Identifying an Enemy of the Constitution, Part One

by Dennis Haugh – April 3, 2022

In 2019, I published an article entitled “Against all Enemies.” I had pondered the clause on “domestic” enemies in the military oath for years, but meaningful conclusions about actions have been elusive. This article is the first of a series that revisits the question but focuses solely on identifying a domestic enemy.

All military personnel take an oath that includes the statement, “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” It is impossible to understand the true meaning of this statement without understanding first what a domestic enemy is. How does one identify this enemy of the Constitution? defines “enemy” as follows:

a person who feels hatred for, fosters harmful designs against, or engages in antagonistic activities against another; an adversary or opponent.

One interpretation of this definition would be to consider anyone who engages in antagonistic activities toward the Constitution as its enemy. It is a wide definition. Prior to the post-Civil War amendments, an abolitionist would be considered an enemy of the Constitution by this definition. But were they really enemies of the Constitution?

On the other hand, considering anyone who has harmful designs against the Constitution is a much narrower definition. It is both abstract enough to be universal and precise enough to be usefully applied. Intent to cause harm makes one an enemy. As should be the case, this definition frames domestic spies as enemies. But who else fits this definition?

The Constitution cannot be physically harmed because its essence is not the material document. The intention of the Constitution, as defined by the Declaration of Independence, is to establish a form of government that protects the inalienable rights of the people of the United States. That government is supposed to protect the people from foreign invasion (Article I, Section 8 and Article IV, Section 4) and restrain itself from encroaching on their rights (Article I, Section 9 and the Bill of Rights). Anyone who intentionally inhibits the government’s pursuit of these two goals harms the Constitution and is its enemy.

The Constitution is harmed by subverting its authority as the foundational law of the land. A domestic enemy is any American who either promotes foreign invasion or attacks the Bill of Rights. The former assaults national stability. The latter assaults individual freedoms.

The pre-Civil War abolitionists did not seek to help an invader, nor did they intend to encroach upon the inalienable rights of the people. In fact, they sought to correct rights violations. Abolition only confronted an inconsistency within the Constitution. The existence of the amendment process was always intended to address such errors. So, the wide definition of antagonism is a necessary element of determining a domestic enemy, but it is not sufficient.

The desire to correct injustice did not disappear. it gave birth to the progressive movement of the 19th century. The original progressives were republicans, not democrats, so it is not a party issue. Because of generation turns, all Americans have been taught to embrace progressive ideals without understanding the impacts upon their individual freedoms.

Historian William Leuchtenburg, a leading scholar on FDR,[1] summarizes progressivism in the United States as follows:

The Progressives believed in the Hamiltonian concept of positive government, of a national government directing the destinies of the nation at home and abroad. They had little but contempt for the strict construction of the Constitution by conservative judges, who would restrict the power of the national government to act against social evils and to extend the blessings of democracy to less favored lands. The real enemy was particularism, state rights, limited government.[2]

Instead of limiting government to let the people determine their social norms, the goal of progressivism became to use government to dictate the norms. The Constitution severely limited the extent to which this could be done, so it had to be ignored – and subverted – to enable progressive visions. Given this, can there be a clearer domestic enemy of the Constitution than progressivism? As Leuchtenburg puts it, progressivism is a concept. How does one defend against a concept?

The posts to follow will explore this subject in more detail.

[1] FDR is a hero of progressivism. This is a progressive historian’s definition.

[2] William Leuchtenburg, “Progressivism and Imperialism: The Progressive Movement and American Foreign Policy, 1898–1916,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 39, no. 3 (1952): 483–5.

Identifying the Enemy of the Constitution, Part I