Friday, October 23, 2015

The role of the founders

TFan did a post comparing and contrasting the founding fathers with church fathers:

i) I agree with him that the founding fathers didn't have monolithic political views. 

Another complication is the nature of the Constitution as a consensus document, rather than a one-man vision. It doesn't codify the views of any particular individual. So we need to make allowance for that. Compromises went into the final draft of the Constitution. 

We can also distinguish between the founders as political theorists and the founders as politicians. Once some of them became officeholders, they might take positions inconsistent with their prior writings. 

ii) Mind you, none of that is problematic for my position. 

There's a difference between monolithic support for something and monolithic opposition to something. Suppose the founders lack a unified vision on the role of the judiciary. In that event, you can't say any particular view of the judiciary represents the original vision of the founders. No one view represents the authentic position.

But even dissension would undercut appeals to judicial supremacy, for in that event there was no unanimity on the subject.

iii) In addition, it's easier to say what they were against than what they were for. They were against monarchy, mobocracy, and a national church. They were anxious about any one branch of gov't becoming autocratic. 

iv) In what respect are the founders authoritative? I don't think later generations are obliged to obey the founders. I don't think one generation has the right to tell later generations what do think or do. Their idea of what is good or bad isn't binding on later generations. 

But they enjoy interpretive authority when it comes to their own writings. As a rule, an author has a better idea of what he meant than anyone else.

That's not absolute. There's a subliminal element to the creative process. An author may not be aware of various influences which unconsciously shape his thinking. Even so, if you have access to an author's interpretation of his intentions, that's usually where to start. That's the best we can do. 

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