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Kurt Gödel seems to have proven that this is possible, according to the Wikipedia article:

On December 5, 1947, Einstein and Morgenstern accompanied Gödel to his U.S. citizenship exam, where they acted as witnesses. Gödel had confided in them that he had discovered an inconsistency in the U.S. Constitution that could allow the U.S. to become a dictatorship. Einstein and Morgenstern were concerned that their friend's unpredictable behavior might jeopardize his application. Fortunately, the judge turned out to be Phillip Forman, who knew Einstein and had administered the oath at Einstein's own citizenship hearing. Everything went smoothly until Forman happened to ask Gödel if he thought a dictatorship like the Nazi regime could happen in the U.S. Gödel then started to explain his discovery to Forman. Forman understood what was going on, cut Gödel off, and moved the hearing on to other questions and a routine conclusion.[16][17]

But I can't find anything about the details of Gödel's argument in the cited sources.

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    I managed to find a paper on this subject, though the short answer is that the story is largely unsupported by evidence and seriously apocyrphal. Nevertheless, I'll try to construct an answer based on this paper. – Avi Jan 25 '16 at 9:42
  • @Avi - there's another paper (or a whole book) on the topic. Unless my wires crossed somewhere, it's by the same person who wrote Marpa parser (IIRC his blog was "Ocean of Awareness?") and if so, should be findable. ... update: jeffreykegler.com – user4012 Jan 25 '16 at 18:56
  • @user4012 I think I found the SSRN link from this guy's website, so that seems likely. – Avi Jan 25 '16 at 19:04
  • Was posted on Quora in 2012.... – Peter Mortensen Oct 3 '17 at 15:50
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I found a paper on this subject on the Social Science Research Network. This paper discusses what is known of Gödel's supposed Constitutional loophole, and proposes and discusses a number of hypotheses as to what that loophole might be.

The first thing to note is the lack of concrete evidence as to what this loophole is. Though several accounts indicate that Gödel believed he found a loophole, none seem to contain any details as to what that loophole was, none were transcribed around the time of his study of Constitutional Law, and many seem to disagree on minor details. Nevertheless, we can examine the proposed loopholes, and determine if any of them are worth our concern.


The author of the paper proposes that Gödel believed that the Constitution permitted dictatorship through amendment; specifically, that by amending the rules of amendment in the Constitution, Congress and the states could make future amendments trivially easy to implement. This could allow the US to become a dictatorship (or otherwise transform its government) very easily.

This "loophole", it seems to me at least, is obvious, and not particularly threatening. Though it does mean that Congress and the States, through supermajority, could push the United States in the direction of a dictatorship, the ability to change our form of government is the plain purpose of Article V. There is no reason to think that the Constitution would only allow good amendments; indeed, many of the amendments that existed at the time of Gödel's citizenship test (in particular, the 2nd and 11th Amendments) are highly controversial.

Furthermore, as the article suggests, such problems may not even be theoretically solvable. Any clause that would prohibit the amendment of the rules of amendment could itself be amended. And ultimately, if enough people want to change their form of government, they could simply ignore the Constitution and establish a new one. This was, after all, what happened with the Articles of Confederation. Changes to the Constitution requiring approximately this level of coordination hardly count as "loopholes".


The author then proceeds to discuss more mundane controversies of Constitutional law, and dismisses the notion that these were the kinds of controversies of which Gödel was thinking. Indeed, these potential "problems" hardly count as loopholes, especially when it is often vehemently argued that these "problems" are the exact outcomes the Constitution intended.

In particular, the author dismisses the notions that Gödel may have been concerned with a broad interpretation of Congress' power under the interstate Commerce Clause, a broad interpretation of the President's power under the Executive Vesting Clause, and a broad interpretation of the Judiciary's power under Article III.

Without going into comprehensive review of the vast amounts of case law on these issues, it is fair to say that these can't be considered loopholes. Though there is controversy about each the power of each of the branches of government, the argument generally goes that either the Constitution doesn't grant the government broad powers (see Hamer v. Dagenhart, Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, and Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife for narrow interpretations of the legislative, executive, and judicial power, respectively), or that it does and that this is the intention of the Constitution (Wickard v. Fillburn, Korematsu v. United States, Cooper v. Aaron).

In either case, there is no loophole. Either the Constitution prohibits a power, or intends it; it doesn't allow it unintentionally.


Finally, the author proposes that Gödel may have been concerned with Congress' power to admit new states. As this only requires a Congressional majority, a Congress seeking to pass a Constitutional amendment without the consent of the states (Article V requires that 3/4 of the states ratify an Amendment) could, by simple majority, create 150 new states, potentially containing as their population only members of Congress favoring the new Amendments. These puppet states would then presumably all agree to ratify any Amendment.

However, this would be difficult, if not impossible. First, it would require the consent of some of the states, which is exactly the kind of thing that Congress, in this scenario, would be trying to avoid. Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution says:

no new states shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other state; nor any state be formed by the junction of two or more states, or parts of states, without the consent of the legislatures of the states concerned as well as of the Congress.

Note the emphasized text; the creation of new states would require the consent of the states in which they were created. Furthermore, even they could find a way to construct 150 new states with the consent of fewer than 3/4s of the states, the creation of 150 new states is not a trivial task, requiring the approval of a majority of Congress each time.

And finally, even if Congress successfully managed to create an appropriate number of puppet states, a supermajority would still be required to amend the Constitution; in the end, Congress would have made the amendment process much more difficult, not less difficult.


Ultimately, there is no record of what Gödel may have found or thought he found in the Constitution, and examination of potential hypotheses as to the loophole has not generated any cause for concern. The American Constitution is not a long document, and the entire legal field has been dedicated to interpreting it and pushing its limits for well over two centuries. If there were a fatal flaw, we likely would have found it by now.

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    At the time, 1947, Congress could have created new states in the territories of Alaska and Hawai. Il could still also create new states in the District of Columbia. These 3 entities don't have the protection given in Article IV. But I don't see how this could be an "inconsistency". An inconsistency, to a logician, and Godel is THE great logician of the 20th century, would be that the constitution has a clause saying A and another not-A or if from the constitution, a legal expert could derive the statements B and not-B. – Bernard Masse Jan 26 '16 at 0:33
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    @Agc That's not what an argument from ignorance is. The wikipedia article starts by saying that the argument from ignorance creates a false dichotomy that ignores the possibility that there simply hasn't been sufficient investigation to determine something's existence. I'm not ignoring the possibility; I am saying that investigation has been quite thorough. – Avi Jan 23 '17 at 18:38
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    @agc I think "pragmatically sufficient" is a little too dismissive. In any kind of scientific investigation, a sufficiently high number of null results can usually be considered sufficient to justify a belief in the null hypothesis. In that case, it's not an argument form ignorance to say that the null hypothesis is likely correct. – Avi Jan 23 '17 at 22:31
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    @agc I don't see what that has to do with that statement though. I wasn't saying that Godel would have dismissed even the logical possibility of a loophole because none was found by now; I was saying that we don't need to worry much about one because nobody has found one by now. – Avi Jan 24 '17 at 18:25
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    @agc, Constitutions are not mathematics. Legislation is not logic. Formal proofs are not empirical workability. And people are not numbers, symbols, objects or notation. Also: written laws are not laws in practice and application. "Loopholes" in abstract theory do not guarantee failure in practice. Perfection of theory does not guarantee success in practice. These are all distinctions and differentiations that you should understand VERY clearly if you want to debate on this subject. – Wildcard Feb 10 '17 at 7:54
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Godel probably (re)discovered the so-called "runaway convention" scenario for an article V convention called by two-thirds of the states. Many, many opponents of this modality have made the same point.

The "run-away convention" scenario refers to the possibility that a convention called to proposed amendments pursuant to Article V could instead claim to exercise unlimited sovereignty over the United States of America. Something akin to this actually happened in France, with the calling of the Estates-General, leading to the French Revolution. Ivy League Professor Laurence Tribe has testified before state legislatures on several occasions on this possibility.

  • Would it need to claim to exercise unlimited sovereignty over the USA? It could instead amend the constitution to give itself unlimited sovereignty over the USA. – phoog Oct 19 '17 at 18:51
  • In the comparation with France, we should note that their was no constitution (nor fundamental law) under Louis XVI, so discussing whether the Estates-General forming a Constituent Assembly is or isn't "violating the constitution" is pointless. – Evargalo Feb 26 '18 at 15:12

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