The Momentousness of the Bourgeois Revolution

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As Americans in the year 2014, we should support the 1787 Constitution. The document set about a course of events, that I argue, will ultimately benefit humanity. The signing of said document embodied the principles of a rejection of the cross and crown, broadened the group of actors who were able to participate politically, and contributed to the introduction of the concept of self-determination without coercion or oppression by a higher authority. 

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Critics of such a position will often point to the morally repugnant practices of the past, such as slavery and the lack of equality for women, as sufficient reasoning to discard the US constitution of that time. Their argument boils down to something like this:

Premise 1: Slavery is wrong.

Premise 2: The Constitution in 1787 permitted slavery.

Premise 3: One should not support things that are wrong.

Conclusion: Since the Constitution is wrong because slavery is wrong, and one should not support things that are wrong, one should not support the Constitution. 

This seemingly strait forward argument fails to take history into consideration. A document that embodied the values that we hold in the twenty-first century would not be plausible in the eighteenth century because of the colossal differences between these periods. Furthermore, who are we to say that modern American dogmatic values are the apex in human development. One could continue from the aforementioned line of reasoning to articulate that any sort of progress that humanity has achieved is wrong simply because it did not solve all our problems and meet modern or potential future values. This, to me, seems ridiculous. I do not believe that there will ever time where we are free from challenges that the future’s future generations will have to solve. I guess what I am trying to say is that we will always have to work toward improving things no matter how much we work at it, but that is not a reasoning to accept the way things are at present. 

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So how to move forward from here in the face of such a seemingly hopeless situation of chaos and conflict? Well I think the first step is in recognizing the good that has progressed throughout human history. A part of that is being willing to sign the Constitution in 1789 for 1789. But one should not stop there and be content just as one should not be content with present positive political change that occurs. Instead, we must reflect upon the change that has occurred in the past to get the meanings and values that can improve our world for the future. Through this meditative process, we should come to find that although we will not succeed in our endeavor if it is perfection, we can succeed nonetheless if we strive to make our actions universally applicable. This means to live one’s life only for ends, never means to ends. Furthermore, at every opportunity you can, live your life so that it may encourage others to do the same. This is where our hope lies.

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3 Responses to The Momentousness of the Bourgeois Revolution

  1. Wunderkynd says:

    Great post! And very well said. I liked how you mentioned that we, as Americans living in the year 2014, should appreciate the Constitution for what it was in 1789. It’s great to be able to have that kind of historical lens, to be able to shrug off the Constitution’s faults by looking at all the progress that it has allowed for. When you said, however, that one should live “life only for ends, never means to ends,” does that not contradict your argument for Constitutional approval? Are you not treating the Constitution, from 2014 perspective, as a means to an end, as a way to get where we are today?

    I do agree that no endeavor is perfect, and something as important as this was bound to be flawed. However, I don’t think that slavery is a simple blemish that can be brushed aside. It was and is a very big deal. For me, some things are more important than potential progress or newly conceived governments. Some things don’t have shades of gray and really are just that black and white.

  2. eifiguer says:

    Nice post, I agree that we should look at the constitution as an evolutionary document and praise it for what it was back in 1789. I think that if the states were to have a constitutional convention today, it would be almost impossible to get something done, states have been given the power to evolve within themselves and looking back the constitution was a success especially after the failing Articles of Confederation. Although I agree with all these points, I can’t help but say that I probably would not sign the constitution if I had a choice. I live in the 21st Century and would not be able to think about something of that importance living in a different time. People evolve tremendously throughout a lifetime that it would be difficult to stick to a definite answer on something that you might change your mind on later down the road.

  3. When people criticize the allowance of slavery in the Constitution, it’s usually in response to those who argue that we need to return to the document as it was in 1787–that our heavily amended Constitution, and the way in which it has been interpreted throughout our history, is an aberration of the Founders’ vision.

    While that is an extreme view, there is also extremism on the side of critics of the 1787 Constitution. The argument that the 1787 document was the creation of a bunch of white slaveholders 225 years ago, and thus their ideas shouldn’t be held sacrosanct as many Americans think, can undermine the other parts of the Constitution that we all agree are vital to our free society.

    For example, one can argue that the First Amendment was fine 200 years ago, but in our modern age with instant global communications, all sorts of bad people can use the “freedom of the press” to spread lies and hate in a way that’s too dangerous to permit.

    Or, the Fourth Amendment is outdated today. Criminals are more sophisticated today. Law-enforcement need the legal tools to stop them. Waiting for probable cause and warrants just gives criminals an advantage that’s too dangerous to allow..

    That latter argument is how the RICO Act (intended to be employed against organized crime, but now often used to prosecute drug cases) and the USA PATRIOT Act (intended to be employed against terrorism, but now often used to prosecute drug cases) were justified.

    Declaring the ideas of our old, white, slaveholding founders backward and outdated can unexpectedly lead you down a very dark path.

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