The Constitution today mainly governs minor aspects of government: There shall be two senators from each state, etc. But our founding document's main task -- to put clear limits on government -- has simply been overridden by changes in the way we view government, and the way majority-rule government functions.
Look at today's news stories to confirm that. Each day the nation's fiscal liabilities grow; government on all levels expands its reach; government officials grab more power; and in most cases we the sheeple egg them on. Whether it's the NSA spying on us or Obamacare gobbling up the health care industry, there seem to be no limits on what government can do.
I would guess that most readers see this is so; I just thought I should underline it at this point.
Part of the problem, as mentioned previously, is that rationalism, secularism and Romanticism of the Revolutionary Era tended to undermine the classical and Christian elements that tended to restrain government and, as important, the people who make up the government. The further growth of secularism and scientism in the industrial age accelerated these trends.
Majority rule is one problem. In our age, we instinctively feel that once we get 51 percent of the vote, we should rule. The obvious problem is: What happens when the majority wants something harmful or dictatorial?
But another crucial dynamic came into play: once restraints on government begin to ease, the mechanisms of majority rule dictate that government will metastasize in size, scope and power.
As in so many things, Hayek saw this in The Road to Serfdom. In a nation-state, there are no majorities. That means more and more power is handed off to the bureaucracy, even as the voters are bought off with government handouts.
That is, there are no effective, sustainable majorities about any specific actions about which there is major debate.
Aside from truisms, public opinion is splintered. A poll may say that 51 percent of the voters are in favor of X. But, let us say, 30 percent are strongly in favor of it, and 21 percent are slightly in favor of it. As an idea grows more specific, support splinters further. Of the 30 percent in favor of the general idea, 15 percent favor plan A, 15 plan B.
Moreover, that support is fluid. The fervent supporters may well grow cooler to the idea; opponents often grow more opposed.
A poll may show a majority of voters in favor of cutting the deficit. But let members of Congress propose cutting popular programs, or raising taxes. Suddenly there will appear a new majority clamoring for those legislators to be voted out of office.
Also, as is plain, the minority's support may be far more fervent. The classic case is that of a special interest group that gets a subsidy, such as the wool and mohair producers.
In other words, in addition to the problems of rule by the 51 percent, there is the failure to even get 51 percent.
If I understand Hayek correctly, that means elected officials can't even count on the backing of a majority. Instead, they are battered on all sides by fanatical minorities -- who may have been fervent majorities the day before. To avoid this conundrum, they hand off the power to the bureaucrats.
Take the Affordable Care Act. We conservatives may much of the fact that "we'll have to pass it to see what's in it." But if this analysis is correct, Obamacare is an inevitable result of trying to get a majority to agree on health care for all Americans.
Of course no Congress could write a law that would be cover health needs so well and so fairly that it would be approved wholeheartedly by 51 percent of Americans. First, some voters (perhaps too small a group) don't want the government involved in health care.
Then the needs -- and demands -- of us aging people are different from those of single young people, which are different from those of parents with small children, which are different from people with chronic diseases, and so forth.
And then there are probably an unlimited number of opinions as to the actual text and mechanics of such a law.
Congress would never find enough support for any comprehensive health care law. That's exactly why Congress handed off so much power to the bureaucrats, and to the executive branch. The law grinds on, trampling over restraints on government.
This is just the most glaring example of how the U.S. government has expanded far beyond its constitutional limits. The checks and balances envisioned by the Founders have been overrun.
Next: Moreover, the problem is also generational, raising the question of whether the current generation can change things.