Friday, January 11, 2013

Sanford Levinson and Constitutional Faith


I've posted my new article, Sanford Levinson's Second Thoughts About Constitutional Faith, on SSRN. It's a review of Sandy's republication of Constitutional Faith, with the new ending that states that he has lost his faith in the American Constitution.

Reviewing a book in which the author has significantly changed the ending was both intellectually challenging and fun; and it also gave me the chance to talk about larger issues of political faith, a recurring theme in my work, and the topic of a long conversation between Sandy and me over the years.

Here is the abstract:

Sanford Levinson's 1988 book, Constitutional Faith, described the U.S. Constitution as America's civil religion and closed with Levinson's statement of faith in the Constitution as "a commitment to taking political conversation seriously." In 2011, Levinson republished the book with an afterword in which he renounced his faith in the Constitution, denounced Americans' reverential attitude toward the document, and called for a new constitutional convention. In all other respects, however, the text of the book remains the same.

The afterword to the 2011 edition transforms the significance of all of the previous chapters and their arguments. It changes the location and the object of Levinson's political faith, and it alters the story that Levinson wants Americans to tell themselves about the meaning of American history. This essay reexamines the book's arguments in light of its new conclusion.

Once people lose faith in a relationship or an institution, they move from the "middle game" -- in which participants make mutual concessions to keep the relationship going -- to the "endgame," where participants seek to protect their interests and make a successful transition to a new life. In the same way, once people lose faith in the Constitution, it can no longer function as America's civil religion or as an aspirational source of values; instead it becomes a modus vivendi, a transitional state of affairs on the way to what participants hope will be a better political order.

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