Why should the people need to understand the government?
Posted by aogWednesday, 10 December 2003 at 08:34 TrackBack Ping URL

Via The Edge of England’s Sword we have the tale of the UK representative to the EU Constitution committee, Gisela Stuart, slamming on how the work was done. It’s the standard tale of EUlite arrogance and disdain, although some passages like

There was little time for informed discussion, and even less scope for changes. Large parts of the text passed through without detailed discussions

sound a lot like the recent Medicare bill.

On the other hand, it’s one thing to do this for legislation that can easily be changed the next week or with the next Congress. It’s quite another to do it for a Constitution.

I was also floored by complaints like this one:

On one occasion a redraft of articles dealing with defence mysteriously arrived just before midnight. They were written in French and the authorship was unclear. Verbal reassurances were given that this was little more than a “linguistically better draft of the earlier English version”. The draft was discarded when some of us spotted that references to NATO had mysteriously disappeared.

NATO? What in the world is a reference to NATO doing in a Constitution?

The real problems in the EU Constitution are only alluded to in these complaints from Ms Stuart. If the new EU Constitution has so much text that the tactic cited above is useful, that seems a flaw far beyond Ms Stuart’s explicit complaint. Again, it’s one thing to have big, complex laws for big, complex programs that only lawyers (if their endurance is suffcient) can understand. I don’t like that, but it’s not a fatal problem for the Republic. However, if the basic Constitution is interpretable only by lawyers, then it’s not really a Constitution, it’s simply a cover for lawyers and committees to rule by fiat.

A good Constitution should be short enough that the average citizen can spend an evening reading it and get an accurate overview of how the government is supposed to work. If that’s not the case, then the result is that the workings of the government are effectively concealed from the citizens, who must take the word of the annointed. This, of course, prevents the citizens from acting against the government in any way short of strikes or rebellion. There is no place for real citizen participation.

Of course, many would argue that is precisely the goal of the drafters of the EU Constitution. It’s the standard result from those who believe that the people are too ignorant to govern themselves and therefore power should be vested in the hands of an elite. I suppose one could argue that this is true for any population that believes it.

P.S. There are strong parallels here between this and campaign finance reform where the never end elaboration of laws disenfranchises citizens. It’s not surprising that both are being pushed by ideological fellow travelers.