The Kurt Gödel Constitutional Dictatorship Loophole

I had heard the story of Kurt Gödel discovering an inconsistency in the U.S. Constitution, one that would allow the U.S. to become a dictatorship. Towards the end of his life Oskar Morgenstern, who along with Albert Einstein went to the citizenship hearing for Gödel (all three were Institute for Advanced Study faculty at the time) recounted the events of that citizenship hearing. The exchange went something like this:

And then he turned to Gödel and said, Now, Mr. Gödel, where do you come from?
Gödel: Where I come from? Austria.
The examiner: What kind of government did you have in Austria?
Gödel: It was a republic, but the constitution was such that it finally was changed into a dictatorship.
The examiner: Oh! This is very bad. This could not happen in this country.
Gödel: Oh, yes, I can prove it.

As far as I’m aware, his discovery was never published and was either never revealed or lost through the years. I can’t imagine how three of the greatest minds to ever gather in one location (and they went as far as working in the same institution) could have avoided debating such a topic.

The memorandum from Morgenstern recounting the event (found here) is linked below and mirrored for posterity:
Morgenstern on Gödel citizenship [PDF] | original [PDF]

15 replies on “The Kurt Gödel Constitutional Dictatorship Loophole”

As a lawyer, I find this very unlikely. Merely reading the constitution does not tell you its contents and meaning. Sure, it looks pretty broad in some areas and paltry in others, but you’d have to slog through hundreds and hundreds of pages of supreme court decisions to even test a theory like that.

No constitutional scholar has ever come up with this. As a lawyer, would you take my word on mathematics that I found an inconsistency that breaks the entire system?

Mathematics underlies everything – science, law, music, nature itself. It’s the highest authority.

He wasn’t just a mathematician though, he was one of the world’s foremost logicians. So he could have found an inconsistency that was purely based on the logical steps, as opposed to the components of the articles etc

For a state to always hold true, any and all options must hold true throughout the proof to remain such. One deviation, no matter how slight, will make this falter.

It is simply a matter of true or false. Much like law is when the judge cannot pass a ruling of “maybe”. You have always either done right or wrong.

Any “maybe” is simply a matter of discussion prior to a trial. Not in the verdict. As a lawyer you must surely be aware of this.

I will give you right that the precedents may have been interpreted differently, but that does not negate the possibility, however slight, that such rulings may change in the future due to political climate.

Actually, in mathematics we could take your proof as interesting. But, unlike in the law, math has a rigorous procedure for validating proofs.

On the other hand, if you claimed to be able to do something that provably cannot be done (like trisecting a general angle), then no math department is going to invest in finding the error in your proof (though it might make a good weekend project for a graduate student, as an exercise).

actually gvb, there are quite a few lawyer by profession mathematicians that have made contributions to the field.

this was probably a logical argument for dictatorship, not a legal argument.

Very good point Rob.

GVB you start with an appeal to authority. You could have been the bottom of your class for all we know.

What do you call a medical student at the bottom of his class? Doctor.

I would assume he laid out every check and balance point as a variable then prooved a possible irriversable scenario (i.e. Dictatorship)

I made what must be the same argument while still in high school (1950-54). Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote that “logic has not been the light of the law, it has been experience,” and that is the logical flaw in the Constitution. If a Supreme Court or a President has the power to on any basis democratic or otherwise interpret the law any way they see fit, then the law of the land becomes “experience, not logic.” In Roe v. Wade, for instance (and among others the like), the Supreme Court decided on the basis of “experience” – political epediency – what “life” is. A sitting president, having the power by law to “stack” the Supreme Court, can have the law interpreted any way he sees fit (just as that occurred in Nazi German). In short, if enough people support another Hitler, the law will be what he says it is.

We are now ripe for dictatorship, something Mr. Obama knows. The people have learned that they can vote themselves a living. Benjamin Franklin, in other words, knew what Goedel (and I) knew.

Yes. We see where they have taken the bit that says “Congress shall enact no law… ” To now mean that no federal, state or local government (i.e. NOT Congress) can permit any type of anything that might have any religious content. While I’m not opposed to that being the case, I fail to see how this clause “Says” that.

This is nothing new however. The Executive and legislative have been leeching away our freedoms ever since the Fed used troops to stop the legal seccession of the southern states. At that time President Lincoln impossed an income Tax which the Supreme court ruled unconstitutional (until Congress Magically made it legal).

Social Security was billed as “Totally Voluntary”, the payout would not be taxed and the money never used for anything else… NONE of which is true today.

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