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Balkin, Jack M. Constitutional Redemption: Political Faith in an Unjust World.

BALKIN, Jack M. Constitutional Redemption: Political Faith in an Unjust World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011. 304 pp. Cloth, $35.00--This is one of a pair of books that Yale Law School's Jack Balkin has recently published. Its semi-companion, Living Originalism, argues for a progressive-minded approach to originalist constitutional theory, combining fidelity to the original text with an appreciation for living constitutional practice. Constitutional Redemption seeks to justify the American constitutional project itself. Balkin's version of originalism is particularly concerned with accounting for the influence of social movements in influencing contemporary conceptions of constitutional meaning, even as the ancient text is preserved. Here he is interested in examining how political actors conceptualize their own actions as participants in the American constitutional culture. Of particular concern for Balkin is how and why citizens, activists, and politicians tend to adopt a stance of constitutional reform rather than constitutional revolution. How do we maintain faith in the inherited constitutional project despite apparent injustices and inequities that persist within that project? There is, perhaps, an implicit dialogue in these pages with Balkin's frequent coauthor, Sandy Levinson, who has recently argued for an abandonment of the "constitutional faith" that he once advocated in favor of a project of dramatic reform of our "undemocratic constitution." Balkin still has the faith, in part, because he continues to believe that the American constitutional system is fundamentally democratic. His Vision of American constitutionalism is one in which "the people are engaged in a project of governance extended over time in which successive generations participate." According to Balkin, crucial to the legitimacy and success of the American constitutional experiment is the ability of the people to plausibly tell themselves a story in which "We the People" govern and the "future trajectory" of the Constitution is an attractive one. The people must continue to believe in the possibility of redemption, that current injustices can be ameliorated in time by better realizing the promises inherent in the constitutional inheritance. If such a narrative were to break down, so would the constitutional system. This book consists of a series of essays, most of which are lightly revised versions of previously published articles, exploring the tensions in and challenges to this vision of the Constitution. The twin problems of "constitutional evil" and "constitutional tragedy" hover over these explorations, and Balkin is particularly critical of lawyerly ways of thinking which might tend to undermine a popular constitutional faith or resist popular movements to redeem constitutional imperfections. Balkin's constitution is a people's document more than a lawyer's document. Not only is it shaped by political action and events, but its legitimacy and efficacy are sustained by popular engagement with its terms. Balkin is somewhat vague about the contours of his progressive constitutional faith, and he does not himself offer much of a story to draw the citizenry in to his redemptive constitutional project. He is convinced that constitutional faith in a better tomorrow is crucial to American democracy, but the details of why the Constitution bears so much of the burden of our political hopes are a bit sketchy. The relative importance of the Constitution to American stories of peoplehood is assumed more than examined. Nonetheless, this is a bracing and engaging book, which helps fill out important components of the emerging constitutional vision of many contemporary political progressives. Balkin's version of a living constitution requires that citizens recognize both their freedom and their responsibility to improve the constitutional inheritance and pass on a legacy that is worth being received. Engaging in the never-ending struggle over constitutional meaning is the foremost duty of the citizen.--Keith E. Whittington, Princeton University.
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Author:Whittington, Keith E.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2012
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