The US Constitution Through the Eyes of Friendship
Gillian B. Chanko
Professor Jafar Mahallati
Friendship: Perspective from Religion, Politics, Economics & Art
Although friendship seems like a simple concept usually discussed in early childhood development, its principles and framework can be used to assess politics in the United States. One specific document that has guided our legal and political system is the American Constitution, which became effective in March of 1789. Some of the influences for the Constitution come from European works, such as the Magna Carta (1215), the Virginia Charter of 1606, and the Two Treatises of Government (1689) (US History). During the French Revolution, which began right after the Constitution came into effect, their main slogan was “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” meaning liberty, equality, and brotherhood. This somewhat relates to one of the key concepts of the Constitution, which promises all Americans “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This makes one wonder as to why there was no mention of the importance of social connection and solidarity within the Constitution, and it seems as the Constitution discussed separation rather than a culture of togetherness. From this notion, it is essential to delve deeper into the Constitution to examine if America promoted the concept of friendship. To begin this examination, the principle of checks and balances will be analyzed through what the Constitution deems as the separation of powers, and how this leads to more conflict and hostility within the government itself. Following, various amendments which discuss equality will be discussed while recognizing the absence of friendship within each of these statements. It is necessary to mention the multiple aspects of the Constitution that discuss the process of war and regulations regarding such, in addition to portions which have led to violence within America. Finally, the incorporation of friendship within the foundation of the American government will be discussed, succeeded by a recommendation of using the framework of friendship in politics and daily life. Based on such excerpts from the Constitution, as well as scholarly opinions and the current climate of America, the Constitution did not address the right of social connection and promoted the ideology of friendship.
SEPARATION OF POWERS
The three main articles of the Constitution are based on various positions through government, which divides the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch. The first article, which discusses the legislative branch, includes the powers noted to both the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as their election process. Article II focuses on the executive branch, which is made up of the President of the United States and its administration. Finally, the judicial branch discussed in Article II determines the utility of both the Supreme Court and inferior courts. This system, referred to as the Separation of Powers, is designed so that “several branches of government are created and power is shared between them. At the same time, the powers of one branch can be challenged by another branch” (US Constitution- Checks & Balances). Although this is intended to erase the possibility of dictatorship and create a democracy ruled by shared authority, “the point of separation of powers was to create a check on tyranny, but it has ironically worked to increase tyranny and undermine democracy” (Cooper, 2018). This is heavily due to to the division between the legislative and executive branch since this creates “a single powerful figure running the state who can also claim separate democratic legitimacy against the legislature” (Cooper, 2018). This is not the true intention of democracy, and the absolute power of the President that can override certain branches of government means that there is an additional and unnecessary struggle within the system. Levels of conflict throughout the multiple branches had led to heavy partisanship, even within the branches themselves. This is not to say that this method of government is not effective, but its execution and daily practice is critical to the wellbeing of the political system. As stated by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the “separation of powers and checks and balances are not automatic mechanisms. They depend upon a commitment to civility, open communication, and good faith on all sides” (Peabody, 2019).
The absence of connection and simple notion that separation is what will ensure the efficiency the government means that politicians are continually urging for power over the other, primarily based on Thomas Hobbes’ belief that the natural state of humanity is to be violent, hostile, and irrational (Williams). The division of powers within the government leads to political disputes in which branch can make decisions regarding political and social issues. The division of powers leads to “who should judge important social and political issues spells the end of the commonwealth” (Williams), in which Hobbes responds with the importance of solidarity. An array of opinions concur as to what solidarity truly entails, as some view it as “ the social bond between two or more individuals to a general feeling of empathy or sympathy for others, to group or class cohesion based on the recognition of a common good, to one based on justice […], solidarity is even identified with the concept and practice of democracy itself within the modern welfare state” (Schwarzenbach 4). Although President Harry S. Truman once said, “If you want a friend in Washington get yourself a dog” (Heyking et al. 2008), it is critical that politicians maintain friendships with one another to ensure the solidarity throughout the government. The concept of the separation of powers has led to a lack of solidarity both among and within branches of government. Therefore, this fundamental principle within the Constitution does not invoke any proponents of friendship.
THE E.R.A & THREE-FIFTHS COMPROMISE
The original Constitution indeed only maintained the political order of the United States, as described above, yet multiple amendments proposed throughout history provided rights to citizens. These additions were added to the Constitution rather than be incorporated into the original document and provided liberties to American citizens that were not necessarily addressed prior. After the ratification of the first ten amendments during the Constitutional Convention, more and more were added with time, totaling 27 Amendments. The key documents that will be focused on include the Equal Rights Amendment and the Three-Fifths Compromise. One Amendment, proposed originally in 1923 that did not pass was the Equal Rights Amendment. After a period of editing and revising, the new draft stated, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex” (ERA, 1943). Although it seemed like a rather fundamental ideal to be added to the Constitution, the final draft was not passed by Congress until 1972. However, similarly to other amendments, there is a seven-year waiting period before it may be ratified, which meant that groups opposed to this amendment were able to mobilize and influence a state’s vote. The main argument for as to why people opposed the ERA were that it would “deny women’s right to be supported by her husband, women would be sent into combat, and abortion rights and homosexual marriages would be upheld” (ERA, Alice Paul Institute). From such lobbying and impact, the bill was three states shy of ratification and is still fought hard to be placed within the Constitution today. Based on the inability to pass this amendment, sexes in America are not considered equal.
Moving to race identification, the Three-Fifths Compromise was an agreement reached among states throughout America during the Constitutional Convention. This agreement “delegates that all slaves of a particular state are to be counted as three-fifths of a white person. The population of slaves would be counted as three-fifths in total when apportioning Representatives, as well as Presidential electors and taxes” (Laws). This meant that it was legal for white people to own African Americans as slaves since they did not count as an entire autonomous human being with equal rights, as well as that they would not count in the consensus so that they could gain equal representation. Although this agreement is currently eradicated, it lived until 1865, meaning that it lasted for 82 years since the idea was brought up at the Continental Congress (Laws). Although the Fourteenth Amendment has been passed, which states that “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” (Constitution US), the history of the previous document shows the original basis of the Constitution to deny equality. It is also important to mention that the Fourteenth Amendment says that “the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State” (Constitution US). From this analysis, there is not absolute equality guaranteed in America.
Equality is thought by many scholars to be the very foundation of friendship, as they “put a stop to prejudice and discrimination. They create support networks and communities and form part of the fabric of an equal society” (Trueman, 2013). Many academics agree that what constitutes true friendship is “equality, openness and genuine respect for the friend as a unique person” (Mallory, 2012), which entails that the Constitution does not promise one of the key basics of friendship. Schwarzenbach argues that although care theory, which will be discussed in the following section, holds a strong sense of likeness towards one another, it is the genuine friendship that truly has equality at its heart. French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville once argued that “the emergence of equality transforms relationships between men and women, bosses and workers, masters and servants, parents and children, siblings, spouses, strangers, citizens” into friendships (Mallory, 2012). The United States Constitution, although based on many European foundations for liberty, freedom, and equality, has failed to truly ensure equality of various identities, mainly based on gender and race. It seems as though the fundamental principle of equality was placed mainly among Christian white men, and that all others did not deserve this right. Although the Constitution serves as the primary guideline for American politics and citizens’ rights, the original foundation did not ensure true equality, which is a necessity if America wants to promote friendship and social connection.
WAR & VIOLENCE
Because the American Constitution arrived after the brutal American Revolution which killed 6,800 Americans in war, wounded 6,100, and took 20,000 prisoners, while an additional 17,000 deaths were due to disease (American Battlefield Trust), it was important that the founding fathers discussed the legality of conflict within the document. From its establishment, the United States has declared war five times (War of 1812, Mexican-American War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II) (Gaston, 2019). Article I, Section 8 provides Congress the power to declare war, and this power is not provided to the President. The War Powers Act of 1973 was an addition to Article I, Section 8, which reinforced the inability of a President to declare war on their own accord. “However, on at least 125 occasions though, the President of the US has acted without any prior authorization from congress […] Unfortunately many Presidents have been known to ignore this resolution” (Gaston, 2019). The idea that a President could not declare war on their own has long been debated, as the Letter of Transmittal to the President of Congress in 1787 states that “the friends of our country have long seen and desired that the power of making war, peace, and treaties […] should be fully and effectually vested in the General Government of the Union; but the impropriety of delegating such extensive trust to one body of men is evident” (ConstitutionUS). This confusion and lack of recognition for the law in times of war has been a danger to American society, participating in more conflicts than are deemed as a necessity.
War is one of the main destructions of friendship, which is ironic since friendship can do much to decrease instances of war. Often, conflicts among countries are “a perceived divergence of interests –where interests are broadly conceptualized to include values, needs, goals, and wishes – between two or more parties, often accompanied by feelings of anger or hostility” (Fry, 1999). Friendship can help to “develop more effective ways of resolving disputes without violent conflict, to identify and transform the conditions that cause war” (Cortright, 2008, p. 8). Throughout the constant mention of (as the word exists 17 times within the document) and confusion around, war, it is evident that America views armed conflict resolution as an outlet to resolve disputes. Friendship can be utilized in much more ethical ways to go through conflict to create a positive outcome verbally.
One of the most currently highly debated amendments is the second amendment, which provides citizens “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” (ConstitutionUS). The rise of gun violence in the United States has made many question the importance of the Second Amendment, as in 2017, data shows that 39,773 Americans died of gun violence (Wonder Database). Yet, influential forces such as the National Rifle Association are dedicated to protecting this Constitutional right, as their homepage states “Anytime you hear someone say, “I think the Second Amendment is important, but…”, you can be sure that they have no intention of protecting your right to keep and bear arms” (NRA Home). The fact that this principle lies in the Constitution has led to a struggle to pass federal legislation to ensure universal background checks on gun sales, as well as a limitation on who (such as those previously incarcerated, domestic abusers, and the mentally ill) can purchase guns. One measure of America’s stance within the international realm in terms of violence is the Global Peace Index, a collective research analysis presented by the Institute of Economics and Peace. The United States is one of the top 8 countries with the highest level of weapon exports, and “has scored the maximum (worst) possible score on a number of domains, including incarceration, external con icts fought, weapons exports, and nuclear and heavy weapons, masking any ongoing deteriorations in these areas” (GPI 15). In terms of the GPI scale overall, America ranks as #121, right above Myanmar and below Armenia. There is an apparent correlation between the amount of violence and weaponry to the wellbeing of America.
When looking at this through the eyes of friendship, one methodology to follow is that of care theory, which entails that human beings care for one another to repair our world and maintain peace so that communities may live as well as possible. Although some scholars such as Schwarzenbach argue that the term “care” is far too broad, and can pose a rather mother-child (or superior-inferior) relationship, it is a great foundation for a model to teach civilians empathy and compassion. The main model “seeks to maintain relationships by contextualizing and promoting the well-being of caregivers and care-receivers in a network of social relations” (Sander-Staudt). If individuals can view themselves as both caregivers and care-receivers, meaning they can both provide and take support from others, interconnectivity will be established throughout communities, reducing instances of violence. The World Health Organization noted that one of the first steps to reducing gun violence is to develop “safe, stable and nurturing relationships between children and their parents and caregivers” (WHO 1), as well as “Reducing access to guns, knives, and pesticides” (WHO 1). Through such, it is noted that both the lack of friendship mentioned in the Constitution as well as the right to own weaponry with minimal limitations has led to a rise in violence throughout America.
INCORPORATION OF FRIENDSHIP & CONCLUSION
Various political and philosophical philosophers have long studied the role of friendship in citizens’ lives, particularly in Greek and Roman history. One model, crafted by Aristotle, proposes a model for philia, the Greek ideology surrounding friendship. This model includes “i) knowledge and awareness of the other as some form of moral equal, ii) a reciprocal liking and goodwill towards the other for their sake and not for one’s own; and iii) a practical ‘doing’ for the other” (Schwarzenbach 8). In this way, civic friendship, or a connection among society even without interpersonal relations, will allow the welfare of the population to flourish. By maintaining a friendship as a central moral value, in which it was in Ancient Greek societies, the government can work more efficiently, and citizens would reap many benefits by holding the right to “fraternité.” Many view the foundations of American democracy in terms of freedom and equality, but friendship and social connection are critical to the order of our society in a variety of ways.
From this examination, it is reasonable to conclude that the separation of powers addressed in the first three articles of the Constitution has led to extreme partisanship and conflict throughout the government, whose main priority is to get things done and protect the American people. To solve the ongoing conflict, solidarity throughout government should be put in place and provided in the Constitution. The Bill of Rights, which aims at inclusion and the expulsion of discrimination, has not necessarily addressed the importance of friendship. Due to the inability of the passing of the ERA and the existence of the Three-Fifths Compromise, the government has not been competent in addressing equality, which is an essential aspect of friendship. Finally, the persistent mention of war within the Constitution and the lack of legitimacy regarding its declaration makes it harder to ensure just war practices. Also, the existence of the Second Amendment and the inability to pass limitations on it due to the idea that it is a Constitutional right has led to a rise in gun violence which hurtfully impacts communities. Although the very first line of the Constitution, which states “We the people,” it seems as though there is no significant “we” that is prescribed by the document. There is little to no commentary on the importance of social bonds, solidarity, or positive relations. The main goal of the Constitution seems to be to “protect the people’s ability to communicate, […] keep them armed, […] protect their right to privacy” (Gaston, 2019), yet that can only do so much for the wellbeing and harmony of society. In order to adequately address this, some Amendment which addresses the human need for social relation and fraternity should be installed, as well as the previous aspects being approached through the eyes of friendship.
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- Gillian Chanko