Hayek on the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution

I believe that the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution is wonderful. The first of the 10 amendments (which together are known as the Bill of Rights) the full text reads–

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.[1]

I find the phrasing simply beautiful — concise and to the point. In a discussion with James Buchanan in 1978, Friedrich Hayek said–

I think the phrase ought to read, “Congress should make no law authorizing government to take any discriminatory measures of coercion.”  I think this would make all the other rights unnecessary and create the sort of conditions which I want to see.

That’s brilliantly put. The government must be even-handed. It must be prohibited from discriminating among citizens. That is missing in India. The lack of that prohibition is the root cause of practically all of India’s ills.

NOTES:

[1] For a good introduction to the 1st Amendment, see Cornell Law School’s explanation, the overview of which I quote below:

First Amendment: An Overview
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference. It prohibits any laws that establish a national religion, impede the free exercise of religion, abridge the freedom of speech, infringe upon the freedom of the press, interfere with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibit citizens from petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. It was adopted into the Bill of Rights in 1791. The Supreme Court interprets the extent of the protection afforded to these rights. The First Amendment has been interpreted by the Court as applying to the entire federal government even though it is only expressly applicable to Congress. Furthermore, the Court has interpreted the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as protecting the rights in the First Amendment from interference by state governments.

 

The British are Gone but the British Raj Lives on

“It was [in India] the British learned the art of imperial power. … India was decisive. It gave Britain the resources, the market, the manpower, and the prestige to build a world-wide empire. And in the years to come they worked feverishly to secure that prize.”  Continue reading “The British are Gone but the British Raj Lives on”

India Needs an Actually New Constitution

Why India Needs a New Constitution.” is the title of the chapter I contributed to a Festschrift published in November 2016 by the Center for Civil Society in Delhi.

That idea rubs Indians the wrong way because Indians generally believe that the constitution is a fine work. Not that they have examined it for themselves. They think that it must be so because politicians praise the constitution and uncritically accept their verdict.

It is like the fable of the emperors new clothes, except in this case the people have not themselves seen the emperor in his new clothes. They have only heard of reports that the emperor has a new set of clothes, and experts who have seen the new clothes have declared them to be wonderful. The belief has been implanted in the people, and they will vehemently oppose any suggestions to the contrary.

I argue that the emperor’s new clothes are in fact his old clothes, and therefore the “new” clothes do an equally bad job of hiding his unsightly nakedness as his old clothes did.

To persuade you to read the chapter in the book Liberalism in India (link at the end), here are a few excerpts below.  Continue reading “India Needs an Actually New Constitution”

Constitution for a Free India

I have been arguing for a while that the fountainhead of India’s troubles is the Indian Constitution. Recently I contributed a chapter to the CCS publication “Liberalism in India: Past, Present and Future“, and also wrote an opinion piece for LiveMint on the same topic “Why India Needs a New Constitution.” The question naturally arises: replace the constitution with what? Here’s my answer. Continue reading “Constitution for a Free India”

Liberalism in India: Past, Present and Future

CCS Book Cover
Liberalism in India

The Center for Civil Society convened a day-long conference on Nov 20th at The Claridges Hotel, New Delhi, to honor the memory of S V Raju. I attended and had the opportunity to meet with many friends and also some people I had heard about but never met before.

About the event, CCS notes: Continue reading “Liberalism in India: Past, Present and Future”

The Preamble to Iceland’s New Constitution

The most important thing for the constitution of any civilized society is the guarantee that it provides that all people are treated equally and without discrimination by the government. The other bits follow logically from that principle.

And the back story to that is here. (I don’t like the video style of getting multiple people to say bits of a sentence — it’s tiresome and distracting.)

Two First Amendments to two Constitutions

The First Amendment to the US Constitution is 45 words long. The full text reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Just by the way, the first 10 amendments to the US constitution is collectively known as the “Bill of Rights.” They were all ratified on Dec 15, 1791.

The First Amendment to the Indian constitution was introduced by Jawaharlal “Cha-cha” Nehru and was enacted in June 1951. The full text of the amendment is below.

It is not for the fainthearted. You ask why? Because here’s a very brief extract from the more than 1700 words.

No law in force in the territory of India immediately before the commencement of the Constitution which is consistent with the provisions of article 19 of the Constitution as amended by sub-section (1) of this section shall be deemed to be void, or over to have become void, on the ground only that, being a law which takes away or abridges the right conferred by sub-clause (a) of clause (1) of the said article, its operation was not saved by clause (2) of that article as originally enacted.

Please do check out full text below.
Continue reading “Two First Amendments to two Constitutions”