Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Kurt Goedel and Constitutional Tyranny

An amusing anecdote from the life of Kurt "Incompleteness Theorem" Goedel:

So naïve and otherworldly was the great logician that Einstein felt obliged to help look after the practical aspects of his life. One much retailed story concerns Gödel’s decision after the war to become an American citizen. The character witnesses at his hearing were to be Einstein and Oskar Morgenstern, one of the founders of game theory. Gödel took the matter of citizenship with great solemnity, preparing for the exam by making a close study of the United States Constitution. On the eve of the hearing, he called Morgenstern in an agitated state, saying he had found an “inconsistency” in the Constitution, one that could allow a dictatorship to arise. Morgenstern was amused, but he realized that Gödel was serious and urged him not to mention it to the judge, fearing that it would jeopardize Gödel’s citizenship bid. On the short drive to Trenton the next day, with Morgenstern serving as chauffeur, Einstein tried to distract Gödel with jokes. When they arrived at the courthouse, the judge was impressed by Gödel’s eminent witnesses, and he invited the trio into his chambers. After some small talk, he said to Gödel, “Up to now you have held German citizenship.”

No, Gödel corrected, Austrian.

“In any case, it was under an evil dictatorship,” the judge continued. “Fortunately that’s not possible in America.”

“On the contrary, I can prove it is possible!” Gödel exclaimed, and he began describing the constitutional loophole he had descried. But the judge told the examinee that “he needn’t go into that,” and Einstein and Morgenstern succeeded in quieting him down. A few months later, Gödel took his oath of citizenship.
The New Yorker

I heard this story from Father Edward T. Oakes, who last night graced the Denver ROFTERS with his presence. Father Oakes said that Goedel's "dictator loophole" was the judiciary. The absent-minded thinker voicing his caveats about judicial tyranny in front of a judge certainly enlivens the story, and jibes with First Things' bete noir, a tyrannous judiciary.

But it seems that nobody really knows what loophole Goedel believed that he had found. The Fourteenth Circuit recounts its own unsuccesful attempts to track down this contitutional achilles' heel.

1 comment:

Rick DeLano said...

When one homosexual activist can overturn the votes of seven million Californians, discover a right to gay marriage previously unsuspected throughout all of US (and human!) history, and then claim that the intervenors lack standing to appeal, we have the full-grown framework of a dictatorship in fact, not merely in potential.

If Einstein had shut that judge up and let Godel show us his proof, he would probably have performed a lasting service to the human species, as opposed to his fantastical universe of shrinking rods, which was useful, they say, but has long since passed its smell-funny date.