B. Thomas Marking
HOW TO BOTCH A REVOLUTION
About three years ago, after years of protesting in the streets, the citizens of Chile were allowed by their government to hold a national referendum on whether to rewrite the nation’s constitution. Americans are not allowed to hold national referendums on issues. Seventy-eight percent of those voting said YES.
Somehow, it was decided that there would be 155 delegates to the new constitutional convention. At our convention in 1789, there were only 55 delegates and they had a hard time agreeing on anything. Any citizen of Chile could run for election to these seats but 17 chairs were reserved for the indigenous peoples of Chile and gender parity had to be achieved, so the results were “adjusted” to achieve this goal.
Many candidates ran as Independents, not affiliated with any party, but decidedly not in the center of the political spectrum. In America, we’re also beginning to see people running for office as Faux Independents to hide their true political leanings. The result was a body of delegates that, philosophically, leaned quite hard to the left. One spokesperson noted that this was an “opportunity to build a more fair, inclusive, prosperous, and sustainable country” -- a laudable statement of their vision, but . . .
The convention convened on July 4th, 2021. The first three months, however, were spent in contentious wrangling over procedure and in delegates posturing for their pet solutions to Chile’s problems. In essence, the delegates were starting with a blank sheet of paper. This was a major misstep. In the Democracy Saga, the President establishes a small commission to plan the convention. The Chairman is a person with excellent credentials in constitutional history and law. He develops an outline for the content of a constitution, to help the delegates stay focused on the purpose of having a constitution, which is to define how the federal government will function to facilitate the nation achieving its vision.
The inevitable result was that the delegates in Chile set about re-writing the entire body of law, rather than creating a constitutional framework for the development of laws. The document that was finally presented for ratification was 170 pages long and contained 388 articles. Our current constitution runs about 11 pages and contains 7 articles. The constitution developed in Volume III of The Democracy Saga yielded eight articles and runs a bit more than twenty pages.
Contained with in Chile’s new constitution were many fine concepts. On the other hand, the document was rife with solutions tainted by ideology. The document codified 100 constitutional rights for Chile’s citizens, but like our own constitution, failed to delineate citizen responsibilities. The foundation document derived from the disciplined process described in Volume III of the Democracy Saga rectified this imbalance.
Thus, a rare opportunity to reinvent Chile and adopt participatory democracy failed. When the document came up for ratification, 62% of the voters in Chile said NO.
Hopefully, they will learn these hard lessons and try again.
The worry closer to home is that we will not learn from Chile’s errors. There is a movement gaining momentum in America to call a new Constitutional Convention. Many state legislatures have already endorsed it. We certainly need to revamp our aging foundation document in light of twenty-first century realities, but will we be smarter about the process?
* Will we keep ideologs and people loyal to a political party away from the convention?
* Will we better define our vision for America’s future?
* Will we avoid trying to use the constitution to legislate all our troubles away?
* Will we stay true to the role of a constitution and stick to essential articles?
To hint at what may be possible, here’s an outline of the draft constitution imagined in Volume III of The Democracy Saga:
Preamble ( A vision statement – how the country wishes to be seen by the world )
Article I -- The Federal Government ( its form, structure and core functions )
Article II – A Foundation of Laws ( their purpose, precedence and process of
Article III -- The Citizenry ( its role, rights and responsibilities as a branch of
Article IV -- The Legislative Branch ( its mission, composition, responsibilities, and
Article V -- The Executive Branch ( its mission, composition, responsibilities, and
Article VI -- The Judicial Branch ( its mission, composition, responsibilities, and
Article VII -- Rights Reserved to the States
Article VIII -- Amending the Constitution
If you would like to read the full text of the new American Constitution as derived by the convention portrayed in Volume III of The Democracy Saga, visit