Recovering (from) Enlightenment?

63 Pages Posted: 25 Sep 2003

Date Written: Fall 2003


The American Constitution at its founding is often associated with "the Enlightenment," and modern liberal constitutionalism continues to be associated with what Bruce Ackerman refers to as "the spirit of the Enlightenment." This article contrasts the essential features of the classical or historical Enlightenment with those of the modern Enlightenment, as reflected in the thinking of theorists like Rawls, Dworkin, and others and as embodied in a good deal of modern constitutional doctrine. The article argues that the modern Enlightenment is more accurately viewed as an inversion than a continuation of the classical Enlightenment. Moreover, this inversion threatens to undermine the historic constitutional commitments - to freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, individual rights, and equality. Hence, those who are concerned to maintain the historic constitutional commitments might naturally wish for a recovery of the classical Enlightenment. But the prospects for such a recovery are not promising. And the principal obstacle to any such recovery is ... the modern Enlightenment.

Keywords: constitutional law, U.S. Constitution

JEL Classification: K19, K39, K40

Suggested Citation

Smith, Steven Douglas, Recovering (from) Enlightenment? (Fall 2003). Available at SSRN: or

Steven Douglas Smith (Contact Author)

University of San Diego School of Law ( email )

5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492
United States
619-260-7969 (Phone)
619-260-2492 (Fax)

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