Thanks to generous donations from our supporters, we created “Q & Abe” – a podcast that investigates real questions from visitors to the Cottage. This bonus episode accompanies the third episode of Season 2, What’s the difference between liberty and freedom?
Our journey working to answer the questions for the show sometimes leads to dialogue, conversations, and side pockets that don’t fit directly within the main episode, but are too fascinating not to share. Partway through our conversation with Didier Saillard, he had a question that resulted in a fascinating exchange about constitutions on both sides of the Atlantic.
In addition to the embedded media player below, you can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Stitcher / Google Podcasts or wherever you get podcasts. You also can read below for a transcript of the episode (transcript coming soon).
TRANSCRIPT OF EPISODE 2.3 BONUS CONTENT
Joan Cummins: Hi everybody – This is Joan and Callie from Q&Abe, a podcast by President Lincoln’s Cottage.
Callie Hawkins: Our journey working to answer the questions for the show sometimes leads to dialogue, conversations, and side pockets that don’t fit directly within the main episode, but are just too fascinating not to share.
JC: This bonus episode accompanies episode 2.3, What’s the difference between liberty and freedom?, so if you haven’t listened to that episode yet, that might be a good place to start.
CH: Partway through our conversation with Didier, he had a question for us that resulted in a fascinating exchange.
Didier Saillard: Yeah we had, we had that discussion about – to what extent do you think that it would be possible to change the Constitution? Like for example about the ah, the right to keep and bear arms? How, like… do you think it will ever be possible?
JC: Not at the moment. I don’t know about ever… I think the current approach is to try and tell people what kind of arms they are allowed to bear, without telling them they are not allowed to bear arms at all.
DS: Okay. Because that’s the like – we ah, we were like, when we, when I got the question and we started like, looking into it, we had that, the discussion, and people ah, often they’re, like students, French students, they ask me about that question.
DS: And I, and I tell them –
JC: [crosstalk] Of, when are Americans going to do something about this?
DS: Like, to… if, if it’s possible – because in France it’s really, really, really difficult to touch the ah, the Constitution. If you want to modify like even the ah, like the, the slightest detail, it’s hard. It takes years and years and years. And it’s ah, that’s why more and more politicians, they are asking for a Sixth Republic. Because by switching to a Sixth Republic –
JC: [crosstalk] Ah, to sort of redo the whole constitution?
DS: Exactly – keep, keep what you want, but since you are creating a new one, that would be easier to get rid of the ah, like the, the parts that you are, you don’t really agree on.
JC: Yeah. I would say we have a pretty good process for changing the Constitution in the US – I think that particular change is pretty unlikely at the moment.
DS: Okay. And like do you, do you think it’s the, the same for the ah, the, the Bill of Rights, like the first ten amendments?
JC: Whether anybody would change the Bill of Rights?
DS: Yes. Because it seems kind of like something, like, I don’t like to use the word “sacred,” but ah, it’s, it seems untouchable. Like set in stone.
CH: Well, so that’s an interesting question, because one of the things that I know about the modern fight to end slavery in the United States, it’s much easier – my understanding is that it’s much easier to change legal code in the 13th Amendment, or to, to sort of like tack on, to existing legal codes in the 13th Amendment, than it is to change the Constitution or to introduce new laws.
CH: So, I think the answer is, yes it’s a little bit easier to modify amendments but I think what that requires is political will –
CH: …to do so and I think what we – that’s what we’re lacking.
JC: But I would say also like, anything that is added to the Constitution as an amendment, it’s always an amendment. They never, they don’t delete anything.
JC: So you can add an amendment – like we had Prohibition in the US, where they added a constitutional amendment that you could not drink alcohol. And then about a decade of chaos ensued and then they added another amendment that were like, that was like: actually… undo. But they didn’t delete the, the Prohibition amendment, it’s just another amendment under it that says, we changed our minds.
DS: Okay and do you, do you have any like special… I don’t know, ah, organization to watch over this? Because in France, you have what we call the Conseil Constitutionnel – so, whatever decision is about to be made, or like, for all the new laws, and so on, they examine everything to see if it’s in accordance, like ah, if it’s feasible.
DS: Within the Constitution.
JC: I think in the US that’s kind of split up between the Supreme Court, whose job it is to decide what the Constitution means, and the Congress, whose job it is to add amendments to the Constitution if they want.
DS: Okay because here it’s a totally independent organization. Yes.
JC: Yeah no.
DS: So it’s neither, neither justice nor ah, government. They, they don’t have a say in what is constitutional and what is not. Only –
JC: [interrupting] How do they get their jobs?
DS: Ah! They are like ah, so there are like nine of them. Nine are designated by the ah, the President of the Republic, one by the President of the National Assembly and – no! Three by the President of the Republic, three by the President of the National Assembly, and three by the President of the Senate.
JC: Huh. Yea, so I would say the closest analogue we have is the Supreme Court.
CH: Yeah, those are lifetime appointments…
DS: And if you are former president, you are automatically entitled to ah, to sit in this council, but some of them ah, they just don’t, they just don’t accept the job.
JC: Wow… [laughter]
CH: Wow… man, I – there are so many things that we could say about that and, and sort of what that might look like here in the United States, I mean –
JC: We don’t like to let our presidents do much of anything after they’ve been president…
CH: No… we have a few former presidents who, you know, were, were still quite young when they left office, and have been very limited – though I think the sort of guard rails have, have maybe fallen off a little bit based on necessity lately, placed around, you know, what they, what they – the norms of what they, you know, maybe would have done or said in the past, but it’s really interesting.
JC: Because it’s a really important principle for Americans that there is a transfer of power, that the president, once the president is done being president, they are not part of the government anymore.
DS: Ah okay, but here ah, here it’s kind of like ah, it’s kind of the same. And usually they stop doing like any politics, and ah some of them go back to their former job. For example, like our current president used to be a banker. So I don’t know what he is going to do, but if he, if he leaves the office in 2022 he will be, I don’t know, 43? 44 years old?
JC: [laughter] Thank you so much Didier, it’s really been enjoyable to talk with you and we appreciate your insight from ah, this other perspective that we don’t have at all.
CH: Yea thank you so, so much.
DS: Thank, thank – I thank you! It was a real pleasure to ah, to discuss, like, such interesting ideas with you.
JC: Thanks for tuning in for this additional conversation – we’ll see you in a week with our next full episode! This episode was produced by me, Joan Cummins, and Callie Hawkins. Music for Q&Abe was written, performed, and is copyrighted by Clancy Newman.
CH: Q&Abe is possible thanks to generous supporters of President Lincoln’s Cottage. To find out how you can support this podcast and other programming, visit www.lincolncottage.org. You can also write to us at [email protected].
JC: President Lincoln’s Cottage is a home for brave ideas. Stay curious!