A Constitutional Amendment Against Little Platoons
Religion & Liberty Online

A Constitutional Amendment Against Little Platoons

First-Amendment-Area-490x653The great British statesman Edmund Burke claimed that “to love the little platoon we belong to in society is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections.” Burke was referring to the mediating social institutions that that lie between the individual and the state. These “little platoons” include not only the family but our churches, labor unions, charity organizations, and other voluntary associations.

Since the dawn of modernity, intellectuals and politicians have been hostile to mediating structures since they put barriers between the individual and the State. As Brad Lowell Stone has noted, “Hobbes, Rousseau, and Bentham each envisioned an ideal condition in which the state guards the rights and fulfills the needs of unencumbered, desocialized individuals.”

Along with Hobbes, Rousseau, and Bentham we can add Senator Tom Udall (D-NM). Sen. Udall is the sponsor of a resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States that would limit the power and influence of certain mediating structures by ending the First Amendment protections of political speech.

The second of the proposed amendment’s three sections reads:

SECTION 2.Congress and the States shall have power to implement and enforce this article by appropriate legislation, and may distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.

Commenting on this passage, Yuval Levin says,

This is an extraordinarily explicit form of an ambition that is implicit in a lot of the modern Left’s attitudes about society. What is envisioned here is a society in which only individuals and the state really exist. Groups of people joined together for a common cause are rejected as illegitimate actors in the nation’s public life, so that the only institutions that people can really join in together are government institutions. And the space between the individual and the state — the space in which most of society exists — is taken by the state to be empty of anything meaningful and worthy of protection or, worse, to be infested with vestiges of backwardness, prejudice, and pernicious self-interest that need to be neutralized or co-opted by the government. Those institutions do not have the democratic legitimacy that the government has, so their actions are by definition not public spirited.

Like a dog with a bone, politicians jealously guard their power and will take (or at least propose) extraordinary measures to prevent losing what they value most. Fortunately for the American people, this proposed amendment will be added to the reject pile along with the other 10,000 or so amendments proposed in Congress since 1789. However, the fact that so many politicians support such illiberal, anti-American legislation should lead us to reconsider what sort of men and women we’re choosing to represent us.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).