I frequently see political groups — from every orientation — claim to be “We the People.” Democrats used it to attack the Bush administration. Republicans use it now to attack the Obama administration. (The Tea Party groups seem to especially love the phrase.) Libertarians and various fringe groups do it at times, too.
In all cases, these groups are trying to claim that their views are the legitimate will of “the people.” The problem is that “the people” don’t speak with one voice. For instance, activists demanding gay marriage in the name of “We the People” have a very different thing to say than a religious group demanding recognition of the traditional definition of marriage, even though they also claim to speak for “We the People.”
There isn’t one big collective voice of “the people” speaking. There wasn’t one when the Constitution was adopted. There’s no such thing as a collective will — and there’s no moral way to impose One True Way on everybody in the name of “We the People.”
The word “we” is dangerous. Humans are tribal and like to see themselves as a collective, but the nationalism of “we” leads to the belief that the individual has to be subservient to the majority. A tyranny of the majority is still tyranny. Don’t strive to be a part of any “we” that isn’t completely voluntary. Don’t let anyone else shame you into being obedient to a government because “we” decided what you should do.
The truth is that “We the People” is an emotional phrase that’s been used to mean many different things to many different people, frequently by demagogues preying on people’s ingrained emotional loyalties. But we need to quit looking to vague and misleading collective phrases such as this. We need to realize that we’re all individuals, with the right to go our own different ways.
If we’re going to get to work on the serious business of finding peaceful ways to accomplish that, we have to give up on the emotional fiction that any of us — or any group of us — speak for “We the People.”