Wednesday, July 03, 2002

While I'm discussing USS Clueless, I want to call attention to a pair of posts that he wrote. The first was about the reason why the United States doesn't play ball with multilateral organizations- because it recognizes no authority higher than its Constitution, and most multilateral treaties infringe upon the supremacy of that constitution in different ways. The second was about how much criticism of the United States' actions stems from "argumentum ad populum"; the United States is criticized because "everybody disagrees with it" and that's a flawed argument because "just because everybody believes something doesn't make it right". He believes that since the United States is self-evidently right, these arguments are invalid- it just means that everybody else is wrong.


This isn't backed up by his arguments. It is true that the United States places great value on the fairly strict interpretation of its constitution and the power that that document grants, but it does not necessarily follow that such an approach is above criticism. "Everybody else" could be exactly right, and U.S. constitutionalism (or the constitution itself) could be wrong. Indeed, this is the exact argument that most people would forward when confronted with Den Beste's defense... that arguments from the constituation are invalid if the constitution and the concepts that underly it are themselves flawed or out-and-out wrong. Den Beste has not addressed that argument except to point out that the nature of the U.S. Constitution stems from the American distrust of government (or at least that of the writers of the Constitution). A crucial question goes begging, though:

what if that philosophy is wrong?

There are certainly examples of other successful governments (such as the British and Canadian governments) where Parliamentary supremacy both works and is widely accepted. Indeed, the right in Canada has been extremely criticial of the adoption of a U.S. style Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and Canadian political culture is about as close to American political culture as any nation on earth... except for that vital difference in their attitude towards government. This isn't even a leftist argument: I'm sure that any free trade advocate is hardly fond of the tendency of the U.S. government to bend over backwards to protect domestic industries because of the interests of key congressman and senators, despite how such actions clearly hurt U.S. consumers, producers abroad, and the U.S. economy. Such actions are embedded in the U.S. constitution, however, and its dismissal of multilateral bodies and actions.

Den Beste is right in one key respect: the current actions of the United States are to some extent consistent with the U.S. constitution and American political culture. I remain unconvinced, however, that that document and that culture are by their nature superior simply because of Steven's assertion that they are so. The European critiques of American actions cannot be so simply dismissed- even if they missed their target, the underlying critique about American attitudes towards governments, multilateral agreements, and world governance remains unanswered.

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