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Deepening Our Understanding of Citizenship

Americans are very patriotic. However, strong as Americans’ pride in their country is, most have a fairly minimal understanding of what patriotic citizenship demands. According to research by AEI, two-thirds of Americans said it was enough to love one’s country to be a good citizen. In practice, citizenship is too often treated merely as a transactional relationship affording basic entitlements and entailing limited obligations.

With this focus area, we aim to restore a sense of citizenship as a fundamental obligation on all Americans. This citizenship asks that Americans understand the history of their nation and its system of government, engage in public discourse and deliberate on the public good, participate effectively in democratic processes, and work to sustain and enhance our communities and nation.

In short, citizenship must involve a balance of rights and responsibilities. If citizenship is invoked in the defense of rights, the corresponding duties of citizenship cannot be ignored.

Event (March 28): Going A-Courting: The Senate, the Presidency, and the Gorsuch Confirmation Process

The Constitution calls for the president to nominate Supreme Court justices, but requires “the advice and consent of the Senate” to appoint them. What standards ought to guide senators in giving that consent? How much deference should the Senate show to the president’s choice? Is there a meaningful distinction today between partisan politics and competing visions for how a justice fulfills his duties? How does the confirmation process exemplify both the distinct powers and responsibilities of the different branches and the coordination required for functional government?

Join AEI on Tuesday, March 28, 2017 for a conversation with Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, followed by a panel of experts, who will discuss the confirmation process of Judge Neil Gorsuch in light of these questions.

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Event: Making citizens: A ‘Sputnik moment’ for civic education?

Did the 2016 presidential election represent a “Sputnik moment” for civic education? Voices on the right and left critiqued the recent election as proof of the failure of civic education — what the Founding Fathers and succeeding generations argued was the basic purpose of education. But if we revitalize civic education, we need to understand what has gone wrong and how current classroom, state, and national policies are shaping not just civic education, but the very principles of what it means to be a citizen capable of reflective self-government.

Please join AEI as a panel of educators and scholars discuss the state of civic education at the primary and secondary education levels and how our education system can become serious about making citizens once more.

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Event: The Imperial Presidency in the Age of Trump

Executive power has expanded so steadily under both Republican and Democratic presidents that the epithet “imperial” is regularly applied to the presidency. President Obama’s aggressive use of unilateral powers led many conservatives to call for a more assertive Congress and Supreme Court to curtail this expansive employment of executive authority. But these same conservatives now face a new president, Donald Trump, who appears equally prepared to use the powers of the bully pulpit to achieve his policy goals.

Is the imperial presidency now a permanent fact of American life? How should today’s constitutionalist think about the presidency’s role in governance at home and in light of America’s role in the world? Join AEI for a timely discussion on the foundations and proper use of presidential power.

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Fifth Annual Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture with Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey: Terrorism and the Bill of Rights

The United States finds itself the target of terrorists who are incited by, and think their actions justified by, their religious beliefs. This has created a profound tension between the country’s commitment to religious freedom and the tools the government uses to provide its citizens security. Is the tension real? Does the Bill of Rights prevent the government from adopting measures necessary to keep our homes, places of business, and public spaces safe?

Please join us for the annual Walter Berns Constitution Day lecture as Michael B. Mukasey, former US district judge and US attorney general, explores whether Americans have had to surrender fundamental rights so their country can protect itself from Islamist terrorism.

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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.

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As Far As Republican Principles Will Admit: In Honor of Martin Diamond

When Martin Diamond decided the time had come to collect his essays of some twenty years into a single volume, he selected as its title, As Far as Republican Principles Will Admit. That selection was the only piece of guidance he left for those whose task it became to finish the project after his sudden and tragic death in 1977. But, as Diamond would have insisted, it was guidance enough. He composed titles for his essays with the utmost care and deliberation well before he began writing them, because an essay’s title was, for him, its end or purpose—its reason for being written. And just as the end or purpose of a political institution, when fully elaborated, explains every facet of its behavior, so the title of a piece, he insisted, should suggest or imply its entire argument.

The essays in this volume, then, have been selected and arranged to elucidate the author’s carefully and deliberately chosen title. As Diamond foresaw, once we have explored the title’s meaning we do indeed have a glimpse of his full argument about the nature of the American political order.

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The Return of ROTC to New York City

The Return of ROTC to New York City
By Cheryl Miller
(October 2013)

Last month, the US Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) returned to the City College of New York after a 41-year absence. At the official signing ceremony last May, former secretary of state and retired general Colin Powell—arguably the college’s most famous alum and a graduate of Army ROTC—noted the significance of the reconciliation. In bringing ROTC back to campus, General Powell said, the college was recognizing that “we may disagree with the politics or the policies of it all but military service is honorable.”

General Powell’s words were a reminder of ROTC’s tumultuous history at City College and its forced ouster during the firestorm of student protests over the Vietnam War. Like several other prominent schools—among them, Harvard, Yale, and Columbia University—City College had hosted one of the earliest ROTC programs in the nation, graduating its first class in 1917. But this collaboration ended during the Vietnam era after some schools voted to bar the college-based training program for military officers from campus. Later opposition to US policy on gays in the military, particularly “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), reinforced the schools’ bans and led to the removal of more ROTC programs, including at one of City College’s sister schools, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in the late 1980s and early ’90s.

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Toward a More Perfect Union: In Honor of Herbert J. Storing

Herbert J. Storing (1928–77) was one of America’s most distinguished political scientists and political theorists. He spent most of his professional life at the University of Chicago, and was, at the time of his death, Robert K. Gooch Professor of Government at the University of Virginia. His books include What Country Have I?: Political Writings by Black Americans (1970), The Complete Anti-Federalist (1981), and What the Anti-Federalists Were For (1981).

Many of Storing’s essays were collected in 1995 for AEI’s Landmarks in Contemporary Political Thought series. The 24 essays presented here were written between the early 1960s and his death in 1977. They are grouped in sections on the legacy of the Founding Fathers, race relations, rights and the public interest, bureaucracy and big government, statesmanship and the presidency, and liberal education. 

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2012 Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture: Spending, Public Debt, and Constitutional Design

Read the remarks given by Michael W. McConnell, Richard & Frances Mallery Professor and director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School, at the 2012 Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture: “Spending, Public Debt, and Constitutional Design.”

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About Walter Berns

A scholar of political philosophy and constitutional law, Walter Berns has written extensively on American government and politics in both professional and popular journals. He is the John M. Olin University Professor Emeritus at Georgetown University and served as a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He has also taught at Louisiana State University, Yale University, Cornell University, Colgate University, the University of Toronto, and the University of Chicago. He earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in political science at the University of Chicago and has published many works on American government and society. His articles have also appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Commentary, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. Berns served on the National Council on the Humanities from 1982 to 1988 and the Council of Scholars in the Library of Congress from 1981 to 1985. He was also a delegate to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2005.

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