Comprehensive or Constitutional Politics?: Two broad political inclinations underlie and complicate our political practice and language. (John G. Grove, 5/09/24, Law & Liberty)

Comprehensive politics, therefore, elevates particular substantive outcomes over procedural rules and institutions. Political activity is to be judged by the extent to which aggregate social conditions match the preconceived vision of the Good Society. Procedural norms, constitutions, rights, divisions of power, and the rule of law can easily hinder this pursuit. At best, therefore, they are accorded a secondary status as constraints on the primary activity of politics.

Moreover, comprehensive politics may also transform procedural commitments into ideals to strive after. Democracy (itself a procedural practice for selecting governors) may morph into “Our Democracy”—a package of desired substantive policies and social outcomes that ought to be protected, even against the will of voters. Commitment to a constitution may slip into a pursuit of the never-fully-attained “ideals” or “Spirit” of the Constitution. A belief in equal treatment under law can morph into a quest to create by conscious choice a more comprehensive human equality.

While comprehensive politics starts with a dream of what could be, constitutional politics starts with what is: the actual people, institutions, and authorities of any given society. Rather than focusing on a constructed vision of the whole to be evaluated and adjusted, it sees aggregate social conditions as the byproduct of multiple sources of authority, ones which often pull in different directions. To protect that kind of plural society, governance must also be the product of multiple sources of authority that have found consensus.

Human beings may be capable of changing over time, and such change may come largely from their social circumstances, but those circumstances are so infinitely complex—and the human capacity for understanding so limited—that they cannot be explained by single, purposive causes, or consciously manipulated to attain certain desired ends. The planner, innovator, revolutionary, or counterrevolutionary who attempts to do so may succeed in destroying fragile institutions and destabilizing social order, but he rarely winds up with the society he set out to build.

Constitutional politics, consequently, presents political activity as a process of settlement, and a seeking after consensual order, acceptable to the various parts of society. Politics has neither the ability nor the moral authority to function as the conscious creator and molder of society at large. But it may establish procedures for living peacefully and productively together in a particular place. This notion of political activity allows for a great variety of other nodes of authority to flourish that need not all point one way.

The core Anglospheric insight is that Man is not plastic. You can’t mold him into your preferred shape.