Why does a country have a constitution?
One reason is to spell out the rules for how the country’s government will function – things like how its various branches are to interact, how laws are to come into being and what qualifications one must satisfy to hold public office. It’s the same reason any organization crafts an Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws.
To those who know that government can be either liberty’s best friend or its worst enemy, there’s a far more important reason: To put government in a box.
A constitution should restrain government’s power.
I thought it might be interesting to take at look at the Constitution of North Korea since that country has been in the news a lot lately. At about 8,200 words, it’s just a few hundred longer than the American Constitution with all of its 27 amendments, but way shorter than the 376,000 words of the Constitution of the State of Alabama.
North Korea ranks last among nations in freedom. Its unfortunate people are the slaves and victims of a corrupt and ruthless regime. What could its Constitution possibly say? Here’s a sample:
It begins with a glaring falsehood in its very title, Constitution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. There’s nothing “democratic” about either the document or the country. While we try to prosecute election fraud in the United States, in North Korea they execute you for just advocating elections.
Forced labor, executions, concentration camps and famine killed an estimated two million people in the past half century in North Korea. That’s in spite of the Constitution’s Article 2, which asserts that the country strives to achieve “the freedom and well-being of the people.”
Articles 4, 5 and 6 declare the virtues of workers expressing themselves through “representative organs,” “universal suffrage” and the “secret ballot.” Ballots are so secret in North Korea that nobody has ever actually seen one – at least not a real one of any meaningful consequence.
Article 20 deals with property. Do “the people” as individuals have rights to it? The Constitution says that “the means of production are owned only by the State and social cooperative organizations.” So the answer is pretty much NO. What exactly “the means of production” are is never spelled out, so they theoretically could include your dinner ingredients. Article 21 declares “There is no limit to the property which the State can own.”
The Constitution also offers citizens free health care. In North Korea, if you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. Because ultimately, you have effectively no choice in either.
The rule of law and an independent judiciary are virtually nonexistent in this totalitarian nightmare. Power is bestowed on a single political party to be worshipped as if it were God. Maybe the only truthful Article is the last one, which says simply, “The capital is Pyongyang.”
If the day ever comes when North Koreans rise up and throw off their chains, they will take this instrument of their enslavement and give it its due. They will soak it in gas and light a match to it.
Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president of the Foundation for Economic Education. He writes about exceptional people, including many from his book, “Real Heroes: Inspiring True Stories of Courage, Character and Conviction.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .