The Body PoliticThe Body Politic Archive

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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New Volume! “The Professions and Civic Life” arriving June 15, 2016

This volume on the professions and civic life undertakes a unique and timely examination of 12 individual professions to see how each affects the character of American citizenship and the civic culture of the nation through their practices and ethos. What is distinctive — or not — about the specific profession as it came to be practiced in the United States? Given the specialized knowledge, training, and sometimes licensing of a profession, what do the professions perceive to be their role in promoting the larger common good? How can we bring professionals’ expert knowledge to bear on social problems in an open and deliberative way? Is the ethic of a particular profession as it understands itself today at odds with the American conception of self-government and a healthy civic life?

Through analysis of these questions, the chapters present a rich treatment of how the 12 long-standing professions of political science, teaching, the law, the military, economics, medicine, journalism, literature, science, architecture, music, and history help support and challenge the general public’s civic behavior in general and their attachment to the American regime in particular.

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Serving After Serving: Veterans in State Public Office

Are veterans in public office a vanishing breed? The composition of the state legislatures doesn’t tell such a story. Actually, it tells an entirely new story, since no one up to this point appears ever to have compiled the data on the military service backgrounds of state-level legislators.

Combing through publicly available sources regarding every member of every state legislature, the AEI Program on American Citizenship has gathered such information for the first time, to form a more comprehensive picture of the veteran composition of public office holders in 2016.

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AEI Event: The Court: Power, Policy, and Self-government

Judges must navigate between interpreting the Constitution and statutes, working within existing precedents and applying both bodies of law to particular cases. Striking this balance has policy consequences that render the Supreme Court a political branch in the public’s mind. As the heated debate over Justice Antonin Scalia’s replacement demonstrates, the Court is no longer seen as the “least dangerous branch.”

How should justices address this tension in their decisions and opinions? Can the Court return to a narrower vision of its judicial duty? If not, what judicial philosophy best fits the reality of the Court’s role in a self-governing republic?

Join AEI for a timely discussion between Judge Brett Kavanaugh and The Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot, followed by an expert panel on the Court’s challenges in carrying out its duty to “say what the law is.”

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Reconsidering Women, the Draft, and the Duties of Citizenship Series

In principle, we aren’t merely flattering contemporary prejudices when we invoke the long history of republican women, from Lucrecia to Portia to modern Americans, to show that civic-minded, patriotic women strengthen self-governing nations. As long as our armed forces have existed, women have taken it upon themselves to serve honorably in or alongside of them, hiding their gender, seeing combat “unofficially,” or serving in support roles that have often involved bullets and capture by the enemy.

It’s heartening to think of women’s demonstrated potential both in their willingness to serve their country and their ability to do so. Should the occasion arise in future, we should hope for and celebrate women and men rising to the challenge. But neither the presidential candidates nor the nation is truly debating whether women can be called upon to serve their country. We are also not, actually, debating “The Draft”— military conscription.

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The Problem with Presidents and Heroes

The escalation of this Frank Underwoodization of government in general and the presidency in particular seems inevitable. But a study of our great statesmen-presidents of old shows with what tools they confronted the immense difficulties of their day and what was the measure of their success. That they were successful is born out by the endurance of the American project, one feature of which is the once every four-year ritual of electing a president. If that does not inspire confidence about the health of our democratic society, the continued observance of Washington’s Birthday at least ought to encourage us that it is not yet so fragile as the snow crusts of February.

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The Party of Trump: The Case for Principled Partisanship

As Edmund Burke, the founding father of the modern idea of party politics, understood, partisanship in government is inevitable. Without principled parties, however, men were bound to take advantage of that partisanship by appealing to the fears and hopes of citizens and doing so without offering up policies that might provide sound and stable government.

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One Person, One Vote: It’s more complicated than it sounds

Evenwell v. Abbott has the substance to be among the most important voting cases of the past 60 years—at its heart, it reaches beyond legalistic or judicial considerations of apportionment processes to pose the question to American society about how a free government acknowledges the political equality of its citizens.

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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.

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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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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.

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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 […]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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