Commentary Magazine


The Irony of American History

In his column today, Charles Krauthammer argues, “What originalism is to jurisprudence, constitutionalism is to governance: a call for restraint rooted in constitutional text. Constitutionalism as a political philosophy represents a reformed, self-regulating conservatism that bases its call for minimalist government — for reining in the willfulness of presidents and legislatures — in the words and meaning of the Constitution.”

He concludes with this:

Constitutionalism as a guiding political tendency will require careful and thoughtful development, as did jurisprudential originalism. But its wide appeal and philosophical depth make it a promising first step to a conservative future.

Krauthammer is, I think, correct on both counts. Constitutionalism will require careful and thoughtful development, since how we should apply this particular political philosophy to the issues of our time isn’t always self-evident. But Charles is also correct in saying that constitutionalism has wide appeal and philosophical depth. Which raises the question: Who would have thought in 2008, when liberals swept control of every branch of government, that the second half of Obama’s first term would be devoted to counteracting the rise of constitutionalism?

In what surely qualifies as one of the ironies of the 21st century, Barack Obama is in good measure responsible for the ascendancy of both conservatism and constitutionalism.