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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Iraq's Founding

With all of the news about Iraq's Constitution swirling about, I'm a bit surprised that more hasn't been said on the various blawgs (or, at least, the ones that I read regularly).

The American constitutional experience suggests that there must be more to a Founding than simply a blueprint for government--though there must certainly be that. There must also be a founding mythos; a powerful story and looming personalities whose philosophies, experiences, and personalities can rally a nation--for the first generation and beyond. Where would we be without Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington, Madison, Adams, and the rest? Where would we be without Valley Forge, Washington's cherry tree, the Declaration of Independence. . . ?

I most definitely do not mean to suggest that we ought to look at the American Founding solely through the Great Men lens. Nor do I suggest that the American experience must necessarily be repeated in other cultures. But it seems plain that a well-grounded procedural and substantive document alone cannot sustain a nation. After all, given America's tumultuous history, replete with foreign wars, civil wars, existential crises, and competing visions, it is only through reference and resort to our unifying founding mythos that we retain our commitment to the Constitution itself (for better and worse).

I wonder what the Iraqi story will be. My prediction is that the precise contours of Iraq's Constitution will matter less for the future than the presence or absence of unifying mythos and personalities surrounding the Founding and the Framing.

Posted by Hillel Levin on August 24, 2005 at 10:06 AM in Hillel Levin | Permalink


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Liberals (even of the hack-blogger variety) don't want to discuss the Iraq quasi-constitution because they don't want to remind people of the old communist regimes? It's not my impression that the 2005 American left is defending communism at it existed in the Soviet Union or is embarrassed about saying that regime was totalitarian.

Actually, I've seen a lot of liberal-left bloggers quite willing to discuss the Iraq constitution-in-progress, but mainly the parts they believe will help lead to a more theocratic government that denies rights to women.

As to the original post, the differences in "founding moments" between late 18th century America and current Iraq are so great I can't think of any useful insights from the former experience that would help us understand the latter, but I would be interested if others thought otherwise.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Aug 24, 2005 1:55:33 PM

Iraq's Constitution reminded me of the grand statement of rights communist regimes would articulate. Citizens under Stalin had free speech - at least according to their Constitution. Pity the fool who exercised his "rights."

Anyhow, there are two main reasons people are not seriously discussing Iraq's Constitution:
A) Conservative hack bloggers want to pretend that Iraq's Constitution is a wellspring of democracy. Critical examination of the matter would quickly demonstrate how childish such a view is.
B) Liberal hack bloggers don't want to bring up the various constitutions of communist regimes as examples of constitutions-as-empty-words.

Thus, everyone shuts up, because being a hack is more important than critical analysis.

Perhaps this is overly cynical, but one thing I've learned reading a lot of blawgs (esp. prawf blawgs, though not necessarily this one) is that many lawyers and law professors have it in their minds to be federal judges. They thus try to avoid writing about things that could offend their partisan allies. The Iraq Constitution is one such example. How can a conservative blogger with his eyes on the prize write that it's nothing but empty words? This would buck the party. It would show that s/he's not a "team player." So much for a nomination.

Then again, many liberal professors do not want to draw comparisons between Iraq's Constitution and the constitutions of earlier, communist, regimes, though the analogy is a near-perfect fit.

Iraq's Constitution is nothing but a list of New Year's resolutions.

Posted by: George of the (Legal) Jungle | Aug 24, 2005 1:26:05 PM

I really like this post. I agree with you and think that our Constitution and country were successful because of the underlying philisophy present in it. Iraq is rushing to create a Constitution in an effort to create immediate government control. America's Founding Father's rushed to create a Constitution in an effort to protect individual rights and define the powers of the government.

I also conclude that the Iraq Constitution might not matter all that much.

Posted by: Dagny | Aug 24, 2005 10:58:17 AM


Your initial point seems mostly semantic to me. By the time of our Founding, we already had an entrenched political class, with sharp divisions over policy and philosophy. We already had functioning states with a large measure of control. Just like Iraq.

But your larger point, that Iraq's experience is unlike ours in so many ways--differences that should be given serious attention, is what I was trying to get at.

My main point is that for all of this talk about the contours of Iraq's Constitution, it just may not matter all that much.

Posted by: Hillel Levin | Aug 24, 2005 10:44:23 AM

But why is this being called Iraq's "founding"? Iraq existed before this. This is more of a mandated re-writing. When our country was "founded," it was coming out of another country, coming into a "new land." Iraq is doing no such thing.

I have noted that this process is oddly lackluster for the Iraqis. They have their old grudges, their old power dynamics, and their old understandings of the running of their country to deal with, while trying to cram it all into a new form which seems to be forced through an approval process by outside forces [he he - no pun intended].

Posted by: suzanne | Aug 24, 2005 10:35:35 AM

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