Foreword: Making Sense of an Eighteenth-Century Constitution in a Twenty-First-Century World
10 Pages Posted: 11 Mar 2008
The Maryland Constitutional Law Schmooze, "An Eighteenth-Century Constitution in a Twenty-First-Century World" explores the interpretive and political challenges inherent in recourse to an ancient text for resolving political questions. Although no Essay cites Quentin Skinner, the debates between participants in the Schmooze and this Symposium mirror the debates between Skinner and his critics. Some participants insist that crucial aspects of an eighteenth-century text remain vibrant at present, that contemporary political life would be improved by more careful study of the Constitution. Others blame crucial pathologies of American politics on a combination of too careful study of and too uncritical veneration for the constitutional text. All the following papers are Jeffersonian in that none "look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched." None "ascribe to the [Framers] . . . a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment." Both Sandy Levinson and his critics agree that "[e]ach generation . . . has . . . a right to choose for itself the form of government it believes most promotive of its own happiness." The dispute is over the extent to which the Constitution of 1787, as modified in 1868, is that "form of government."
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