Why Our Constitution Fails in Other Countries

The President and his liberal compatriots were excited to see the Arab Spring bring democracy to a nation like Egypt. There is no doubt that the presidency of Hosni Mubarak was corrupt and needed to be changed. Riots in the streets don’t breed confidence. It would be like putting the worst elements of the Occupy movement in control of America. Not a good idea.

There is an old saying that is mostly true: Be careful what you wish for because you may actually get it. Democracy does not always get you the results you want.

There’s a lot of history to show that revolutions do not bring about good government. The war we had with Great Britain was a war for independence not a revolution. Thirteen governments defended themselves against a foreign aggressor. The colonies were already self-governing. The character of the people made all the difference.

Simon Bolívar was called the “George Washington of South America.” He was a student and admirer of the principles that led to America’s War for Independence as well as a critic of the French Revolution.

Bolívar would be described today as a classical “liberal” in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson who defended limited government and a free market economic system.

In his construction of the Bolivian Constitution, he studied the U.S. Constitution and Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Bolívar’s many speeches and writings show that he was an advocate of limited government, the separation of powers, freedom of religion, property rights, and the rule of law.

At first, Bolívar believed that South America could be governed as well as the United States if the people would adopt the principles of the U.S. Constitution. His attempts failed because the people were the problem. Our Constitution says nothing about personal character. It is not a document that carries a moral code. These things came from outside the Constitution and were necessary for it to work.

Bolívar’s attempts at governing left him an “exhausted and disillusioned idealist” because the character of the people would not change. He considered them to be ungovernable. He understood that ideas and character matter more than governmental forms. Good self-government precedes good civil government.

Bolivar died an “exhausted and disillusioned idealist” at the age of forty-seven. Shortly before he died, he declared that Latin America was ungovernable. Revolutions were not enough. When the bloodshed was over, then what? “He who serves a revolution,” he said, “ploughs the sea.”1

He was discouraged with how the people expressed their new freedoms. Some months before his death Bolivar wrote: “There is no good faith in [Latin] America, nor among the nations of [Latin] America. Treaties are scraps of paper; constitutions, printed matter; elections, battles; freedom, anarchy; and life a torment.”2

The same can be applied to Egypt and the rest of the Middle East.

  1. Edward Coleson, “The American Revolution: Typical or Unique?,” The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Symposium on Christianity and the American Revolution, ed. Gary North, 3:1 (Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon, 1976), 176–177. []
  2. Quoted in Edward Coleson, “The American Revolution: Typical or Unique?,” 177. []