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We the People: Volume 2: Transformations [Paperback]

Bruce Ackerman
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 15, 2000 0674003977 978-0674003972

Constitutional change, seemingly so orderly, formal, and refined, has in fact been a revolutionary process from the first, as Bruce Ackerman makes clear in We the People: Transformations. The Founding Fathers, hardly the genteel conservatives of myth, set America on a remarkable course of revolutionary disruption and constitutional creativity that endures to this day. After the bloody sacrifices of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party revolutionized the traditional system of constitutional amendment as they put principles of liberty and equality into higher law. Another wrenching transformation occurred during the Great Depression, when Franklin Roosevelt and his New Dealers vindicated a new vision of activist government against an assault by the Supreme Court.

These are the crucial episodes in American constitutional history that Ackerman takes up in this second volume of a trilogy hailed as "one of the most important contributions to American constitutional thought in the last half-century" (Cass Sunstein, New Republic). In each case he shows how the American people--whether led by the Founding Federalists or the Lincoln Republicans or the Roosevelt Democrats--have confronted the Constitution in its moments of great crisis with dramatic acts of upheaval, always in the name of popular sovereignty. A thoroughly new way of understanding constitutional development, We the People: Transformations reveals how America's "dualist democracy" provides for these populist upheavals that amend the Constitution, often without formalities.

The book also sets contemporary events, such as the Reagan Revolution and Roe v. Wade, in deeper constitutional perspective. In this context Ackerman exposes basic constitutional problems inherited from the New Deal Revolution and exacerbated by the Reagan Revolution, then considers the fundamental reforms that might resolve them. A bold challenge to formalist and fundamentalist views, this volume demonstrates that ongoing struggle over America's national identity, rather than consensus, marks its constitutional history.

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Editorial Reviews


It sounds rather, well, unconstitutional to say the Constitution can be ignored when great issues are at stake, so long as the People are on your side. But that concept, according to Mr. Ackerman, is the key to understanding our constitutional system...Mr. Ackerman is attempting [a] revolution in the way we look at constitutional law. It's a massive endeavor...[which] mates history and legal theory at a time when specialization has sent the two disciplines in different directions...[It has] drawn much praise--Sanford Levinson, of the University of Texas's law school, has called it 'The most important project now under way in the entire field of constitutional theory'...This is one professor, it's safe to say, who couldn't be accused of dodging the big questions. (Christopher Shea The Chronicle of Higher Education)

We the People: Transformations is a welcome return to a sort of constitutional and political history that is no longer fashionable in the academy, where social history is now ascendant. It is, in addition, a lively and informative read. (Adam Wolfson Commentary)

[Bruce Ackerman's] particular constitutional focus is Article Five, that lays down the rules for the process of constitutional amendments, and how "We the people" have transformed the constitution in ways not laid down by such rules in the three most significant constitutional processes in American history: 1787, Reconstruction, and the New Deal...[This] book may serve as an instance of American Studies at its very best...Ackerman's analyses and arguments may at times be controversial but they are always clearly and convincingly expressed. Running through its narrative and serving to make it a compelling one is the story of how the United States has developed from a federation of states to a nation. (Orm Overland American Studies in Europe)

We the People offers a thoroughly researched, provocative, and passionate counterpoint to the now stale debate over original intent as a guide to constitutional understanding. (Kermit L. Hall Journal of American History)

This is a superb, provocative, and often gripping account of how We the People mobilize to produce constitutional change. A wonderful blend of history, political science, and constitutional law, this volume attempts to vindicate Ackerman's striking claim that the Civil War and the New Deal inaugurated large-scale constitutional transformations. (Cass Sunstein, University of Chicago Law School)

Two myths sustain the American people, Ackerman suggests. The first holds that the federal government consistently ignores the will of the people, whose mandate must constantly be pressed against its compromised and uncompromising leaders. The second is that our Constitution is so artfully constructed that changing it, for good or bad, is nearly impossible. Drawing on subtle legal argument and a solid command of history, Ackerman goes on to suggest that although the first scenario may seem to be accurate, the second is certainly not; governments have frequently bent the Constitution to serve their ideological ends...Readers well grounded in constitutional law will find Ackerman's arguments fascinating and provocative. (Kirkus Reviews)

In an analysis which is by turns breezy, scholarly and impassioned, Ackerman investigates the origins of those 'transformative moments' in the past when the American people have engaged in a 'deepening institutional dialogue' with political elites to adapt and renew the United States Constitution, thereby reaffirming and extending popular sovereignty…The energy and learning with which its case is advanced make Transformations the most provocative intellectual history of constitutional issues published in many a year. (Peter Thompson English Historical Review)

About the Author

Bruce Ackerman is Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (October 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674003977
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674003972
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 6.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #755,936 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strong historical support for Foundations. January 17, 2005
In his second volume, Ackerman presents his historical evidence defending the concept of a dualist Constitution. In brief, the theory of dualism holds that we have a two-track law-making system: while victors of normal elections are given normal political power, the authority to effect fundamental constitutional change requires a sustained, massive degree of popular support. These periods of fundamental change are brought about through unconventional ratification outside of the accept means of constitutional revision, i.e. Article V. This process is complicated and he identifies five different steps: signaling, proposal, triggering, ratifying, and consolidation.

Ackerman's study begins with the Founding. No one can seriously claim that the proposal and ratification of the Constitution followed the controlling rule of unanimity required by the Articles of Confederation. Instead, the Philadelphia delegates circumvented that process by submitting the proposal to popular ratifying conventions and not the state legislatures. From this experience, Ackerman draws his five step process. Next, this process is illustrated by the history of Reconstruction, particularly the 13th and 14th Amendments. Conventional wisdom holds that these amendments were ratified within the strict rules of Article V, but Ackerman demonstrates that both were quite unconventional. Most interesting is the history of the 14th Amendment, which will be quite surprising to most people; the fact that Congress essentially coerced the states into accepting this amendment is rarely commented on. All-in-all, the Reconstruction evidence strongly supports Ackerman's theory.

It is in the third era, the New Deal, that I have disagreement with Ackerman.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Attractive, appealing, well researched theories. October 16, 2001
Bruce Ackerman eloquently uses the "higher lawmaking" theory just as Adam Smith used his invisible hand. Instead of guiding the American economic system and gross national product, Ackerman's higher lawmaking theory provides that the American ratification of the Constitution of the United States is led by things other than the system of ratification provided for us in Article V of the Constitution.
Ackerman proposes, and quite well, that ratification is not only led by the institutions of America, but We the People as well. Although I am far from being a "hypertexualist" in Ackerman's sense of the word, I do believe that the framers intended Article V of the Constitution to speak as a mandate for the people.
If Roosevelt in the 1930's was so concerned about hearing the mandate of We the People, why couldn't he have adhered to the Article V process even after the Supreme Court had bowed in defeat to laissez-faire in 1937? Was Roosevelt afraid that his New Deal would not make it through the formalistic Article V process? Roosevelt already had an unprecedented control over the Senate and the House, not to mention congressional election results of 46 of the 48 states in 1936. What was his fear in taking the path of amendment ratification?
Ackerman tackles these speculations and others in We the People. I strongly recommend this book for lawyers or the constitutionally inquisitive student.
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