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Event Re-Cap: Walter Berns and the Constitution

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

For its first annual Constitution Day event, the AEI Program on American Citizenship welcomed a full audience today to celebrate the work of Walter Berns on the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gave opening remarks, focusing on the need to “understand the Constitution as law rather than aspiration.” Justice Scalia ended his remarks by quoting Berns: the goal is not, he said, “to keep the Constitution in tune with the times but, rather, to keep the times, to the extent possible, in tune with the Constitution.” Jeremy A. Rabkin (George Mason University School of Law) commented on Berns’s 1957 book Freedom, Virtue, and the First Amendment, which discusses the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and concludes that freedom by itself is not sufficient. Leon R. Kass (AEI) focused on similar themes, particularly noting Berns’s work on patriotism. Quoting Berns, Kass argued that patriots “are not formed” but instead “must be educated” and that this “education of the heart is more the work of poets than of philosophers and statesmen, and this is especially true for the making of patriots.” Christopher DeMuth (AEI) discussed Berns’s writings on the central importance of the nation-state in creating attached citizens and concluded that “there is no better way to celebrate Constitution Day than to read Walter Berns.” At the conclusion of the event, Berns himself said a few words, expressing his deep appreciation for the Constitution and the remarkable men who created it, concluding that America is truly an “extraordinary place.”

More information–including more video–can be found at the event website: Walter Berns and the Constitution: A Celebration of the Constitution, with Opening Remarks by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.