"For all their academic achievement, students at Princeton and Yale and Stanford and Harvard and other schools that attract America’s most talented young people rarely come to campus with a sound grasp of the philosophy of America’s constitutional government. How did the Founding Fathers seek, via the institutions that the Constitution created, to build and maintain a regime of ordered liberty? Even some of our best-informed students think something along these lines: the Framers set down a list of basic freedoms in a Bill of Rights, which an independent judiciary, protected from the vicissitudes of politics, would then enforce.
It’s the rare student indeed who enters the classroom already aware that the Framers believed that the true bulwark of liberty was limited government. Few students comprehend the crucial distinction between (on the one hand) the national government as one of delegated and enumerated powers, and (on the other) the states as governments of general jurisdiction, exercising police powers to protect public health, safety, and morals, and to advance the general welfare. If anything, they imagine that it’s the other way around. Thus they have no comprehension as to why leading supporters of the Constitution objected to a Bill of Rights, worried that it could compromise the delegated-powers doctrine and thus undermine the true liberty-securing principle of limited government.
Good students these days have heard of federalism, yet they have little appreciation of how it works or why the Founders thought it so vital. They’ve heard of the separation of powers and often can sketch how the system of checks and balances should work. But if one asks, for example, “Who checks the courts?” they cannot give a satisfactory answer."
Sunday, February 12, 2006
Robert P. George: