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After Johnny’s Marched Home: Military Veterans and the Shaping of American Politics

With every major military conflict involving Americans the nation has reevaluated its relationship with the veteran, partly in consequence of the demands each specific war required it to lay upon the soldier in the first place. The changing face of industrialized society and the technologies of war as well as political thought have influenced each generation’s consensus…How veterans themselves have responded to their new status as citizen-soldiers turned soldier-citizens has traditionally reflected national attitudes. Beyond any affects of combat, the equation of individual civic duty and civic virtue and the nation’s reciprocal duty and virtue has influenced—although not dictated—veterans’ social and political behavior. Aside from the significant role citizen-soldiers fill in defending the country, citizen-veterans have played a defining role in the shaping of American political culture that has not been widely appreciated. The combined circumstances of the polarized electorate and the estimated already 2.6 million soldiers of the post-9/11 wars who have returned to civilian status recently—in private ceremonies on guarded bases far away from the public eye—highlight the value of a modest conceptual review of veterans and politics in America.


2015 Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture: The Magna Carta, Due Process, and Administrative Power

Magna Carta is important, argued Philip Hamburger of Columbia Law School recently at AEI, not so much for what it says, but for what it reveals about the enduring danger of absolute power and the repeated constitutional responses in common law countries of its substitute, rule under law. Not only does Magna Carta allow us to trace the ebb and flow of absolute power and the law, but it also allows a proper understanding of due process of law.

Where today due process is most often thought of as a procedural protection for happenings in court, Hamburger invoked Magna Carta to show that due process is meant to also apply to outside the court, specifically administrative tribunals within administrative agencies. Tracing the development of due process from Magna Carta’s Article 39 through a series of 14th century statutes to the Fifth Amendment in the US Constitution, Hamburger argued that the Constitution’s due process clause was designed primarily to be an obstacle to administrative or extralegal adjudication. The prevalence of administrative power today, he concluded, denotes a practical evasion of due process and an evisceration of the entire concept, and that poses the gravest threat to the Bill of Rights.


2015 Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture: The Magna Carta, Due Process, and Administrative Power

Is the Magna Carta still relevant? By the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell was already allegedly declaring, “Magna Carta, Magna Farta.” Numerous legal commentators today remain nearly as skeptical of its significance. Although no constitutional document is inherently timeless, Magna Carta stands as a reminder that some constitutional dangers do endure.

Please join us for the fourth annual Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture on Thursday, September 17, as Philip Hamburger, the Maurice and Hilda Friedman Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, considers recurring threats to the due process of law from extralegal power — what once was called prerogative power and today is called administrative power.


Amy Kass, Friend and Teacher

August 21, 2015 | AEIdeas This week saw the passing of Amy Kass, longtime friend to AEI, wife of AEI scholar Leon Kass, and advocate for civic and American history education. We  pause to remember her and her inspiring and loving teaching.  Karlyn Bowman, Senior Fellow and Research Coordinator:  Though Amy Kass was not formally […]


History in the Age of Fracture

Like so many of the disciplines making up the humanities, the field of history has for some time been experiencing a slow dissolution, a decline that may be approaching a critical juncture. Students of academic life express this decline quantitatively, citing shrinking enrollments in history courses, the disappearance of required history courses in university curricula, and the loss of tenurable faculty positions in all history-related areas.

But even more disturbing indications of history’s troubled status are harder to measure but impossible to ignore. One senses a loss of self-confidence, a fear that the study of the past may no longer be valuable or important and that history itself lacks the capacity to be a coherent and truth-seeking enterprise, producing genuine knowledge that helps us locate ourselves in the broad expanses of space and time. Some of this derives from the growing vocationalism in American higher education, flowing from a desire that a college degree should lead reliably to gainful employment. But the fear rests just as much on the belief that the road we have traveled to date offers us only a parade of negative examples of oppression, error, and obsolescence—proof positive that the past has no lessons applicable to our unprecedented age.

This loss of faith in the central importance of history pervades all of American society.


Constitutional Statesmanship: A New Project of AEI’s Program on American Citizenship

Created by AEI’s Program on American Citizenship, the Constitutional Statesmanship e-curriculum is a rich source of materials compiled to aid both teacher and student in the classroom instruction and learning of American history, government, civics, and social studies. This collection of primary source documents paired with video discussions highlights constitutional themes and challenges as experienced by key statesmen in our history. It seeks to educate both hearts and minds about American political principles, ideals, identity, and national character, and the virtues and aspirations of our civic life.

Abraham Lincoln and the Constitution is the first topic in the ongoing Constitutional Statesmanship series.


A Nation’s Flag, A National Idea

This Flag Day, we must remember both our flag’s glories and its requests. The stars and stripes provoke us to contemplate the duties we carry as citizens, chief of which is respect for the rule of law.


On Memorial Day

How do we honor those men and women who have given the “last, full measure of devotion”? “You must begin by wanting to,” is Justice Holmes’ conclusion. It is not by recoiling in pity and fear at the existence of war, pain, and suffering, or at nations willing and able to engage in war when necessary, that we best recall the memory and sacrifices of the military dead. Rather, it is by engaging thoughtfully in our national life that we honor their memory.


Raising the Bar for Civic Education

A new book, “Trendsetting Charter Schools,” edited by AEI’s Gary Schmitt and Cheryl Miller, makes the case that at a time of dwindling civic engagement and low voter turnout, teaching good citizenship is even more crucial. Rediscovering the civic mission of schooling is not at odds with the broader education reform movement, they explain. Rather, education reform can, and should, advocate for a more holistic vision, one which includes a robust citizenship curriculum that prepares students to be active participants in their communities and country.


Civic Education Professional Development: The Lay of the Land

Democracy requires well-informed citizens, with the habits and mind-set required to maintain a free and self-governing society. Teachers, in turn, are key to establishing those habits of heart and mind on which democracies rely. As such, teachers benefit from exposure to professional development (PD) opportunities that refresh and augment their knowledge and classroom skills in the area of civics.

But education officials and policymakers face a host of competing priorities, and support for professional development in civics has has been limited. One crucial consequence is the lack of research regarding current civics PD programs. Accordingly, the AEI Program on American Citizenship set out to survey the providers of civics PD, delving into their purposes, methods, and views to create a first-ever overview of PD in civics.

This study revolves around an essential question: what is the nature and range of PD for secondary civics teachers in the United States? Our aim is to reveal a portrait of current practice through a combination of interviewing and surveying current civics PD providers and through reviewing the current literature on high-quality PD.


Frederick Douglass on Lincoln and Emancipation

Before the Emancipation Proclamation, Frederick Douglass had been fiercely critical of Lincoln. But after Lincoln’s death, Douglass spoke appreciatively of Lincoln, praising his statesmanship in preserving the Union and emancipating slaves.

In this video, Diana Schaub, professor of political science at Loyola University-Maryland and Lucas Morel, professor of politics at Washington and Lee University, discuss in particular the April 14, 1876 speech Douglass delivered on the occasion of the dedication of the Freedmen’s Monument, which was the nation’s first statue of the slain president. Arguing that Lincoln had two goals in the recently ended war–to preserve the Union, and to emancipate the slaves–Douglass said that “but for the former, [Lincoln] could not do that latter.”

As Professor Morel notes, Frederick Douglass made a larger point to his audience and the nation about Lincoln’s statesmanship: Douglass used his oration to educate not just whites but blacks in terms of how politics could, and should, be done in a noble way.


Celebrating Lincoln, Black History Month, and Our Constitutional History

February fittingly combines a celebration of two of America’s greatest presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, with a celebration of Black Americans’ achievements and contributions to the nation. America’s exceptional constitutional history to a large degree has been shaped and refined by its 1st and its 16th presidents, both in how they responded to the question of slavery but also in how they approached the office of the presidency during a tumultuous era.

Until 1971, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12 was its own federal holiday. (Now his, and George Washington’s February 22 birthday are publicly observed on President’s Day, the third Monday in February). In honor of Lincoln’s 206th birthday, take a look at the links below to learn more about the continued relevancy of Lincoln in the modern world, how Frederick Douglass thought about Lincoln and his role in emancipation, and how America’s Founders dealt with the slavery controversy while crafting the Constitution.


ICYMI: A Debate over Executive Power: Obama’s Immigration Decision

Did President Obama’s executive order on immigration exceed his constitutional authority? On Monday, January 12, AEI scholar Gary Schmitt took up the question with Ross Douthat and William Galston. The White House has claimed prosecutorial discretion as the basis for its decision, while critics, especially members of Congress, argue that the president is ignoring his core executive function of enforcing existing laws. Obama’s exercise of discretion raises the question of whether this is a reasonable interpretation of his constitutional obligation to faithfully execute laws or a violation of that duty.


David Brooks on Walter Berns “Making Patriots”

Reviewing the late Walter Berns’s 2001 book, “Making Patriots” in the May 21, 2001 issue of the Weekly Standard, David Brooks commented that Berns wrestled with the problems of patriotism with wisdom and a penetrating insight. In examining and answering these challenges, Walter Berns, Brooks noted, “has done his part to help us make patriots.”

This is a vital task, Brooks notes, because “Americans still love their country, but schools no longer set out to inculcate patriotism as they once did. Indeed, it’s not just schools. Across our society, patriotism is tongue-tied, and nationalism, after all the horrors of the twentieth century, is suspect. These days, in short, patriotism is a problem. Most people just find it easiest to avoid the whole issue. They may stand at the playing of the national anthem, and they may tear up during the Olympics, but they store their patriotic emotions in the attic of their hearts. “


Walter Berns, 1919-2015

We mourn the loss of our friend and colleague Walter Berns, who passed away on Saturday at the age of 95. He was a distinguished scholar, a true patriot, and a deeply impressive man. As his former student, and then friend and colleague, Jeremy Rabkin, wrote introducing the website devoted to Bern’s work :

Walter Berns was a student of Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago in the early 1950s. Like a number of Strauss students of that era—notably, Martin Diamond, Harry Jaffa, and Herbert Storing—his work sought to apply the perspective of classical political philosophy to the study of American government and politics.

Almost all of Berns’ important publications reflect his appreciation of the classical view that “government” and “society” cannot be sharply separated. Both are closely related aspects of a political community’s way of life. Much of his writing reflects the classical view that democracy depends on the character of the citizens, so their opinions and beliefs, their personal habits and degree of self-discipline—in a word, their virtues—will matter to the prospects of democratic government.


No Person is Born Already in Love with his Country, AP Poll Agrees

The seemingly stark political landscape has caused a welcome budding of interest in the role that long-neglected notions of civics and civic education courses play in the nation’s short- and long-term health. But there’s a far way yet to go: the informed attachment to country that civics education is supposed to nurture is an idea still very much banished to wandering in the desert.


Immigration and Representation

In the Weekly Standard, Program director Gary Schmitt and Rebecca Burgess write that in the debate over President Obama’s grant of amnesty to four or five million illegal immigrants, and concerns about the separation of powers, a vital principle of representative government has gone unremarked upon: Knitted to the issue is the question of the […]


Physician, Heal Thyself: Doctors in a Pluralist Democracy

Today’s physicians are a beleaguered bunch. They find themselves attempting to satisfy multiple conflicting demands, morally adrift, spiritually depleted, and politically powerless. They have become trapped in a vice, squeezed between the grips of the market and government, with no apparent escape. Public trust in US physicians is at an historic nadir, with the United States ranking 24th among 30 industrialized nations, ahead only of Chile, Bulgaria, Russia, and Poland. Morale is at an all-time low. Many are leaving the practice. Only a minority would recommend that their children become physicians.

Yet all this is happening at a time when medical care occupies a proportion of the economy that exceeds even defense, and when physicians’ technical powers and skills have never been greater. Smallpox has been eradicated. Breast cancer has become a chronic disease. Robots perform surgery. Life expectancy in the developed world is approaching biblical standards. Medicine seems so powerful.

And medicine’s cultural reach is as broad as it is deep. Medicine now colors nearly everything about our lives.


Getting Civics Right

Citizenship education among American youth ought to be studied more systematically, more thoroughly, and with greater resources than it is at present. With that premise, the objective of this report is to outline what a full-fledged study of civic education among US high school students would require.

The particular focus in this report is on research that can inform policymakers about what public policies affect the quality of civic education. This specific focus is warranted because, to date, civic education receives far more lip service than meaningful attention within the education policy community…Simply put, there is much we do not know about the consequences of policies regarding civics. Does including civics among graduation requirements affect young people’s civic knowledge? Does the inclusion of civics among tested subjects in high-stakes exams help or hinder civic education? Do charter or magnet schools provide qualitatively different—whether better or worse—civic education than traditional public schools? These are the types of basic questions that we do not yet know how to answer.


2014 Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture: The Constitution as Political Theory

ICYMI: Is the Constitution more than America’s primary legal document? The idea of a plan of government being contained in a written document is so taken for granted that it is rarely noted and seldom seen as an innovation, argued Jim Ceaser of the University of Virginia during the 2014 annual Walter Berns Constitution Day lecture. Yet, noted Ceaser, during the founding era, the development of a written constitution was counted as a major innovation of great theoretical import.
Given the centrality of public consent at the time, only by accessing a written text could Americans — assembled in different places at different times — exercise their consent. Nonetheless, continued Ceaser, the significance of a written constitution goes beyond this mere requirement: The Constitution assumed the highest authority because the government’s authority derived from it.