Ellington: Culture, virtue and the Constitution

Ellington: Culture, virtue and the Constitution

September 15th, 2015 by Lucien Ellington in Opinion Free Press Commentary

01000000; 11000000; ACE; krtcampus campus; krtentertainment entertainment; krtgovernment government; krtnational national; krtpolitics politics; POL; krt; mctillustration; 01028000; krtculture culture; krthistory history; 11015000; constitution; krtuspolitics; 10011000; day 4th; FEA; krtfeatures features; krtfourth fourth of july independence; krtholiday holiday; krtlifestyle lifestyle; krtsummer summer; LEI; leisure; LIF; public holiday; bz contributed; krtnamer north america; u.s. us united states; USA; 2010; krt2010

Photo by Staff

Lucien Ellington

Lucien Ellington

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

If you go

* What: UTC Center for Reflective Citizenship’s fifth anniversary public lecture

* Who: Dr. Wilfred McClay, the G.T. and Libby Blankenship chairman in the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma

* Topic: “Says Who?: The Role of Expertise in a Democracy,” followed by a question-and-answer session

* When: Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

* Where: UC auditorium

* Cost: The event is free; refreshments will be served

* For more info: Call 423-425-2118 or email edast@utc.edu

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

— James Madison, Federalist 51, Feb. 6, 1788

On Thursday throughout the nation, many universities and schools will commemorate the 208th anniversary of the date that delegates to the Philadelphia Convention signed the Constitution and subsequently presented it to the states for the ratification.

The words of James Madison, first among equals in the creation of this remarkable document, are chastening; preserving free government is a permanent task for mere mortals. Inspired by different ideas and interests, the delegates disagreed on important issues, and the document only lived to see the light of day because of painful compromises. However, the need to establish rules that would accommodate human propensities for both good and evil was not an issue of contention.

A disproportionately highly educated group by the standards of the day, the founders understood, some from serious study of Greco-Roman constitutions, others from Judeo-Christian teachings, and many from reading perhaps the Enlightenment's premier political thinker Baron Montesquieu, that two critical components were needed for democratic republics to survive: a framework that limited as much as possible human abuses of power, and a positive educational task to cultivate a citizenry capable of the virtues of self-government..

For well over a century, the founders' belief in the vital link between citizen virtue and the viability of the Constitution has been weakened, partly as a consequence of the rise of a powerful bureaucratic and political elite who believe they have the expertise to understand and promote the well-being of citizens better than we the people do ourselves.

This cultural shift has contributed to the neglect of serious civic education and increased public alienation from politicians and bureaucrats who no longer appear as civil servants.

Constitutions, including ours, are not sacred texts with supernatural effects but are effectual or ineffectual reflections of the civic cultures in which they exist.

The UTC Center for Reflective Citizenship is hosting a lecture Thursday for those interested in learning more about the impact of cultural trends on the U.S. Constitution.

Lucien Ellington is director of the UTC Center for Reflective Citizenship and a UC Foundation Professor of Education.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315
Email: webeditor@timesfreepress.com