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Constitutional Redemption: Political Faith in an Unjust World Hardcover – April 11, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


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. (James E. Fleming, The Honorable Frank R. Kenison Distinguished Scholar in Law and Professor of Law, Boston University)

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. (Mark Graber, Professor of Law and Government, University of Maryland)

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. (Richard Primus, Professor of Law, University of Michigan)

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. (William Forbath, Lloyd M. Bentsen Chair in Law, University of Texas at Austin)

A theoretically dense volume that will reward the scrutiny of constitutional lawyers. (Daniel Sullivan The Daily 2011-12-28)

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 Choice 2012-05-01)

About 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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Probable First edition (May 9, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674058747
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674058743
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #673,947 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A. J. Sutter on August 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book attempts both to describe and to exemplify a new rhetorical strategy for American political liberals, so they can convey their vision of the Constitution in a manner more emotionally appealing than they seem to be managing currently. To borrow an analogy from the author (JB), a professor of law at Yale, the book is at its best when operating in the mode of "religious studies," i.e., disinterested description of how most Americans regard the Constitution. Where it fails, albeit not without some interesting and salvageable arguments, is when JB is in "theological" and evangelical mode -- i.e., speaking as one who shares the beliefs he describes, and trying to persuade us that we "must" share those beliefs, too.

JB conceives of rhetoric as "a means of helping others to see what is true and what is false, by explaining matters in terms they can understand, by meeting them halfway, and trying to argue from common values and common understandings" (@13). In the present context, these common values are contained in the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. Many Americans, he observes, treat the Constitution very much like a religious text, carrying copies in their pocket and referring to it themselves, as they would the Bible. Yet for these Americans, the real constitution isn't the literal text in their pockets; much less is it the convoluted chains of Supreme Court decisions interpreting that text. It's the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration "is our constitution because it constitutes us, constitutes us as a people 'conceived in liberty, and dedicated to a proposition.' ... The Declaration is the constitution that our Constitution exists to serve" (@19).
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