A Constitution for Iraq
Last Friday, as the puppet leaders in Iraq were arguing about what is going to be the Iraqi constitution, they had to speak especially loudly to be heard over the explosions and bombs outside. These are not ideal conditions under which to forge a new governing authority, especially one purporting to grant liberty and rights. The first ambition of the state will always be to exercise power. And if there were ever a constitution designed to enhance government power, this is it.
There will always be "political pilgrims" who say otherwise. This is a phrase coined by the sociologist Paul Hollander, who documented the absurd travels of Western leftists to remote parts of the world where communism was being tried out. They invariably found a future of prosperity, freedom, and justice for all, and developed an incredible blindness to terror, starvation, and despotism of all sorts, dismissing it as necessary to block the work of evil dead-enders. Also, in another famous excuse, if the government has to expend so many resources on fighting off dissidents, it couldn’t make basic provisions for the masses – or so goes the claim.
Their ideology allowed them to see only what they wanted to see. Commies have done this since the earliest days of the Bolshevik Revolution. But political pilgrimages are not a partisan party. Anyone of a certain bent – regardless of ideology – is susceptible to becoming a spokesman for the Party. Ideology can do that to people, for reasons that will never be fully clear.
And so we have our own political pilgrims going to Iraq to see the wonderful world that Bush has made. They pay no attention to the bombs and death, or write it off as evidence of reactionary sentiment that must be stamped out. The Bush regime claims that it is creating liberty there, so the pilgrims’ job is to find it and defend it, with no critical or independent thought allowed.
What better publication for a right-wing political pilgrimage than National Review? Every day you can read the "good news" on Iraq from their interchangeable columnists such as Deroy Murdock who thinks it is just glorious that there are ever more troops in uniform in Iraq. He paints a beautiful picture, from the Pentagon’s standpoint, over the canvas of reality.
Thus we have Williamson Evers and Tom Palmer, both sporting libertarian credentials, saying sweet things about the Iraq constitution ("particularly strong in a few areas"), a constitution that features (in the July 27, 2005, translation by Nathan Brown) what appears to be a license for the state to do anything it wants:
- The Iraqi citizens [shall have] the right to enjoy security and free health care. It is the responsibility of the central Iraqi state and the regional, provincial, local, and municipal governments to provide [health care] and to expand [it] in the fields of prevention, treatment, and protection of children, pregnant women, school students, workers, the disabled, and the aged.
- It is forbidden to construct civil society organizations whose activities are aggressive, harmful to the interests of the society, secret, military in character, or take the form of militias.
- The state shall provide for harmonization of the duties of the women towards their family and their work in the society. [It shall also provide for] their equality with men in all fields without disturbing the provisions of the Islamic shari’a.
- Children and youth may not be used in vulgar trades or employed in work that is not appropriate for their age. The state shall take measures to guarantee the protection of children.
- Paying taxes and fiscal expenses are a duty for each Iraqi citizen, provided that the taxes and fees are not imposed, computed, or collected except by law.
- Freedom of opinion, expression, organization, publishing, printing, the press, media, advertising, meetings, peaceful demonstration, and parties is guaranteed in accordance with the law and insofar as public security and morals are not harmed.
- Iraqi citizens have the right to enjoy security, education in all its stages, health care, and social insurance.
- The state shall strive to provide prosperity and employment opportunities for all members of the Iraqi people.
- Freedom of the press, printing, publishing, media, and advertising are guaranteed and the law regulates the exercise of these freedoms.
- There shall be no censorship on newspapers, printing, publishing, media, and advertising except by law.
In the opinion of Evers-Palmer, Iraq is at a crossroads and can rise to the occasion. But one can imagine the Webbs saying the same about the Soviet Union in the 1920s. Sure there are problems, but the world is imperfect, Rome wasn't built in a day, and we need a few more eggs in this omelet. What’s more, both Evers and Palmer have traveled to Iraq to admire the work of the US in remaking the world, the former having actually worked for the occupation and the latter traveling on official invitation.
Perhaps, then, it is understandable that they put the best possible gloss on the situation in Iraq, since they are both so personally invested in the fiasco. Not even their stated attachment to private property has caused them to comment on the real issue behind the constitutional debate, namely how the state’s oil revenues are to be divided. Nor can they see what average Iraqis see, which is a country ripped to shreds by violence, martial law, and a lack of basic needs, due entirely to socialist provision.
Reality makes the prattle about the constitution’s text irrelevant. It’s just words. What we have beneath the text is a foreign military occupation attempting to shore up its puppet regime. To what end? To crack down on dissent and create an authoritarian state loyal to the US military empire.
Ah, sweet liberty!
Still, we have to question the basic premise behind all this constitutional wrangling. The government doesn’t and shouldn’t grant rights. It cannot grant nor take away what belongs to all of us by virtue of our very humanity.
The idea of a constitution, we’re told, is to limit government power. It’s supposed to bind the government to certain operational procedures that restrict its ability to violate rights. So a constitution cannot grant human rights; it can only spell out what are seen as the proper functions of government, and try to limit its ability to invade rights.
The US constitution came perhaps as close to this ideal as possible, until its meaning was perverted into a complete reversal, from restricting power to enabling it, from binding government to giving government a mandate for a thousand things to do to us.
But here is the problem. Constitutions by necessity leave the government as the primary enforcement agency. It’s like a memo: "Government to Self: don’t become tyrannical." It only works so long as the enforcement agent operates in good faith. If we remember that the worst rise to the top in government, as Hayek noted, we can have no realistic expectation that this good faith will last. Government gains not by adhering to its own restrictions, but by re-rendering them as positive mandates.
Hans-Hermann Hoppe takes the point even further. He says that if you look historically at the conditions under which constitutions are written, you find that their underlying purpose is not to restrict government power, but rather to expand it, with rhetoric about freedom and rights to serve as a distraction.
The Iraqi constitution underscores Hoppe’s point, which is perhaps why one of our pilgrims seems so down on Hoppe and his work. And quite frankly, there is no reason to care what political pilgrims have to say about a country about which they know little more than the size and shape of the hotel rooms that hid them from the violence outdoors. They have seen the future, and it works. But so what?
It only becomes our business when they claim that Iraqi tyranny is a type of freedom we should celebrate, and for which we should be willing to sacrifice our fortunes and children.
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.