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Leon Kass on Walter Berns: Teacher and Patriot

As a follow-up to the Program’s celebration of Walter Berns and the Constitution last week, the full text of Leon Kass’s remarks can now be found over at The American.

In part of his remarks, Kass spoke about one of Walter Berns’s more recent books, Making Patriots. Kass notes:

Patriots are not born, they are made. Their formation is even more a matter of the heart than of the head, and it takes place from the earliest ages. Although the Constitution is silent on education—this was a matter left to the states—the Founders were very concerned about the education of citizens for self-government. Jefferson proposed a system of universal public education that would render our children “worthy to receive, and able to guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens.” Walter reviews the efforts associated with such names as Noah Webster and William McGuffey, among others, to inculcate belief in God, moral virtue, and love of country, along with the teaching of reading, writing, and arithmetic, efforts that lasted, successfully, well into the early 20th century. And then things began to unravel. Supreme Court decisions in the 1940s, applying to the states for the first time the First Amendment’s separation of church and the national state, began the inexorable secularization of public education. How were virtue and love of country to be promoted once religious teachings were banished from the public education of the young? It was from there but a short decline into the belief that public schools should not be promoting patriotism at all, should not be arguing for the superiority of one way of life above another, should instead be teaching the young that preferential love of your own was indefensible and dangerous, that patriotism was in fact the last refuge of scoundrels. To begin to remedy these educational diseases, Walter suggests that we must pay renewed attention to the lives of those Americans who have not only grappled with the nation’s gravest troubles, but whose words have helped their fellow countrymen understand and appreciate the gift that is American citizenship. Walter gives us splendid and inspiring chapters on Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, men whose words and deeds can still be a beacon for budding—and aging—patriots.

Dr. Kass’s remarks are very much worth reading–or you can watch him deliver them at the event site.

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Event Re-Cap: Walter Berns and the Constitution

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.

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Upcoming Event: Walter Berns and the Constitution–A Celebration of the Constitution, with Opening Remarks by Justice Antonin Scalia

Date: Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Time: 12:30 PM — 2:00 PM
Location: Wohlstetter Conference Center, Twelfth Floor, AEI
1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W.,
Washington, D.C. 20036

For more than fifty years, Walter Berns has analyzed the American constitutional order with insight and profundity. It is only fitting that as we mark this year’s Constitution Day—September 17, the day thirty-nine members of the Constitutional Convention signed the draft constitution—we examine his work on the meaning of the Constitution and the American regime it supports. At this event, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will give opening remarks in celebration of the Constitution, and Leon R. Kass (Madden-Jewett Chair, AEI), Jeremy A. Rabkin (Professor, George Mason University School of Law), and Christopher Demuth (D.C. Searle Senior Fellow, AEI) will discuss Walter Berns’s lasting contribution to constitutional studies.

Register at AEI.

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