A U.S. Constitutional “golden mean” is subjective, but Ralph C. Hancock believes it is attainable through a bond between reason and faith.
Hancock, a professor of political science at BYU, told an Education Week audience on Tuesday that a constitution defines governmental procedures and processes, but “we need to develop the habit of looking up to the Constitution and regarding it as connected to something higher,” he said. “For a constitution to be effective, it must be connected with some deeper moral, and even religious, beliefs that people hold.”
He said the combination of a procedural view, combined with a modified version of the higher law leads to the idea of a living Constitution. But the idea of a living Constitution has changed over the years. The earlier view considered a living Constitution as having an attachment to something permanent, morally and religiously.
Hancock said today many see a living Constitution as one not only capable of addressing new times and circumstances, but one that changes dramatically to adapt itself to the times. “The Constitution more or less becomes a blank palette upon which every generation can paint or inscribe its supposedly-more-advanced ethical and political ideals,” Hancock said.
He spoke about Constitutional oblivion today and the assumption that the Supreme Court is sovereign over the meaning of the Constitution. He said the high court’s Dred Scott Decision in 1857 — which declared that African Americans could not be U.S. citizens and had no legal standing — was outrageous and should have shocked people. Hancock said the civil and reasonable disagreement over a Supreme Court decision is a vital sign of a people who are constitutional.
Hancock concluded by summarizing three fusions of morality and government. The first combines principles of government and morality. He used classical citizenship and theocracy as examples.
The second scenario attempts to separate morality from government. Hancock said a pure proceduralist government is a neutral system, with no moral implications. He said the government expands rights to satisfy the ongoing demands for rights, and a “new morality of progress” is the result.
Hancock said the third scenario is a “golden mean” of limited Constitutional self-government through religious freedom and a Christian moral consensus. “The bond between reason and faith: natural rights under the laws of nature and nature’s God,” Hancock said. “Ideas about big picture, about God and the meaning of existence, the nature of our souls. At some level, all political ideas tap into these deeper sources.”