Ideology and the Constitution: Take 2

Commenter Boonton kindly and helpfully remarked that yesterday’s post was clear as mud. What follows is an attempt to clarify and expand on what I was trying to say.

In the book (Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More) that I was reading on the recent travels over break, I came across this passage (the first link is an Amazon book link, the second to a chapter provided on-line by the publisher … which you can likely also buy it from, but they won’t put any change in my tip-jar). :D 

One of the central contradictions of socialism is a version of what Claude Lefort called a general paradox within the ideology of modernity: the split between ideological enunciation (which reflects the theoretical ideals of the Enlightenment) and ideological rule (manifest in the practical concerns of the modern state’s political authority). The paradox, that we will call “Lefort’s paradox,” lies in the fact that ideological rule must be “abstracted from any question concerning its origins,” thus remaining outside of ideological enunciation and, as a result, rendering that enunciation deficient. In other words, to fulfill its political function of reproducing power, the ideological discourse must claim to represent an “objective truth” that exists outside of it; however, the external nature of this “objective truth” renders the ideological discourse inherently lacking in the means to describe it in total, which can ultimately undermine this discourse’s legitimacy and the power that it supports.

First, order of business then is to unpack this a little. The Lefort paradox is sort of a political analogue to Gödel’s incompleteness. It is (the author and presumably Mr Lefort) an observed quality common to ideological regimes. What it claims is that there is a operational split between “enunciation” and “rule”. The enunciation comprises the principles and philosophical grounding that forms the basis of the regime. For example, the Soviet regime was based on Marxist principles and dogmas. The rule then is then the implementation. The point is once a regime is established those involved in the regime can no longer actively question and modify the enunciation.  The ancillary point is that as a result of this paradox ideological regimes are fundamentally unstable. They are rigid because of this separation and unable to adapt in a changing world and circumstance. The book noted above makes a direct connection with the instability of the Soviet state with this paradox. It is a feature of ideologically based regimes.

Now, there are those (particularly Marxists and others) who often claim the governing ideology of the Western democracies and specifically the US is an ideology of market capitalism. But the question of whether market capitalism is in fact an ideology or not (and I don’t think that it really is an ideology) is not one which is germane to this point. For I think that the state set up by the founders is non-ideological … or at least it should be but very often isn’t. Market capitalism or consumerism or whatever are not encapsulated and defined by or within the Constitution. The US Constitution and government does not assume or enshrine market capitalism or in fact any particular ideology.

What sorts of governments are non-ideological? A government which is defined by structural and/or procedural elements are non-ideologically defined. Many governments of many types in the past were of this sort, being defined by procedural elements and all of these have been far more long enduring that the flash in the pan 19th and 20th century ideological experiments. So, if one measure of a good government is sustainability and durability, then defining ones state procedurally and not ideologically would seem to be a good thing.

The government as Constitutionally set up (and as well by the Declaration that preceded it) is non-ideological and instead is procedural. It provides a framework within which ideologies can co-exist. The Constitution sets up regulations and restrictions on the federal government which are routinely ignored by Congress, the SCOTUS, and the President. But, the point is if they chose not to ignore the Constitution (for example all rights not enumerated in the Constitution are not available to the Federal government) then some states (or small municipalities if given that freedom) could in fact become socialist, technocratic, theocratic or whatever they chose. Marxism for example is on the whole compatible with the US Constitution. Laws and structures could be set up by the state to support the tenets and dogmas of Marxist polity within the framework of the Constitution.

However, given the instability of ideologically based states, it would follow that enshrining and establishing ideological law on a Federal basis should be regarded as problematic and therefore avoided.  For this makes the state susceptible to the Lefort paradox and the accompanying problems. In fact the founders foresaw that and provided us with the 10th Amendment reserving what rights and powers not explicitly granted to the federal government to the States and the people. Alas, the time for the 10th arguably has come and gone, for de facto if not de jure this Constitutional provision has been repealed by rapacious erosion of the federal expansion/explosion in the 20th century.

Now, right and left, especially in the last decades have been becoming more and more ideologically separated and forceful. “Universal” healthcare is just the latest example (from the left) of this trend. Universal healthcare is ideologically motivated. It is part and parcel of a particular ideology.  Installing it on a federal/national level will enshrine ideology nationally. Now this statement will undoubtedly bring up a plethora of examples of federally mandated instantiation and promotion on ideological ideas and dogmas from the right. And yes, that’s right, this notion condemns those as well. And note, as well, an establishment of Universal healthcare violates the 10th Amendment, my right to not purchase healthcare is not one which is enumerated within the Constitution therefore it is reserved to the people.

So, if you’re for universal healthcare and specfically the bill being pushed in Congress now … you should be ashamed of yourself, it’s an un-Constitutional travesty (which is as well infected with the Lefort paradox) and furthermore ultimately it threatens the durability of the nation as constituted by the founders. If your response to that in turn is “so be it” recall that the corollary is “for only a short time.”

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4 comments

  1. Boonton says:

    Better at explaining, but not very impressive. How does ‘universal healthcare’ challenge the non-ideological ideology of the US Constitution? I’m not seeing it.

  2. Mark says:

    Boonton,
    You don’t think UH is ideological or you don’t see that ideological policies are problematic?

  3. Boonton says:

    How do you define ideology?

  4. Boonton says:

    Also you are aware that even though the bill says its universal healthcare it’s not technically universal. (Even a system that most people consider universal like Social Security doesn’t technically cover everybody). How many people need to have no coverage in order for you to consider the bill to be in accord with these new found Constitutional provisions? 1%? 5%? 25%? Or is it a magic number? 10 million? 20? 50?