We the People, Vol. 1: Foundations

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9780674948402: We the People, Vol. 1: Foundations

Bruce Ackerman offers a sweeping reinterpretation of our nation's constitutional experience and its promise for the future. Integrating themes from American history, political science, and philosophy, We the People confronts the past, present, and future of popular sovereignty in America. Only this distinguished scholar could present such an insightful view of the role of the Supreme Court. Rejecting arguments of judicial activists, proceduralists, and neoconservatives, Ackerman proposes a new model of judicial interpretation that would synthesize the constitutional contributions of many generations into a coherent whole. The author ranges from examining the origins of the dualist tradition in the Federalist Papers to reflecting upon recent, historic constitutional decisions. The latest revolutions in civil rights, and the right to privacy, are integrated into the fabric of constitutionalism. Today's Constitution can best be seen as the product of three great exercises in popular sovereignty, led by the Founding Federalists in the 1780s, the Reconstruction Republicans in the 1860s, and the New Deal Democrats in the 1930s.

Ackerman examines the roles played during each of these periods by the Congress, the Presidency, and the Supreme Court. He shows that Americans have built a distinctive type of constitutional democracy, unlike any prevailing in Europe. It is a dualist democracy, characterized by its continuing effort to distinguish between two kinds of politics: normal politics, in which organized interest groups try to influence democratically elected representatives; and constitutional politics, in which the mass of citizens mobilize to debate matters of fundamental principle. Although American history is dominated by normal politics, our tradition places a higher value on mobilized efforts to gain the consent of the people to new governing principles.In a dualist democracy, the rare triumphs of constitutional politics determine the course of normal politics.More than a decade in the making, and the first of three volumes, this compelling book speaks to all who seek to renew and redefine our civic commitments in the decades ahead.

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About the Author :

Bruce Ackerman is Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University.

From Kirkus Reviews :

From distinguished legal scholar Ackerman (Law & Political Science/Yale; Reconstructing American Law, 1984, etc.)--an original and insightful study of the theoretical and historical evolution of the Constitution, and its meaning in modern times. Ackerman creates analytical categories that define both America's distinctive constitutional system and its transformative constitutional experiences. He says that while the American democratic system borrowed much from European theory, Americans have created a novel constitutional system that, unlike the British or German models, distinguishes between two types of politics. In ``normal politics,'' a politically disengaged populace permits interest groups to lobby democratically elected representatives while the representatives make policy, and in ``constitutional politics,'' society mobilizes to debate matters of fundamental principle. Ackerman sees three great transformative movements of constitutional politics--the establishment of the basic framework in the 1780's, the reforms of the Reconstruction Republicans in the 1860's, and those of the New Deal Democrats in the 1930's (who effected their sweeping reinterpretation of the Constitution by means of seminal Supreme Court decisions rather than by Constitutional amendments). Each of these movements, the author says, was characterized by legal creativity bordering on illegality (the framing of the Constitution did not use the amendment process of the then-regnant Articles of Confederation, and the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments did not use the amendment process of Article Five of the Constitution), but, Ackerman argues, each was an authentic response to political crises of its time and was ultimately legitimized by the people. While Ackerman admires the Constitution, he is not blind to its faults or to its historical and imperfect compromises. However, he calls on private American citizens--those whose concern with government competes with other personal concerns--to work for the fulfillment of its egalitarian promises. A thoughtful, informative, and inspiring introduction to our national bedrock. -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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