Many countries occasionally will replace their constitutions, re-write their laws and effectively re-create themselves. This can be occasioned by a huge political shift, a coup, a war or something along those lines.
I would argue the same events and shifts have occurred within American history but because of the American narrative regarding the Constitution, the document itself remains in place even though its interpretations become more tortured and over time it becomes so subverted as to in many instances become close to meaningless.
The first shift or end of the 1st Republic occurred with the US Civil War which of course wasn't an actual Civil War. It was a war of secession. The Confederacy wasn't trying to capture Washington and take over control of the United States. It sought to break-away and form a new country. The war fundamentally changed the nature and narrative of the country. States Rights were deemed dead and the Federal government took on new powers and obligations.
It took a great deal of time for the implications of these new powers to be worked out. The seeds were planted and then for a time the principles lay dormant as the political leadership remained divided and the country tried to heal its wounds.
In the meantime the US finished its westward expansion. This was no longer a trickle of pioneers or a pioneer led movement. This and the consequent series of Indian Wars that followed were deliberate and orchestrated policy.
The country industrialised. The Republican Party which came out the big winner in the war implemented business friendly policies. Industrialisation demanded workers and thus the need to open up immigration. The nature of the country and literally its composition began to change. Immigration and the new industrial society would destroy the social consensus and provoke a host of new legal questions. Many principles would now be challenged and their implications put to the test. Everything from speech and religion to the nature of social infrastructure, property and liability would begin to change.
The idea of status quo ante bellum, the notion that things are going to revert to what they before the war has been demonstrated to be pure fiction. No one wins a war and fails to capitalise on their victory. This capitalising, this shift may have been done in a sloppy and inefficient manner, but the very nature of the country changed and with it the Constitution and its interpretation. Many continue to refuse to accept this.
This is why Conservatism in recent years has shifted the narrative back in history. In the 1950's and 60's the desire was to roll back the New Deal. This failed in part due to the fact that many people who were intuitively conservative and yet came through the Depression and war felt positively about FDR and his leadership. In many cases their families had benefitted from his policies and programmes.
When the Great Society came into being the conservative movements of the 1970's sought to undo it. They could ignore the New Deal and focus instead on the LBJ and the 1960s. That gained traction even among the World War II/Depression era folks. The reasons are beyond this discussion.
Today the WWII and Depression era generation has all but died off. After Reagan and Bush I's betrayals as well as further changes under Clinton and Obama the conservative movement is seeking what we might call a Full Rollback. They want to undo every change and return to the era before the Civil War.
And it is for that reason that their policies will in the end lead to another one.
The Third Republic
But then the United States shifted again around the time of the Spanish-American War. States Rights were dead. The frontier was closed. Manifest Destiny needed to be transformed. The Monroe Doctrine could finally be implemented in a serious and deliberate manner.
The US launched into trans-continental imperialism by seizing the Philippines and by engaging in Gunboat Diplomacy. Here's the subjective element. It could be argued this impulse was already nascent in American moves toward Japan in the 1850's and their heavy involvement in China.
But certainly the dawn of the twentieth century marked a serious change in American policy and thus its laws, relationship to the press, commerce etc...
A new America was taking shape. While genetically related to the previous incarnation, the post- Civil War Second Republic, the new America would have to all but reconstitute itself. But because of the narrative, the Constitution itself would remain an object of veneration... even if it was becoming an all but dead document.
The US launched a new era of interventions into Latin America, worked to support industry and business interests abroad and seemed eager to embrace international involvement and foreign entanglement. Many blame Progressivism for this shift. That was part of the equation to be sure. But international expansion and imperialism were a necessary consequence of the Capitalist system itself.
This culminated with US involvement in WWI. The tensions were exposed when domestic opposition to the war began to develop. The country began to learn that imperialism and democracy don't go together. The Bolshevik revolution that occurred during the war shook the world but also affected US domestic law and the nature of its enforcement.
The country was ripped apart by Prohibition, the rise of organised crime, the Depression and popular support for 'heroic' criminals and communistic ideas.
Internationalism was fundamentally changing the nature of the country both abroad.... and at home.
As Chalmers Johnson has suggested:
"...having achieved the industrial foundations of military might, the United States needed to pay attention to the global balance of power and modify its institutions accordingly. But there is no doubt about what we lost in doing so. Washington's warnings about the dangers of a large, permanent military establishment to American liberty would be ever more worshiped and less heeded over time, while the government came to bear an ever-vaguer resemblance to the political system outlined in the Constitution of 1787." (The Sorrows of Empire p.46)
Johnson is correct in his assessment but there's another point he makes that many on the Right seem to totally miss. Industrialisation and Capitalism are what led to empire. The idea that a return to a libertarian Free-market will somehow eliminate empire is pure fiction. Empire and Capitalism go together. It is simply the advanced phase of the Capitalist system.
The same thing can be pointed out to someone like Bernie Sanders. You can criticise Wall Street all you want but unless you're going to take on the imperialist project as well, your policies are dead on arrival. Wall Street (Finance Capital) will always demand imperialist expansions and thus the apparatus it develops.
The Fourth Republic
World War II allowed the American Establishment to reconstitute itself and reassert a new narrative. America went from being but one empire in a multi-polar world to a Superpower sealed with the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan. The United States completely reoriented itself creating a new permanent military-industrial complex, asserting its power and influence over large sectors of the earth and at home a new inquisition was formed led by figures like Nixon and McCarthy. The country had fundamentally changed once more and allegiance to the new imperialism trumped all other concerns. Free Speech and thought were all but outlawed. The Executive Branch was afforded new powers and all of society was now effectively part of the war and war effort. The Cold War was an era of intrigue and espionage and the newly formed CIA was unleashed. The corrupt FBI dominated by the criminal J Edgar Hoover also trampled on the constitutional rights of citizens. The Constitution was all but dead. That fact that the corpse was still warm deceived many regarding the true state of affairs.
The Fifth Republic was born in 1989 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Once again we can tweak dates and concepts. We could mark 1991 or 2001 for that example but I view the changes that took place after 2001 as ratifications of the agenda birthed in 1989. The Patriot Act and the subsequent abuses and anti-constitutional legislation were a result of the digital age in computers and communications but were merely extensions of the pernicious agenda born with the fall of the USSR. Yes, the Soviet Union would officially last until the eve of 1992, but it was dead in November 1989.
The United States launched the unipolar project, a global empire exceeding all historical precedent and bent on preventing any rivals from daring to challenge its hegemony. That fact that we still have people dreaming of a constitutionally Originalist Frontier-Agrarian society in our present era presents a sad even dangerous commentary on the power of propaganda, the state of American education, delusion and idolatry. The legal framework of the founders isn't just a corpse. It's a skeleton.
The prowess of American propaganda is formidable. The US has the most powerful empire in the history of the world and yet the majority of its citizens have failed to realise it. A large number of them are still fighting the Civil War and have utterly failed to understand what the war actually meant and what the past 150 years have been about.
This paradigm shift was also signified by war. The invasion of Panama sent a message to the world that the United States would not 'stand down' in light of the Soviet collapse. It was also a message to old allies that a new era had dawned. Many former friends, collaborators and co-conspirators would be left out in the cold.
The Gulf War of 1990-91 was a portent of a new world order, a new era dominated by the United States of America. It was a sign and signal of American geopolitical, military and technological power. Like the atomic bomb it signified a new type of air/technological war and a global footprint.
The US subsequently worked to strengthen and expand NATO, consolidate control over Europe, decimate and destabilize Russia and exploit China. The fact that there were schizophrenic and contradictory elements to this policy shouldn't be surprising. A global empire of this order was terra incognita and complex beyond conception. But an empire also needs enemies and justifications for its actions. The contradictions generate instability. This is a problem to some, an ocean of opportunity to others.
The 2001 attacks were justification for a new techno-espionage and military industrial complex, a new era of militarised privatisation, and ultimately a new type of Cold War. With Communism gone, Terrorism became the new enemy, the platform and rationalisation for a new series of legislation, wars and investments in an unprecedented and constitutionally unjustifiable and wholly novel type of power-infrastructure.
The CIA under Dulles and the Stasi under Mielke would have been incapable of even dreaming of this kind of power and access to information.
Once again Chalmers Johnson:
"After Congress voted in October 2002 to give the president unrestricted power to use any means, including military force and nuclear weapons, in a preventive strike against Iraq whenever he—and he alone—deemed it 'appropriate,' it would be hard to argue that the governmental structure laid out in the Constitution of 1787 bears much relationship to the one that prevails today in Washington." (Nemesis p.60)
It is ironic the very people that profess 'Originalism' and 'Textualism' promote and defend this present paradigm. It's laughable and tragic... only if they actually believe it. Originalism is one of the great shams foisted on the judiciary and utilised as a propaganda tool in manipulating the simple.
The United States of today is the very antithesis of the principles laid out in the documents of formation. Whether all the founders really believed those ideas is something different. They cannot co-exist with an empire. The Masonic and Greco-Roman imagery so dominant in Washington DC seems to indicate the founders did have imperial ambitions all along and even the antebellum era exposes some of this impulse. If that was the case, and if indeed the present US Empire represents the pleroma, the fullness and fulfillment of their project then indeed the joke is on them. If true it only betrays their shortsightedness and political naiveté. The laws and principles of the Constitution are incompatible with imperialism. But they are all the more incompatible with Industrial Capitalism and the empire it necessitates. The founders could not have foreseen this development but likely would have celebrated it nonetheless.
The Sixth Republic if it comes about will be a Fascist State, the culmination and necessary conclusion of these trends. There are many possibilities that could bring about this scenario and it could just as easily fragment and self-destruct before that ever happens. But one way or another, the status quo is unsustainable. The United States, even as we know it today in its Fifth Republic form, will not last more than a generation or two. Global reach, success and power will mean war abroad and repression at home. Failures on the international front will likely lead to economic collapse and domestic instability. The only thing that might hold together a mix of global power and domestic instability is a totalitarian state. Whether it takes a hard or soft form will depend on a host of factors.
Freedom of speech, press, right to assembly, petition, due process and privacy are all rapidly disappearing. Once this is formally (openly) codified and socially enforced, the new era will be upon us. At that point the only 'right' will be to silently and submissively obey. Whether this new order ends up looking like Franco's Spain or Honecker's GDR is really the only point of contention in most of our present political discourse... even if the politicians themselves fail to realise it.CLICK HERE TO READ THE ADDENDUM/PART II OF THIS ESSAY