A pocket constitution
A pocket constitution (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am blessed by a regular commenter who at various times goes by two different monikers: novascout and scout. We have been having a conversation at this post: All
In All You’re Just A . . .: Reblogged from NoOneOfAnyImport
. Since  scout made a comment I thought particularly interesting (and the spam queue misbehaved and stashed his comment away for moderation), I thought I would use it as the basis for a post.

scout says:
July 17, 2013 at 9:15 pm (Edit)

I’m a constitutional conservative, so I rely on the language of that document to define individual rights. Home schooling ain’t in there. I don’t need no help from “Social Democrats” (who are at the other end of the political spectrum from my views), “socialist educational institutions”, or the “corporate mass media”, be it FOX, MSNBC, CNN or ESPN.

I am also a traditionalist American history fan. I had not previously encountered the word “obscuration”, but it sounds like something I would be against, at least in this context.

The rest of the comment is pretty obscure to me (is this because of “obscuration”?). But, having been in a lot of places in the world and seen tyranny of varying degrees of malevolence, from somewhat benign (Taiwan under Chiang Kai-Shek) to overwhelmingly evil (South Africa in the late 1960s; Eastern Europe in the early 1970s), I can tell you that tyranny hasn’t set its foot in this country yet and I hope it never will.

Here is my response.

Scout – Not sure why your comment got kicked into the moderation queue. It does that occasionally. Anyway, it only spent about 15 minutes there.

When we use the Constitution to define individual rights, we risk missing the point of a constitution. Consider the 9th Amendment.

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Why does the Constitution contain an amendment that explicitly says the Constitution does not comprehensively define our rights? Why were the writers of the Constitution so reluctant to include a Bill of Rights?

Let’s consider what the Constitution does. The Constitution:

  • Defines the structure of the Federal Government.
  • Provides  us with rules for such things as amending the Constitution.
  • Defines the roles, the responsibilities, and the powers of the most important Federal officials.

Effectively, the Constitution provides a charter for the Federal Government. By saying what the Federal Government can do and explaining how it must operate, the Constitution limits the rights of the government to interfere in our lives. Once we begin using the Constitution to define our rights, we can easily forget its purpose, to limit the powers — the rights — of the government.

The Declaration of Independence does a better job of defining our rights. After all, that document exists because of another government that exceeded its rights to interfere in the lives of the citizenry.  If you want to understand what you now find obscure, then I suggest you consider this question. What is the difference between God-given rights and government-given rights? I would be interested in hearing your answer. Of course, I would also be delighted if anyone else cares to comment.

Thank you for your thoughts on this matter.


  1. Of course I think parents should be able to choose educational paths for their children. I did it for mine and my parents did it for me. Public schools were the avenue of advancement and betterment of the society for me and my forebearers in the 19th and early 20th century. But they are not the only avenue. On the other hand, as I said in the previous thread, I think the state, acting for the People, has a legitimate concern that children be educated to some minimal level of competence in order to ensure that the country does not lapse into ignorance and incompetence. As it stands now, there is a rough balance, far from perfect but not all that bad in practice, between all these legitimate interests.

    But getting back to Tom’s post. I think it makes a very good point that the Constitution defines certain rights in our relation with the federal Government (and, as things developed after the Civil War, with state and local governments also), but it is not the only source of rights. It is a good starting point, and the one I tend to be drawn to. But I accept that there are what our Founders (and those that they relied on for thought in these areas) referred to as “natural rights” that they viewed as being inherent in the condition of men. That’s where the “Life, Liberty, Pursuit of Happinefs” stuff comes in. I don’t take those rights to the particular level of home-schooling, but I agree that it’s an important element of the discussion. I’ll leave to another time the mysteries of the Ninth Amendment, but I think Tom was right to mention it in this context and its inclusion adds to the discussion.


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