From time to time, people accuse me of being too radical about the Constitution, especially when I start talking about all of the things the federal government should stop doing. They tell me that there is no way we’ll ever get back to the original Constitution. We’ll never be able to completely roll back federal power.I should just give it up. Or at least back off the extreme, idealistic rhetoric and concentrate on small steps. I disagree. I think it’s imperative to keep the ultimate goal front and center. We need to follow the Constitution every issue, every time, no exceptions, no excuses.
I don’t deny that demanding unwavering fidelity to the Constitution and its limits on federal power is an extremely radical concept in this day and age. It’s also idealistic. Most Americans blindly accept the notion that the federal government should involve itself in pretty much every aspect of life. Yes. My constitutionally limited government rhetoric puts me way outside of the mainstream.
But you don’t achieve radical change by abandoning radical principles.
William Lloyd Garrison ranks as one of the greatest abolitionists in American history, and he understood this. He steadfastly stuck by his call for absolute and immediate emancipation of all slaves.
While it seems absurd to our 21st century sensibilities, total abolition of slavery was an idealistic, radical, extremist position in the mid-1800s. Principled abolitionists were generally reviled, even in the North. The broader abolitionist movement was dominated by pragmatists content with modest policy changes here and there. A lot of them were merely jockeying for political power. Garrison would have none of this. He believed slavery should end immediately, and he constantly said so. He wasn’t concerned with winning a popularity contest or convincing people he was properly mainstream.He unapologetically wore a badge of radicalism. He unwaveringly pursued the ideal.
But Garrison wasn’t just running around like a proverbial bull in a china shop. He had pragmatic reasons for maintaining his hard-core stance. He recognized that by pushing for the ultimate goal he was more likely to reach it.
“Urge immediate abolition as earnestly as we may, it will, alas! be gradual abolition in the end. We have never said that slavery would be overthrown by a single blow; that it ought to be, we shall always contend.”
Garrison understood that if he started by seeking half-measures, he would never end up with anything more than half-measures.He warned, “Gradualism in theory is perpetuity in practice.”
Economist and political philosopher Murray Rothbard put it this way in A Case for Radical Idealism.
“William Lloyd Garrison, was not being ‘unrealistic’ when in the 1830s he first raised the glorious standard of immediate emancipation of the slaves. His goal was the morally proper one, and his strategic realism came in the fact that he did not expect his goal to be quickly reached … Gradualism in theory indeed undercuts the goal itself by conceding that it must take second or third place to other non- or antilibertarian considerations. For a preference for gradualism implies that these other considerations are more important than liberty.”
At the Tenth Amendment Center, our goal is the Constitution every issue, every time. Everything we do starts with that premise, and we always keep it in front of us. That doesn’t mean we don’t compromise as we work through the political process. We recognize that it will likely take a series of small victories to reach our ultimate goal. Sometimes you have to take half a loaf. It’s better than no loaf.
But we won’t start with a goal of getting just half a loaf. We’ll never stop talking about the ultimate goal. We’ll never stop insisting that the feds must remain limited to their delegated powers.
In short, we’ll never abandon our radical idealism.