Principles, Parameters and the 14th Amendment

15 אוגוסט, 2010 בשעה 10:43 | פורסם באקדמיה, פוליטיקה, תחביר | תגובה אחת

The past few weeks have seen a disturbing discourse concerning the US constitution, and more specifically the 14th amendment, the first paragraph of which grants US citizenship to any person born within its borders. A new (?) movement claims this amendment, originally proposed by Lincoln's administration (along with the 13th and 15th) to right slavery's wrongs, is being abused by illegal immigrants coming to the US and "dropping an anchor baby". An important counter-argument that is being made is that these same people who so degrade the 14th amendment are often some of the more vehement defenders of the sanctity of the Constitution (and of the 2nd amendment). My major news source hints that these people are being hypocritical. The entirety of the Constitution needs to be treated with the same respect.

Article 1:

At first I was with Jon & co. on this one. Constitutions need not be taken lightly, as should Israel's Basic Laws (which will become our constitution, come the Messiah).

Then I got to thinking. Clearly not everything in the US Constitution seems to have the same importance, when it comes to the underlying principles. And then it hit me – the Principles and Parameters framework from linguistics could help understand this issue. P & P is one of Chomsky's hallmark ideas. It states that each language follows the so-called Universal Grammar by adhering to a set of universal principles (such as allowing recursion), and differs itself from other languages by assigning unique values to each of a set of parameters (for example, whether an object follows its verb or vice-versa).

Article 2:

This might apply, I propose, to the realm of Democratic Republics. Certain tenets of Western Liberalism must be realized in all democratic regimes, such as the Rule of Law or the Checks and Balances between the branches of government. These are the principles. Other decisions are left as parameters, as the differences between the US and, say, Sweden, are obvious: the level of government engagement in the health and education systems; linkage of the state with a national movement; and more. Both categories are important enough to be specified in a fundamental document such as a constitution, but the former surely reign supreme over the latter: forfeiting them is letting go of Democracy.

Article 3:

The US Constitution obviously has its "principle clauses" and its "parameter clauses". No harm would be done to the US's democratic nature if the President is elected once every 50 months. This would not be the case if the President is appointed by the Bishop of Salt Lake City.

So, my opinion? When it comes to amendments, some are more contestable than others. Argue about the 2nd, the 14th, the 16th, the 18th (it was argued about, and even repealed), or the 25th, all you will, while remembering that it's still the supreme law of the land; but leave alone the 1st, the 4th, the 5th, the 13th, the 15th and the 19th. Those embody principles, and are there for the sake of democracy.

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  1. The third, of course, is a whole different story. Can't do without that one, or we'd have soldiers quartered in our homes without paying us for them.

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