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Why "Constitution" doesn’t always mean what you think it means
Posted by: McQ on Friday, November 02, 2007

In the US the word "Constitution" conjures an idea of stable, established law, a document which outlines the principles by which we live and something which has guided our lives for over 200 years.

But in other parts of the world, "Constitution" is just another means of grabbing and consolidating power. As usual lately, Hugo Chavez and Venezuela present the lesson to be learned as he uses the country's constitution to all but throttle rights and freedom.
The proposed changes, Chávez's most radical move yet in his push to transform Venezuela into a socialist state, threaten to spur a new wave of political upheaval in this oil-rich South American country already deeply divided over Chávez's rule.

The amendments would allow the government to expropriate private property without having to first seek court authorization, take total control over the Central Bank, create new types of property managed by cooperatives and extend presidential terms from six to seven years while allowing Chávez to run again in 2012.

All but seven of the assembly's 167 lawmakers voted for the changes by a show of hands.
Now, if you've followed the doings in Venezuela, you know the National Assembly defines the term "rubber stamp". Anyone who understood that knew immediately that when Chavez chose that organ to approve his 69 constitutional amendments instead of a national referendum, that it was a done deal.

Result? No due process required to grab private property rendering the right effectively dead. The Central Bank is now under the control of one man. And, since Chavez owns the Supreme Court, the military and the militia as well as the election apparatus (not to mention stifling all opposition media), he's effectively made himself president for life with a mission to turn his nation into a socialist wasteland.

I have to wonder how long the Venezuelan people are going to actually put up with this buffoon. Of course he has one advantage many socialist dictators haven't enjoyed. Barrels of oil revenue. But even that won't be enough, eventually, to save him. It's not a matter of if, but when. And I have a feeling that when his "when" arrives, it won't be pretty.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Chavez’s march to totalitarianism is truly a case study in what the Founding Father’s feared most, and why our Constitution was drafted as a restriction upon government (however little that restriction applies nowadays). If we ever needed a reason to reach back and embrace the principles upon which this country was founded, Venezuela provides it.

Alas, as Charles Austin Beard once remarked:
You need only reflect that one of the best ways to get yourself a reputation as a dangerous citizen these days is to go about repeating the very phrases which our founding fathers used in their struggle for independence.
Written By: MichaelW
Isn’t this the same constitution he himself put into place a couple of years ago? And he’s got to amend so much of it so soon? Pretty poor planning.

Obviously the Venezuelan judiciary is not as progressive as our own. If they were, they could have simply reinterpreted the Constitution to fit his whims. But obviously they still have this antiquated belief that a Constitution actually means what it says.

But don’t be surprised if the Bolivaran Revolution has staying power. The proportion of people living in or near poverty there is far greater than here, and even Chavez’ screwed up socialism represents a step up for them. His opposition comes mainly from the middle and upper classes, which are much smaller than in the US, and which he is doing his best to eviscerate.
Written By: kishnevi
URL: http://
With the ’reform’ of the Venezuela Constitution, socialism is locked in as the ideological mandate for the military and general governance. Higher oil prices will delay, but not deny, the eventual impoverishment of the Venezuelan people under socialism. Every non-oil socialist economy in the world is self-locked into the bottom 25%.

Goodbye, Venezuela.
Written By: a Duoist
and be careful: there are rumblings from my Venezuelan Friends here who fled Chavez that what he’s attempting to do is to form the Union of Socialist Latin American Republic. He fancies himself another Simon Bolivar and believes he can reunite all of Latin America under one Flag.
Written By: Joel C.
URL: http://
But in other parts of the world, "Constitution" is just another means of grabbing and consolidating power
Or if you’re in Pakistan, Constitution is something that can be ignored when you make your power grab
Written By: shark
URL: http://
I have to wonder how long the Venezuelan people are going to actually put up with this buffoon.
As long as the petrodollars keep flowing...

A constitution really isn’t worth a lot if not backed up by shared cultural norms and values. In places like the UK the lack of a specific written constitution doesn’t seem to hurt — because tradition and custom maintain the system. We in the US place far too much emphasis on the legal, and thus tend to assume that legal changes are all that’s needed. We underestimate the power of culture, and the fact that things we often take to be ’universal’ are aspects of our own culture at this point in time. That’s one reason we got things so wrong in Iraq.
Written By: Scott Erb

While I agree that culture plays some part, there are a few countervailing issues:

1. modernization/globalization

2. man’s basic desire for freedom - this is the one I think you vastly underestimate. Consider the old theory that East Asia has a Confucian culture and thus prefers "strongmen" versus democracy. This theory never squared with what I see everyday: that people in Asia want to control their own destiny at a very basic level. I’m also reminded of people who have romantic, almost "noble savage" views on Asian culture and religion.

3. Iraqi culture can cut both ways...I can argue that Islam is fundamentally a legalistic religion, helping institute the rule of law, a key part of democracy. I can argue that the Sunnis, in particular, often use consensus in the past to determine leadership, blah, blah, blah.

In fact, if you look at the forms of government that have done well in Arab countries in the 20th century, its Baathism which is a quasi-fascist, quasi-socialist ideology based on European political thinking, not caliphates. Doesn’t that sort of kill the idea that "foreign political structures" can’t be welded onto Arab cultures? Not to mention that you believe Iran is a democracy...uhhhh, explain how they managed to succeed but Iraq can’t, please.
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
Harun, consider this: if people have a basic desire for freedom, why are modern systems of human rights and liberty so recent in history? I submit that our notions of what freedom means and how it is expressed politically is a European cultural construct, and while successfully transported to other parts of the world, still is less valid as an abstract ideal or "ism" than a cultural view (perhaps an enlightenment culture). I suspect a desire to be free is inherent in human nature, but that may be my bias — I don’t like being told by others what to do. What it means politically and within social contexts is more complicated.

BTW, my last two entries in my blog have been "material saturation" and "Spiritual dehydration," which are setting up my own political theory which I’m going to develop next week.

As for Iraq: it’s a post-Ottoman political culture. Saddam would have fared well in the Ottoman Empire. The former Ottoman empire is by most measures the least free part of the world (save, ironically, for its center — though Turkey by being the center had more access to outside ideas, and, of course, it had Ataturk). I still think they have a ways to go.
Written By: Scott Erb
Of course he has one advantage many socialist dictators haven’t enjoyed. Barrels of oil revenue. But even that won’t be enough, eventually, to save him. It’s not a matter of if, but when.
No, it should be. There is no external power that wants to finance rebellion in Venezuela enough that they would risk disruption to the oil supply and there is little internal resuource for action.

With the oil revenues on tap he can keep enough of the people happy enough of the time to maintain rule.
Written By: unaha-closp
"I suspect a desire to be free is inherent in human nature, but that may be my bias — I don’t like being told by others what to do. What it means politically and within social contexts is more complicated."

The desire to live is usually stronger than the desire to be free, thus people might put up with kings, dictators and such until better choices come along. But even in the old days where naked power could make you a king, there were peasant uprisings etc. Isn’t there some new theory about primitive, limited access, and open access orders?

Perhaps an analogy would be that a Horse and buggy looks fine until you see a Model T. And we wouldn’t assume that someone who had only driven a buggy before would never want to drive a car or could not learn yes, while the urge to be free exists, you might not be able to express it fully until certain things happen, like mass democracy develops. But once it does, its harder and harder to convince people to stick with the horse and buggy.
Written By: Harun
URL: http://

because up until a few hundred years ago, the most potent weapon was a sword, and while any idiot can hack and slash his way around, a ruling body can get more idiots to hack and slash you down.

Then came the advent of ’guns’ and world has never been the same again. In 300 years, the world has seen ancient monarchical and authoritative systems come crashing down around their ears. some gave way to democracy and stability, others to different dictators until the next wave of instability came with more, bigger and strong guns.

That’s why the founding fathers knew the 2nd amendment to be so important as to fall right after Speech, Religion, and Assembly. The first step to suppressing a populace is to outlaw the guns then deprive them of basic needs.

IE: Cuba
Written By: Joel C.
URL: http://
Isn’t this the same constitution he himself put into place a couple of years ago?
Sure, but we all know constitutions are "living" documents, right? So what if some constitutions "live" faster than others.
Written By: Xrlq

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