Sunday, March 28, 2004

Is the turn toward "intention" in reading always a conservative one?

I read an article this morning on Hong Kong's Basic Law, the mini-constitution put into place with the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997. The Basic Law was designed to preserve some semblance of democracy (or, rather, to create it, since Hong Kong was never self-governing under the Brits) and, most importantly, Hong Kong's capitalist system, even as it became a territory of communist China: the famous "one country, two systems" formula. However, the Chinese government has become increasingly uncomfortable with even the limited freedoms the Basic Law grants; yesterday's article reports that Chinese officials are arguing for a new interpretation of the Basic Law that " look[s] beyond the exact language of the law to the intentions of the negotiators, especially the Chinese negotiators, who drafted it"--an appeal to "intention" that's obviously intended to curtail civil liberties.

I couldn't help but think as I read this of George W. Bush's assertion that he supports (as does his judicial hero, Justice Scalia) a "strict construction" of the Constitution, an allegedly "literal" reading that often relies heavily on appeals to the intentions of the Founding Fathers; or, indeed, of the very idea of "fundamentalist" Christianity, with its image of the Bible as the "literal" and intended word of God.

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