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Some Reflections on the Constitution
by Ellis Sandoz
Professor Sandoz is the Editor of The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin. He has written many books and published many essays on the significance of Eric Voegelin’s thought as well as on the political and spiritual foundations of the United States. This excerpt is taken from an essay entitled “The American Constitutional Order” found in his A Government of Laws, available from the University of Missouri Press.
The Constitution of the United States, in its Article VI “Supremacy Clause,” announces itself and laws made pursuant thereto to be the “supreme Law of the Land” in the United States, “and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”
This is the root meaning of supremacy of law in the country, both then and now.
As the basis of our government, it ought never be forgotten that the Constitution is more than a text, a historical document, or an expression of political philosophy.
It is fundamental law, enforceable in courts in all its provisions as the law of the land superior to any other law, as over five hundred volumes of United States Reports monumentally emphasize.
All is lost if we forget that the Constitution is the Law, the monument to justice that is conjured in the phrase, a government of laws and not of men.
Yet nearly as much may be lost if we forget that the Constitution is more than merely law, even the supreme Law of the Land.
The triumph of the framers was to see beyond the narrow vision of the “autonomy of the law” and recognize that dogmatic proclamation of the law as the law–sovereign command based in will and demanding obedience51–would not secure the blessings of liberty or establish justice, which was their intention for America.
Fortescue’s and Coke’s theory of the law as perfect justice and virtue was accepted as intellectually valid and spiritually necessary.
The founding generation’s utterly determined resistance to tyranny–from the British before Independence and the rapacious minorities or uncaring majorities afterward–is evident in the historical records as the motivation for the calling of the Federal Convention and later the structure for the ratification debate and adoption of the Bill of Rights.
The range of problems that emerge at this point arise from the paradoxical status of human existence itself and from nothing less than that.
The fruits of man’s emphatic insistence that he is more than merely mortal and participates in things eternal, the realm of transcendent divine Being as philosophers say, are eagerly sought, yet only imperfectly realized in temporal existence.
Neither God nor beast, neither merely mortal nor simply immortal, the human realm is the In-Between reality of perfections glimpsed but only fleetingly attained, of happiness interspersed with boredom, disappointment, and despair, redeemed by faith and hope–if it be redeemed at all. In short, we behold the human condition familiar to Everyman from all available sources of insight.