All governments love and encourage ceremonious tributes to their humble beginnings. Amidst pomp and circumstance, splendidly costumed functionaries and impressive displays of military might roll down important avenues from Moscow to New York, intimidating the citizenry while proclaiming the current rulers' fealty to the ideals that inspired their forebears.
This year being the 200th anniversary of the Philadelphia Convention that produced the U.S. Constitution, lots of bombast and marching tunes and grandiloquent, empty homages to the Men of Philadelphia are in store for us. South Bend, Indiana, hotbed of rabid Americanism, has taken the early lead in the Patriotism Sweepstakes by painting its fire hydrants to look like the Founding Fathers. A taxpayer-subsidized commission, chaired by former Chief Justice Warren Burger, promises to promote similar enterprises. And one can already see the tears welling up in Ronald Reagan's eyes as he prepares for his September 17th address commemorating our government's birth with a one-time national holiday, Constitution Day.
We, at Reason, are as patriotic as the next guy and are in favor of as many holidays as possible for our helpful public servants in the federal government. Heck, we're even willing to give them Arbor Day off. But it will be a shame if the parades and platitudes and Ben Franklin hydrants obscure the significance of the document that is, ostensibly, the cause for our year-long rejoicing.
So, as an alternative to sniping at the Constitution revelers, REASON has scheduled a Constitution bicentennial series to explore and elucidate, throughout our 1987 issues, the origin, development, and current state of the political handiwork forged during that sweltering Pennsylvania summer.
The series begins this month with William Riker's essay on the events of 1787. Plans for subsequent authors and topics include Robert Nisbet on republican virtue, Nat Hentoff on the First Amendment, William Allen and Bill Marina debating the revolutionary quality of the Constitution, Joan Kennedy Taylor on the progress of women's rights, William Appleman Williams on the Constitution and foreign policy, and-tease, tease-more.
Our contributors are from diverse perspectives: from the civil-libertarian Hentoff to the Burkean conservative Nisbet to Williams, the leftish dean of revisionist historians. But each has something provocative to say about the Constitution and its evolution, and each is slated to say it in REASON. We hope you enjoy the series. Constitution fever-catch it! (You should see our fire hydrants.)
Meanwhile, there was a whole lotta antistatist shakin' going on recently at Los Angeles's Biltmore Hotel as Reason and its parent organization, the Reason Foundation, celebrated their move to Los Angeles. Two hundred and fifty of our closest friends gathered to listen to Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman's keynote speech, as well as a host of salutes to J. Clayburn, La Force, dean of UCLA's Graduate School of Management and the evening's guest of honor.
Friedman discussed the lag between the popular acceptance of revolutionary ideas, such as limited government and free enterprise, and their implementation. Though the ideas of liberty are now ascendant (or at least ascending),"in the world of practice," maintained Friedman, "we are farther from a free society than we were 30 years ago." Political successes "do not come easily or overnight," he warned, but if liberty can triumph in the world of ideas, its practical success will someday follow.
Guitar slinger Rob Kolson rounded out the evening, singing (I swear) funny tunes about economics and what essayist Albert Jay Nock once charitably termed "our enemy, the state." Kolson should be on MTV (with a different haircut).
Thanks to all who made the evening a memorable and resounding success. It's nice to have friends.