What is a Constitution? Reflections by Fr Schall of Georgetown

“A constitution is in essence a promise. It is designed to make the future orderly and just. It is a contract between generations. A constitution cannot work if its definitions and wordings are not clear and intelligible, if they keep changing. Words refer to definite things and ideas. But their original intelligibility is what binds. The theory of a “living constitution” was devised for the most part to avoid the wording of the constitution to achieve something either unknown to it or contradictory to it.

“In this context, the controversy whether America was a “modern” founding or an extension of classical and medieval ideas is a crucial one. If it is a modern founding, it has its origins in Hobbes, Locke, and Hume, among others. It is a voluntarist contract whose roots are in the individual’s right to all things for his security and prosperity. If it is a classical or medieval founding, it has a sense of common good and natural or transcendent law. It is aware that government is limited not just by itself or a constitution but by what it is”

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