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Walter Berns

Event (September 18): From the Bench: Judge Brett Kavanaugh on the Constitutional Statesmanship of Chief Justice William Rehnquist

Over more than three decades in service to the Supreme Court, Chief Justice William Rehnquist stressed the importance of constitutional structure to preserving individual liberty. Always emphasizing the role of the courts in maintaining that structure, Chief Justice Rehnquist redirected American law in key areas — most notably, federalism, congressional power, criminal procedure, and religion. Through his opinions, articles, and books, he demonstrated how to be a modern constitutional statesman, deserving commemoration and celebration.

Please join AEI for the sixth annual Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture, as Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the US Court of Appeals, DC Circuit, discusses the jurisprudence and legacy of the late Justice Rehnquist on the 230th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution.

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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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When Our Country Came of Age: An Argument for Constitution Day

In the history of man there’s never been a legal order that has provided the same level of stability, prosperity and popular legitimacy as the US Constitution.

For ten-plus years, the republic was governed by the Articles of Confederation; a document ineffective in delivering those very rights, international and domestic, that the citizens of the 13 states had gone to war with the British crown to secure. While never as exciting as the ends of government expressed in the Declaration, the Constitution has nevertheless been the stolid means for securing those ends for more than two centuries. For as problematic as we might find politics and government today, in the history of man there’s never been a legal order that has provided the same level of stability, prosperity and popular legitimacy as the US Constitution.

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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. “

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Slavery and the Constitution: An immoral compromise?

On Tuesday evening, AEI’s Program on American Citizenship hosted the second annual Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture. Michael Zuckert of the University of Notre Dame spoke on the topic of slavery at the constitutional convention.

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Announcing WalterBerns.org

Tonight, we celebrate the second annual Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture, which was established by AEI’s Program on American Citizenship to honor Walter’s scholarship on the Constitution and America’s founding principles.

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Slavery and the Constitution: An immoral compromise?

2013 marks both the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation as well as the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. In an effort to understand the complex legacy of slavery from our nation’s founding, AEI’s Program on American Citizenship will host the second annual Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture, featuring Michael Zuckert, professor at the University of Notre Dame. The lecture, “Slavery and the Constitution: An immoral compromise?” will examine the “pro-” and “anti-slavery” interpretations of the Constitutional Convention.

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2012 Walter Berns Constitution Day lecture


On September 13, 2012, Michael W. McConnell, Richard & Frances Mallery Professor and director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School, delivered the 2012 Walter Berns Constitution Day lecture at AEI with an address entitled “Spending, Public Debt, and Constitutional Design.” If you missed the event, you won’t want to miss reading Professor McConnell’s remarks, which have recently been published by the Program on American Citizenship.

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Upcoming event: Spending, public debt and constitutional design

In honor of the 225th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787, the Program on American Citizenship will celebrate Constitution Day with a lecture by Michael W. McConnell, Richard & Frances Mallery Professor and director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School. This event is the first in a lecture series named for distinguished scholar Walter Berns.

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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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“The greatest deliberative body known to man”


Earlier this week, Congressman David Dreier (R-California), who has been serving in Congress since 1981, announced that he would retire from the legislative body at the end of his current term. In his five-minute speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, he acknowledged Congress’s “abysmally low approval rating” even as he praised the institution.

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Is the Constitution losing appeal?

Last week, Adam Liptak, writing in the New York Times, reported on a study that found that “the U.S. Constitution appears to be losing its appeal as a model for constitutional drafters elsewhere.” The study looked at 729 constitutions adopted by 188 countries between 1946 and 2006 and concluded that “among the world’s democracies, constitutional similarity to the United States has clearly gone into free fall.”

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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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