So over the transom comes a notice about the Conference on the Constitutional Convention (or “Con-Con-Con” for short) up at Harvard Law School next month, which is bringing together figures from left and right to mull over an Article V constitutional convention. As the participant in a couple of successful “post-partisan” right-left efforts at compromise over some knotty-pine policy issues such as energy and climate change, as well as the “Modernizing Liberalism” effort I wrote about here back in June, far be it from me to pour cold water on such an effort. This isn’t going to sport the Kumbaya mushiness of “No Labels,” for one thing. It’s going to feature prominent lefties such as Larry Tribe and Laurence Lessig, and right-thinking folk such as Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds (Glenn will give one of the keynotes, in fact), and Cato’s very sound John Samples, along with some Tea Party activists.
It is one thing to reach policy compromises even over deeply divisive policy issues such as the debt ceiling. Constitutional compromise is another matter, and it is easy to predict that the Con-Con-Con effort will make little progress for an elusively simple reason: the basic condition that made the compromises of the 1787 convention possible do not exist today. The Framers of 1787, and, significantly, their critics who became the Anti-Federalists, shared a general agreement about first principles (with one important exception which I’ll come to in due course), which made institutional compromise possible. The Framers were all believers in the creed of individual natural rights as expressed in the prologue to the Declaration of Independence, and moreover believed that limiting government required anti-majoritarian institutions such as the Senate, separation of powers, the Electoral College, and federalism, among other things. The modern left believes in none of these things, and every agenda of constitutional reform from the left calls for abolishing or weakening all of them. (See, for just one example,