Skip to main content

30% Off New Releases: Explore the List

Harvard University Press - home
We the People, Volume 2: Transformations

We the People, Volume 2: Transformations

Bruce Ackerman

ISBN 9780674003972

Publication date: 09/15/2000

Request exam copy

Constitutional change, seemingly so orderly, formal, and refined, has in fact been a revolutionary process from the first, as Bruce Ackerman makes clear in We the People: Transformations. The Founding Fathers, hardly the genteel conservatives of myth, set America on a remarkable course of revolutionary disruption and constitutional creativity that endures to this day. After the bloody sacrifices of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party revolutionized the traditional system of constitutional amendment as they put principles of liberty and equality into higher law. Another wrenching transformation occurred during the Great Depression, when Franklin Roosevelt and his New Dealers vindicated a new vision of activist government against an assault by the Supreme Court.

These are the crucial episodes in American constitutional history that Ackerman takes up in this second volume of a trilogy hailed as "one of the most important contributions to American constitutional thought in the last half-century" (Cass Sunstein, New Republic). In each case he shows how the American people--whether led by the Founding Federalists or the Lincoln Republicans or the Roosevelt Democrats--have confronted the Constitution in its moments of great crisis with dramatic acts of upheaval, always in the name of popular sovereignty. A thoroughly new way of understanding constitutional development, We the People: Transformations reveals how America's "dualist democracy" provides for these populist upheavals that amend the Constitution, often without formalities.

The book also sets contemporary events, such as the Reagan Revolution and Roe v. Wade, in deeper constitutional perspective. In this context Ackerman exposes basic constitutional problems inherited from the New Deal Revolution and exacerbated by the Reagan Revolution, then considers the fundamental reforms that might resolve them. A bold challenge to formalist and fundamentalist views, this volume demonstrates that ongoing struggle over America's national identity, rather than consensus, marks its constitutional history.

Praise

  • It sounds rather, well, unconstitutional to say the Constitution can be ignored when great issues are at stake, so long as the People are on your side. But that concept, according to Mr. Ackerman, is the key to understanding our constitutional system...Mr. Ackerman is attempting [a] revolution in the way we look at constitutional law. It's a massive endeavor...[which] mates history and legal theory at a time when specialization has sent the two disciplines in different directions...[It has] drawn much praise--Sanford Levinson, of the University of Texas's law school, has called it 'The most important project now under way in the entire field of constitutional theory'...This is one professor, it's safe to say, who couldn't be accused of dodging the big questions.

    —Christopher Shea, The Chronicle of Higher Education

Author

  • Bruce Ackerman is Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University and the award-winning author of eighteen books, including Social Justice in the Liberal State and his multivolume constitutional history We the People. His book The Stakeholder Society (written with Anne Alstott) served as a basis for Tony Blair’s introduction of child investment accounts in the United Kingdom. He contributes frequently to the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. Ackerman is a member of the American Law Institute and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the recipient of the American Philosophical Society’s Henry M. Phillips Prize for lifetime achievement in jurisprudence.

Book Details

  • 538 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press

From this author

Recommendations