Charles Darwin, Woodrow Wilson, and the Evolving Constitution


I was speaking to Dr. Gary North Friday morning about the talk he gave at the Mises University, the annual week-long training program for undergraduates, which is sponsored by the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Judge Andrew Napolitano was there as well. He “was presenting a week-long series of lectures on the Constitution and the free market.”

Dr. North had a chance to speak with Judge Napolitano about some unknown history about President Woodrow Wilson.

This unknown history, a field of study that Dr. North is famous for uncovering, has a great deal of importance for where we are constitutionally and ethically today. I won’t rehearse all of what Dr. North told me. You can read the full story at GaryNorth.com.

There was a part of the story that I found fascinating. It explains a lot of what’s taking place today. We think the battle over the scientific theory of evolution is all about science. It’s not. Woodrow Wilson, a dyed-in-the wool Progressive, saw the full-orbed expression of evolution and how it should impact the Constitution.

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“In Wilson’s book, Constitutional Government (1908), he came out in favor of implementing a Darwinian view of evolution to civil government.

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Constitutional Government praised the presidency as the central political office: head of the party. This was a self-conscious break from the Constitution’s view of the office. The Constitution does not mention political parties, and the Framers had hated political factions in 1787. Wilson, having switched to Progressivism, had to undermine this older political faith. He turned to Darwin as the solution.

“The framers had been Whigs because they had been Newtonians, he correctly argued. This Newtonian Whig worldview is incorrect, he insisted, and so is the Constitutional order that assumes it. ‘The government of the United States was constructed upon the Whig theory of political dynamics, which was a sort of unconscious copy of the Newtonian theory of the universe. In our own day, whenever we discuss the structure or development of anything, whether in nature or in society, we consciously or unconsciously follow Mr. Darwin; but before Mr. Darwin, they followed Newton.

Some single law, like the law of gravitation, swung each system of thought and gave it its principle of unity’ (pp. 54-55). The checks and balances built into the Federal government by the Constitution are now a hindrance to effective political action, he said. This language of balances reflects mechanism. We need to overcome this mechanical way of thinking, Wilson wrote.

“The trouble with the theory is that government is not a machine, but a living thing. It falls, not under the theory of the universe, but under the theory of organic life. It is accountable to Darwin, not to Newton. It is modified by its environment, necessitated by its tasks, shaped to its functions by the sheer pressure of life. No living thing can have its organs offset against each other as checks, and live. On the contrary, its life is dependent upon their quick cooperation, their ready response to the commands of instinct or intelligence, their amicable community of purpose. Government is not a body of blind forces; it is a body of men, with highly differentiated functions, no doubt, in our modern day of specialization, but with a common task and purpose. Their cooperation is indispensable, their warfare fatal. There can be no successful government without leadership or without the intimate, almost instinctive, coordination of the organs of life and action” (pp. 56-57).

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Does any of this sound familiar? The Constitution is a “living, evolving document” to be directed in its evolutionary development by leaders who believe that government is the divine force for change.

So the next time you hear someone talk about how the Constitution is a living document, think of Woodrow Wilson, but more specifically, think of Charles Darwin.

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