English-speaking democracies tend to be stable and free even when, like Britain, they lack a written constitution. But Latin American republics have been afflicted by dictatorship and civil war for generations in spite of having formal constitutions modeled on that of the United States. The contrast demonstrates that the true security for freedom is a culture of constitutionalism, not a particular constitution, or any written constitution at all. The details of a particular democratic political system — presidential or parliamentary, bicameral or unicameral, unitary or federal — are ultimately less important than the unwillingness of the citizens to resort to violence when they lose an election, unlike the Confederate ancestors of so many of today’s white Southern Republicans, who tried to destroy the country upon losing an election.
This is particularly timely now, since the former Confederate states are celebrating their hopeless idealization of slavery as the embodiment of libertarianism. I don’t care how many times it is defended on “moral” or emotional grounds, the bottom line is that the slavery-endorsing whites started the US Civil War, and it was because they wanted the liberty to enslave others. I hold this opinion without in turn idealizing the North, the Union, or Lincoln, who together planted the seeds of the twentieth-century glorification of corporate rights, US militarism, unrestrained greed, and overreaching federal power.
Lind identifies an important feature of political life: the influence of culture. Culture defines the pragmatic response to adversity, as in the “unwillingness of the citizens to resort to violence when they lose an election.” What Lind misses is the fact that the maintenance of this culture is enabled by the citizens’ irrational belief in the sanctity of their society’s foundations, in this case the US Constitution and the myth of representational democracy. There is indeed nothing magical about a constitution in itself; but in the case of the USA it was a necessary component of a unifying story of our founding.
In the absence of broadly accepted racial, ethnic, linguistic, religious, or geographical commonalities, the US Constitution represents a useful device for unifying the country. I note here that it is necessarily secular in nature as well as being the source of an idolatrous civic Deism, not unlike Sol Invictus in ancient Rome; it is the result of the application of biblical principles, not the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Of course, the US Constitution contains elements of “17th-century English Protestantism and 18th-century neoclassicism,” which are hardly acceptable nowadays. That doesn’t make the US Constitution irrelevant. That means it is situated in history, like the founding of the US itself. Throwing away that history and that cultural foundation would mean turning to some new and perhaps more vicious unifying device, such as barbaric racial superiority, bombastic totalitarian utopianism, or demagogic populist resentment.