Sanford Levinson's Second Thoughts About Constitutional Faith
Jack M. Balkin
Yale University - Law School
Tulsa Law Review, Vol. 48, No. 2, 2012
Yale Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 273
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.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 17
Keywords: Constitution, Faith, Endgame, Constitutional Amendment, Constitutional Convention
JEL Classification: K10
Date posted: January 10, 2013