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Constitutional Redemption: Political Faith in an Unjust World

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Overview

Political constitutions, hammered out by imperfect human beings in periods of intense political controversy, are always compromises with injustice. What makes the U.S. Constitution legitimate, argues this daring book, is Americans’ enduring faith that the Constitution’s promises can someday be redeemed, and the constitutional system be made “a more perfect union.”

A leading constitutional theorist, Balkin argues eloquently that the American constitutional project is based in faith, hope, and a narrative of shared redemption. Our belief that the Constitution will deliver us from evil shows in the stories we tell one another about where our country came from and where it is headed, and in the way we use these historical touchstones to justify our fervent (and opposed) political creeds. Because Americans have believed in a story of constitutional redemption, we have assumed the right to decide for ourselves what the Constitution means, and have worked to persuade others to set it on the right path. As a result, constitutional principles have often shifted dramatically over time. They are, in fact, often political compromises in disguise.

What will such a Constitution become? We cannot know. But our belief in the legitimacy of the Constitution requires a leap of faith—a gamble on the ultimate vindication of a political project that has already survived many follies and near-catastrophes, and whose destiny is still over the horizon.

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Editorial Reviews

The Daily

A theoretically dense volume that will reward the scrutiny of constitutional lawyers.
— Daniel Sullivan

Choice

Constitutional Redemption is a wonderful book. Just when readers might think that there is nothing new that can be said about the U.S. Constitution and its meanings, along comes Balkin's book, which, much to this reviewer's surprise, offers a bracing and innovative perspective on the cultural and political life on the Constitution. As Balkin sees it, what constitutional scholars need to explain is America's attachment to and continuing belief in that document, a document that is flawed and often seems out-of-date. To explain why Americans continue to believe in the Constitution's legitimacy, Balkin turns to the idea of faith. It is faith in the Constitution's redemptive promise that sustains the public's attachment. "Redemption," Balkin argues, "is not simply reform, but change that fulfills the promise of the past." Redemption is important because all constitutions are marked by unfulfilled promises. While praising the idea of faith in the Constitution, Balkin attends to its dangers, warning readers that constitutions produce losers as well as winners and that faith can easily become idolatry. Constitutional Redemption is a landmark in constitutional scholarship.
— A. D. Sarat

James E. Fleming
Balkin's book is both acute and inspiring--Balkin at his best. Wonderfully articulate, provocative, and illuminating, Balkin offers a remarkably original and unified argument that the long history of struggle over the Constitution's commitments can best be understood as a nation's story of faith, doubt, and redemption.
Mark Graber
A wonderful meditation on the American constitutional story. Balkin's living originalism challenges both those who would unmoor constitutionalism completely from the past, and those who would have us ruled by long-dead white men in hideous wigs.
Richard Primus
Part of the reason that all Americans can venerate the Constitution is that we each see it a little differently. What binds us together, Jack Balkin argues, is a shared faith that the promise of America can be redeemed through the Constitution. We do not decide what will happen in America simply by consulting the Constitution. We decide what the Constitution means partly by asking what America ought to be.
William Forbath
Conservatives claim to be the Constitution's only true believers. Jack Balkin has written a liberal's constitutional credo. A statement of faith, this book is also a brilliant meditation on what it means to be faithful to the American constitutional enterprise, lighting up the perplexing and profound intersections of constitutional history and morality. Let's hope Balkin helps revive the vital progressive tradition of constitutional hope.
The Daily - Daniel Sullivan
A theoretically dense volume that will reward the scrutiny of constitutional lawyers.
Choice - A. D. Sarat
Constitutional Redemption is a wonderful book. Just when readers might think that there is nothing new that can be said about the U.S. Constitution and its meanings, along comes Balkin's book, which, much to this reviewer's surprise, offers a bracing and innovative perspective on the cultural and political life on the Constitution. As Balkin sees it, what constitutional scholars need to explain is America's attachment to and continuing belief in that document, a document that is flawed and often seems out-of-date. To explain why Americans continue to believe in the Constitution's legitimacy, Balkin turns to the idea of faith. It is faith in the Constitution's redemptive promise that sustains the public's attachment. "Redemption," Balkin argues, "is not simply reform, but change that fulfills the promise of the past." Redemption is important because all constitutions are marked by unfulfilled promises. While praising the idea of faith in the Constitution, Balkin attends to its dangers, warning readers that constitutions produce losers as well as winners and that faith can easily become idolatry. Constitutional Redemption is a landmark in constitutional scholarship.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674058743
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 5/9/2011
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Jack M. Balkin is Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment and Director of the Information Society Project and the Knight Law and Media Program, all at Yale Law School.
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