The Distribution of Political Faith

27 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2012

Date Written: June 12, 2012


This essay, written for a symposium on Constitutional Redemption: Political Faith in an Unjust World (Harvard University Press 2011), focuses on one of the book's central themes: the connection between political legitimacy and political faith. Political faith is an especially complicated concept, and the essay describes some of its complications.

First, people do not simply possess or lack faith; rather they have a distribution or economy of faith and lack of faith, trust and distrust, that is projected onto different features of their world. Changes in circumstances that shake their perceptions may alter this economy or distribution.

Second, the converse of political faith, political dread, may be as important as faith itself for some members of the political community, who accept the political system because they fear that the alternatives will be even worse. What we call "faith" may actually be a complex combination of hope and dread distributed onto different aspects of social and political life. And what we believe in or hope for may be uncannily connected to what we distrust or fear.

Finally, political faith always risks turning into political idolatry, and, whether we like it or not, the two phenomena are often deeply connected. Whatever we happen to believe in, and whatever distribution of political faith and dread, hope and fear we hold in our hearts, helps create our own distinctive risk of political idolatry. In politics, as in life itself, nothing is more fraught than faith, even as nothing is so necessary.

Keywords: Constitutional Redemption, constitutional interpretation, faith

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

Balkin, Jack M., The Distribution of Political Faith (June 12, 2012). Maryland Law Review, Vol. 71, p. 1144, 2012, Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 254, Available at SSRN:

Jack M. Balkin (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203-432-1620 (Phone)

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