Aziz Rana’s genealogy of American constitutional veneration overturns the conventional wisdom, not merely about the chronology, but also about the reasons for this worshipful attitude towards a document drafted in the late eighteenth century. At the same time, his forthcoming book, Rise of the Constitution, is politically explosive: for it appears at a moment when some Americans are wondering if the U.S. Constitution is part of the problem with America’s political order, rather than the source of a solution.
What, however, follows veneration? We want to speculate in our response about this, because Rana’s extraordinary book poses no question more burning than this one. Do we need a better constitution? Or do we need a less constitutionally-oriented politics?
The answer to this depends on whether one is defining constitutions and constitutionalism with the ancients or the moderns. According to Aristotle and others, every political order or regime will have commitments that are deeper and less easy to shift, and so every place and time is “constituted,” however implicitly.
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