With the birth of the Hillsdale College chapter of Citizens for Self-Governance, demands for an Article V Convention of States found renewed vigor on campus. And indeed, many vocal facets of the conservative movement have lent their support.
In the words of Mark Levin, our country is “on the precipice of national disaster.” The “only solution”? An Article V Convention. Co-founder of the Convention of States Project Michael Farris said: “A Convention of States under Article V is our only realistic hope of saving our liberty.” And Hillsdale sophomore Weston Boardman advocated for an Article V Convention in last week’s issue of The Collegian.
Conservatives such as Levin, Farris, and Boardman see a convention as both our last hope and our silver bullet, the panacea to all of America’s ills.
However, an Article V Convention of States will not solve America’s problems and poses significant risks.
Advocates for a convention allege that the people are on their side. While polling shows around 65 – 70 percent of people would like to see a convention, this does not mean those voters support conservative goals. Polls also reveal 68 percent of Americans support a ban on semi-automatic rifles, for example.
If conservatism held as much political capital as Article V Convention advocates claim, an easy avenue for constitutional restoration would be through Congress. But there is not a deep-seated yearning for constitutionalism in the American citizenry today. And as Plato’s Republic teaches, the regime is merely a reflection of the soul of the people.
Thus, there is a certain risk inherent to any convention. Liberals want to make many more changes to the Constitution than conservatives, and they would be highly motivated to take advantage of any opportunity. True, the ratification process is stringent, requiring the agreement of 38 states. But throughout our history, of the 33 proposed amendments sent to states, 27 were ratified.
And would delegates to a Convention have a more robust understanding of justice and human nature than those whose ideas birthed our nation? Surely not. Compare the astute minds attending the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to our leaders today, and the proposition seems laughable. Even the legislatures of deep-red states tend to diverge from conservative principles. Common Core, for instance, originated in Texas.
This is an opportunity for politicians in the mold of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders to rewrite our Constitution. Or, perhaps, those in the mold of John McCain and Jeff Flake. God forbid the two sides come to a compromise!
Advocates like Boardman promise this cannot happen. But therein lies the rub: On one hand, they say nothing radical could come of a Convention. On the other, they posit a convention as, in Levin’s own words, “the only solution as big as the problem.” A Convention either can radically transform our country, or it cannot. Advocates cannot have it both ways.
Most fundamentally, calls for a Convention misdiagnose the problem. Our problem is not the Constitution; the problem is that we have abandoned it. Erecting more of those “parchment barriers” Madison references in Federalist 48 will not curb the Constitution’s abuses.
We need good people to uphold our laws, and our democratic tradition of representative government has not been exhausted. Our problems do not lie in our Constitution, but the people we elect to obey it. We cannot simply pass more laws to make our problems disappear. The promised “quick fix” does not exist.
In support of a Convention, Boardman quotes George Mason. The irony, of course, is that George Mason opposed the Constitution and refused his signature. On the other hand, James Madison, the Constitution’s primary author, spoke out against the proposal to allow for Article V Conventions: “Difficulties might arise as to the form, the quorum etc., which in constitutional regulations ought to be as much as possible avoided.” The complete lack of precedent led to grave logistical worries for James Madison; Boardman is unconcerned.
Additionally, the word “revolution” appears three times in Boardman’s article. In the Declaration of Independence, the word revolution is nowhere to be found.
Rather than appealing to reason, this sort of rhetoric serves only to excite the passions. Lest we forget, the Ancients defined law as reason free from passion. Flippantly throwing around the word revolution is a dangerous game, and Boardman should be more responsible with his language.
An Article V Convention is impractical, impulsive, and imprudent. Of course, its advocates will tell you they have it all figured out. Mark Meckler, President of Citizens for Self-Governance, said the idea that a convention could go awry is “literally structurally, factually, and numerically impossible.”
In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov is forced to live with regret for his mistakes. When asked why he didn’t consider the consequences beforehand, he replies: “Do you really think I went in headlong, like a fool? No, I went into it like a bright boy, and that’s what ruined me!”
Let’s hope Hillsdale’s Citizens for Self-Governance do not also come to regret their desires.
Garrison Grisedale is a junior studying politics.