On historical decisions

There are a lot of steps to be taken before a historical step, or any event, or document, may be confidently identified. Fundamentalists skip these steps. There is a nice account in ‘Original Meanings’ from Jack Rackove, about the making of the US constitution, of just how many angles there are to be considered in the identification of intent in a document:

… their real challenge did not involve solving theoretical dilemmas posed by Hobbes or Locke or Montesquieu; it instead required efforts to accommodate the conflicting interests of different states and regions on such matters as the apportionment of representation and taxes, the regulation of commerce, and the extension of the slave trade. (p. 15)

How cleanly could a document so formed be read for original intent and meaning?  (The book goes on, it doesn’t just trash the prospect of meaning. But the question stays strong.)

The constitution is not a score, of course, and its authors were many, not a solitary genius-type. But the obstacles between a performer and a score, if not so numerous, are at least also infinite.

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