Constitutional Faith

Constitutional Faith

SANFORD LEVINSON
Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 280
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7sz4f
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  • Book Info
    Constitutional Faith
    Book Description:

    This book examines the "constitutional faith" that has, since 1788, been a central component of American "civil religion." By taking seriously the parallel between wholehearted acceptance of the Constitution and religious faith, Sanford Levinson opens up a host of intriguing questions about what it means to be American. While some view the Constitution as the central component of an American religion that serves to unite the social order, Levinson maintains that its sacred role can result in conflict, fragmentation, and even war. To Levinson, the Constitution's value lies in the realm of the discourse it sustains: a uniquely American form of political rhetoric that allows citizens to grapple with every important public issue imaginable.

    In a new afterword, Levinson looks at the deepening of constitutional worship and attributes the current widespread frustrations with the government to the static nature of the Constitution.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3987-2
    Subjects: Law, History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-8)

    What political commitments, if any, does a foreign-born person make upon joining the American polity by taking on the formal status of citizen? That question, among others, was raised by a case decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1943. It was an unusually volatile case, and Justice Felix Frankfurter, during the Courtʼs consideration of the case on December 5, 1942, articulated what can only be described as a personal testament of faith by way of answering the question.¹ Naturalization is a process whereby, in Frankfurterʼs words, one must “shed old loyalties and take on the loyalty of American...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The “Constitution” in American Civil Religion
    (pp. 9-53)

    Writing in 1816, Thomas Jefferson commented acerbically that “[s]ome men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched.”¹ This complaint is reminiscent of an argument that Jefferson had had with his great friend and colleague James Madison some quarter-century earlier concerning the advisability of recurrent constitutional conventions, where the people could consider the relationship between their current needs and the document drafted in Philadelphia in 1787. After all, as Jefferson characteristically phrased it in his 1816 letter, “[I]nstitutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Moral Dimension of Constitutional Faith
    (pp. 54-89)

    The American Bar Association in its Code of Professional Responsibility describes as a basic ethical duty of lawyers the promotion of “respect for the law.”¹ Such respect should, of course, extend to the Constitution, the very fountainhead of the American legal system. This might appear to be a thoroughly uncontroversial premise, at least until one asks an all-important question: Is there anything built into the definition of law (or, more crucially, of the Constitution) that guarantees that it will necessarily beworthyof respect? For only if the answer is “yes” will one unhesitatingly agree to become “attached” to it...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Loyalty Oaths: The Creedal Affirmations of Constitutional Faith
    (pp. 90-121)

    I am suggesting in this book that important aspects of our constitutional tradition can be illuminated by taking seriously the analogies suggested by treating the Constitution as a central feature of American “civil religion.” Previous chapters have examined central problems involved in identifying (or having respect for) the source of doctrinal guidance within a given faith community. These next two chapters deal with a quite different problem, identifyingwhois within the community. One task presented any analyst of religion is to define the members of the relevant religious communities. One thinks immediately of two central determinants of membership. The...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Constitutional “Attachment”: Identifying the Content of One’s Commitment
    (pp. 122-154)

    Everyone might, in the abstract, profess admiration for, even commitment to, the Constitution of the United States. That does not, however, begin to answer a crucial question: What precisely “is” the Constitution to which we are referring? More to the point, can we confidently ascertain when someone is violating the commitment to be bound by its requirements? (The “someone” could be either ourselves, conscientiously trying to comply with our own oath, or another person whom we suspect of breach of constitutional faith.) As the previous chapter noted, professions of constitutional loyalty were an important part of the document drafted in...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Law School, the Faith Community, and the Professing of Law
    (pp. 155-179)

    The last chapter concluded with the image of William Schneiderman applying for a job as a professor of constitutional law. When asked how he would teach the subject, he replies that he would, like most constitutional law professors, focus on decided cases of the United States Supreme Court and attempt to predict future decisions on the basis of these cases. Asked what attitude he would convey about the materials, he gives a complex answer: First, he would emphasize both the extent to which decisions are in fact choices and that the choices made by the Court are systematically in the...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Conclusion: Adding One’s Signature to the Constitution
    (pp. 180-194)

    Even if one accepts the guiding notion of this book, the Constitution as the focus of a faith community, that does not resolve the question of our own stance regarding “constitutional faith”. To leap or not to leap? That is surely the question. To begin formulating an answer, I return to where the main body of this book began, to the Second Bank of the United States and the bicentennial exhibit, “Miracle in Philadelphia,” located there. When visitors reached the section relating to the delegates’ vote on September 17, 1787, accepting the draft of the Constitution submitted by the Committee...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 195-244)
  12. AFTERWORD TO THE 2011 EDITION
    (pp. 245-256)

    I am highly gratified that Princeton University Press has seen fit to republishConstitutional Faithon the twenty-fifth anniversary of its writing—1986—even if was not published until 1988. All books inevitably reflect aspects of the moment they are written, including, of course, references to then contemporary events such as Edwin Meese’s speech at Tulane attacking judicial supremacy, or the controversy between Charles Curran and then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger—now Pope Benedict XVI—over Curran’s fitness to teach Catholic theology given his differences of opinion with certain matters of Catholic doctrine as declared by the Vatican. For better or...

  13. INDEX
    (pp. 257-262)