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, We the People, Volume 1: Foundations speaks to all who seek to renew and redefine our civic commitments in the decades ahead.
[We the People] cuts through the futile and absurd search for the ‘original intent of the founders’ as the way to discover the will of the people. It recognizes that the great and extraordinary occasions required for action by the people have not been confined to a single instance in the eighteenth century. It deflates the pretensions of politicians in normal politics but magnifies the importance of political leadership in mobilizing popular support for constitutional politics when constitutional politics is needed. It gives pragmatic meaning to government of, by, and for the elusive, invisible, inaudible, but sovereign people.
This book is one of the most important contributions to American constitutional thought in the last half-century.
We the People can be recommended to anyone seeking a readable and complete introduction to the state of current Constitutional thought. Its analysis of the constraints on past and present judges and legal theorists, and the weaknesses in a panoply of jurisprudential positions is lucid and elegant.
The most important project now underway in the entire field of constitutional theory…to be published in this decade…indeed, perhaps in the past half-century… Ackerman posits a complex process of ‘Publian politics’ where ‘We the People’ become authorized to change the Constitution without ever invoking the procedures laid out in Article V… We the People can also lay claim to being the most significant work in ‘constructive’ American political thought since Louis Hartz’s The Liberal Tradition in America, published some 35 years ago… Ackerman is reopening the question about ‘American exceptionalism’ and arguing, with extraordinary vigor, that American political development is indeed importantly different from European and other models.
[We the People is] one of the most distinguished works on the American Constitution since World War II. It combines law, political theory, political science—and even a little economics—with a rare attention to history, and it does so while developing an extremely innovative and original argument, one that has a solid claim to acceptance… There is no doubt that the book will be highly influential. I think that it will significantly alter the way that people think and talk about the American Constitution… The book is extremely well-written. Indeed, it successfully carries out the most unusual task of making difficult matters accessible to an extremely wide audience… This is a truly distinguished contribution to constitutional thought, one that will reorient the field in major ways.
- 384 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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