A robust defense of democratic populism by one of America’s most renowned and controversial constitutional scholars—the award-winning author of We the People.
Populism is a threat to the democratic world, fuel for demagogues and reactionary crowds—or so its critics would have us believe. But in his award-winning trilogy We the People, Bruce Ackerman showed that Americans have repeatedly rejected this view. Now he draws on a quarter century of scholarship in this essential and surprising inquiry into the origins, successes, and threats to revolutionary constitutionalism around the world. He takes us to India, South Africa, Italy, France, Poland, Burma, Israel, and Iran and provides a blow-by-blow account of the tribulations that confronted popular movements in their insurgent campaigns for constitutional democracy. Despite their many differences, populist leaders such as Nehru, Mandela, and de Gaulle encountered similar dilemmas at critical turning points, and each managed something overlooked but essential. Rather than deploy their charismatic leadership to retain power, they instead used it to confer legitimacy to the citizens and institutions of constitutional democracy.
Ackerman returns to the United States in his last chapter to provide new insights into the Founders’ acts of constitutional statesmanship as they met very similar challenges to those confronting populist leaders today. In the age of Trump, the democratic system of checks and balances will not survive unless ordinary citizens rally to its defense. Revolutionary Constitutions shows how activists can learn from their predecessors’ successes and profit from their mistakes, and sets up Ackerman’s next volume, which will address how elites and insiders co-opt and destroy the momentum of revolutionary movements.
An ambitious and demanding book…What is most valuable in Revolutionary Constitutions is the sense of drama and detail in the history of constitutional construction…A considerable achievement…worth reading.
A robust defense of popular sovereignty as both constitutional ideal and practical possibility at a time when nominal democracies around the globe are slinking further away from anything like popular sovereignty…This is a work of bold theorizing and bolder faith (that is the best word for it) in the link between the people and the law, citizens and the state.
Bruce Ackerman’s Revolutionary Constitutions is a triumph. It enables the reader to appreciate the many complex factors that contribute to the legitimacy of constitutions and the creation of constitutionalism in a country. In doing so, Ackerman seamlessly navigates events, movements, and a range of charismatic constitutional personalities. He deftly discusses Nehru, Mandela, Ben-Gurion, and de Gaulle, amongst others, and their roles in the making or breaking of constitutional revolutions.
After changing how we think about the U.S. Constitution, Bruce Ackerman is doing the same for the rest of the world. This volume is a remarkable start for what is certain to become one of the most ambitious endeavors in constitutional scholarship: to understand the different beginnings of constitutionalism in the world.
From George Washington to Nelson Mandela, and from Ben-Gurion to Ayatollah Khomeini, Ackerman takes his theory of the central role of constitutional politics in the creation and evolution of constitutions into a comparativist sphere and offers a theory of how typical patterns in revolutionary history shape the diverse constitutional challenges and trajectories we see in the world today. A project of grand intellectual ambition and a fascinating read.
- 472 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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