Rick Santorum thinks the Constitution has to be interpreted “in the context of” the Declaration of Independence:
Ron Paul has a libertarian view of the Constitution. I do not. The Constitution has to be read in the context of another founding document, and that’s the Declaration of Independence. Our country never was a libertarian idea of radical individualism. We have certain values and principles that are embodied in our country. We have God-given rights.
The Constitution is not the “why” of America; it’s the “how” of America. It’s the operator’s manual. It’s the rules we have to play by to ensure something. And what do we ensure? God-given rights. And so to read the Constitution as the end-all, be-all is, in a sense, what happened in France [bold mine-DL]. You see, during the time of our revolution, we had a Declaration of Independence that said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, [that they are] endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
So we were founded as a country that had God-given rights that the government had to respect. And with those rights come responsibilities, right? God did not just give us rights. He gave us a moral code by which to exercise them.
Santorum’s position is a fairly common one among certain groups of Christian conservatives. It also confuses several things at once. It isn’t particularly “libertarian” to read the Constitution without referring to the Declaration. The Constitution is the federal republic’s fundamental law, and the Declaration was mainly a list of complaints, so there’s no reason why we should read the one in connection with the other. Constitutionalism as such doesn’t endorse “radical individualism.” Among contemporary constitutionalists, one is more likely to find people sympathetic to communitarian ideas and critical of social atomization.
The Constitution was originally a centralizing power-grab at the expense of the states, and until the Bill of Rights was added to it there was nothing very “libertarian” about it, except that it defined and limited the powers of a government. Incorporating explicit protections for the rights of individual citizens was a concession to critics of the Constitution. These protections were originally included solely to restrain the powers of the new federal government. The legal rights in the amendments to the Constitution are something different from the rights and responsibilities Santorum is describing, but he is muddling them together to tie his concerns about moral conduct to constitutional law.
He expands on the reference to France:
I would argue that [Paul’s] understanding of the Constitution was similar to the French Revolution and the French understanding of the Constitution. The French had 21, I think, constitutions, but their constitutions were initially patterned after the American Constitution. Gave radical freedom, like ours does. But their founding document was not the Declaration of Independence. Their founding watchwords were the words, “liberty” and “fraternity.” Fraternity. Brotherhood. But no fatherhood. No God. It was a completely secular revolution. An anti-clerical revolution. And the root of it was, whoever’s in power rules.
This is a mess. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was modeled on the Declaration of Independence, and the first one mentions the National Assembly being “in the presence and under auspices of the Supreme Being.” That’s a vague and Deistic way of referring to God, but then so are the references to God in our Declaration. Yes, the French Revolution later became anti-clerical and extremely hostile to the Catholic Church. Its substitute religion was meant to replace Christianity, so it wasn’t quite secular in the way Santorum means it. What does any of this have to do with Paul’s strict constructionist views? I have no idea, and I suspect Santorum doesn’t either.