government.

I was curious why Sandefur was so in love with a document that claimed authority over him, despite him never signing it.

I wondered why an apparent proponent of small government was such an ardent supporter of a document that, as described by Murray Rothbard, was “a radically nationalist program that would recreate as much as possible the pre-liberal situation existing before the Revolution. . . . In short, they were able to destroy much of the original individualist and decentralist program of the American Revolution.”

One of the rationalizations espoused for reworking the Articles of Confederation was an outcry for more tariffs to rescue the fledgling, post-war economy. One of the Constitution’s biggest proponents, Alexander Hamilton, wrote “It is therefore evident, that one national government would be able, at much less expense, to extend the duties on imports beyond comparison, further than would be practicable to the States separately, or to any partial confederacies.” In other words, the Constitution was a piece of mercantilist legislation designed to protect American businesses from foreign competition. It was one of the first instances of large scale rent-seeking in American history.

Another justification was the need to repay the massive national debt that was racked up during the war. Aside from voluntary state contributions, the federal government had no way to pay back the $40 million it owed to various European governments.

But since when has the government obtained revenue and spent it only on what they said they were going to? The States were rightfully hesitant about handing over millions of dollars to the Federal Government. They believed their contributions weren’t going to be limited to just paying off the debt, but also spent on various crony projects and creating bureaucracies.

Furthermore, the certificates had significantly depreciated in value. Many of the initial holders of the debt were workers of modest means and couldn’t hold onto the certificates. They sold them to get much needed money. By the mid-1780s most of the debt holders were affluent speculators. It made sense, then, why these wealthy security holders had a financial interest in creating a central government with the power to tax.

Even non-anarchists need to recognize the Constitution’s tyrannical origins and view the document with considerable skepticism. The arguments put forth by Spooner, Tucker, Nock, and other individualists of the late 19th century against the Constitution have an important place in historical libertarian literature. Yes, returning to a Constitutional government is preferable to the one we have now. However, it was a step down from the Articles of Confederation, which were, themselves, too much government for my taste.

Sandefur and the rest of the Cult of the Constitution should stop gawking over how great the document is. It was nothing but a scheme enacted by big business looking for protective tariffs, and wealthy debt-holders wanting a government with the power to tax. The Constitution was responsible for creating the beginnings of the centralized, corporatist, tyrannical bureaucracy we see today.