Published: February 9, 2012
The United States Constitution will turn 215 years old this year, and it doesn’t look a day over 195.
However, to people outside the U. S., the Constitution is beginning to suffer from hardening of the articles.
A new study by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Virginia shows the bedrock guide of American democracy is becoming less and less popular with other democracies around the globe.
After analyzing 729 constitutions adopted by 188 countries between 1946 and 2006 clause by clause, the authors realized that fewer Founding Fathers and Mothers in other lands are copying the American model.
Compare that with Time Magazine’s 1987 estimate that more than 160 of the 170 countries on the planet at that time had constitutions that emulated America’s.
David S. Law and Mila Versteeg’s paper, “The Declining Influence of the United States Constitution,” asserts that the great yellow parchment “is increasingly far from the global mainstream.”
One of the reasons they cite for this is the “global mainstream” considers certain rights not in the American Constitution worthy of inclusion in their nations’ documents.
“Women’s rights, for example, can be found in more than 90 percent of the world’s constitutions, but do not appear anywhere in the text of the U.S. Constitution,” Lee and Versteeg write. “The same is true for physical needs rights, such as the right to social security, the right to health care, and the right to food, which appear in some form in roughly 80 percent of the world’s constitutions, but have never attained constitutional status in the United States.”
This puts a serious dent in the arguments of those who adhere to a philosophy called American exceptionalism. Those who cleave to this philosophy posit that the United States is unique, that it is special.
Indeed, we are unique and special.
But some interpret this philosophy to mean we have an almost natural, inherent superiority over other nations and cultures.
For better or worse, fewer and fewer countries are willing to swallow that.
This academic study, backed up by empirical data, undoubtedly also will anger strict constructionists – in other words, legal analysts who believe the Constitution means exactly what it says, and judges should not infer that it means anything else.
Other Constitutional scholars see the document as a living, breathing instrument, malleable over time as conditions and circumstances in society change.
Lee and Versteeg blame the Constitution’s declining influence abroad on what they see as its increasing inflexibility.
They conclude, “If the United States were to revise the Bill of Rights today – with the benefit of more than two centuries of experience, and in a manner that addresses contemporary challenges while remaining faithful to the nation’s best traditions – there is no guarantee other countries would follow its lead. But the world would surely pay close attention.”
It would seem awkward at best and ludicrous at worst for our government to pursue a policy of “nation-building” when other nations don’t want to build with our building blocks.