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About Walter Berns

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

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.


Professor Emeritus, 1994–present; John M. Olin University Professor, 1986–94; Professorial Lecturer, 1979–86, Georgetown University

Faculty, University of Chicago, 1984, 1989; University of Toronto, 1969–79; Colgate University, 1970; Cornell University, 1959–69; Yale University, 1956–59; Louisiana State University, 1953–56

Member, Judicial Fellows Commission, 1986–88

Member, National Council on the Humanities, National Endowment for the Humanities, 1982–88

Consultant, Task Force on Judicial Selection, Twentieth Century Fund, 1988

Member, Board of Directors, Institute for Educational Affairs, 1980–88

Member, Joint Committee Project ’87, Joint Undertaking of the American Historical Association and American Political Science Association to Commemorate the Bicentennial of the US Constitution, 1987

Consultant, US Department of State, 1983–87

Lecturer, Phi Beta Kappa Society Lecture Series, 1985–86

Member, Council of Scholars, Library of Congress, 1981–85

Alternate US Representative, United Nations Commission on Human Rights, 1983

Guggenheim Fellow, 1978–79

Advisory Board Member, National Institute of Law Enforcement, 1974–76

Chairman, Department of Government, Cornell University, 1963–67

Fulbright Fellow; Rockefeller Fellow, 1965–66

Lecturer, Salzburg Seminar in American Studies, 1959

Carnegie Teaching Fellow, 1952–53

US Navy, 1941–45


PhD, MA, University of Chicago

London School of Economics and Political Science

Reed College

BS, University of Iowa


Lincoln at Two Hundred (2010)

Democracy and the Constitution (2006)

Making Patriots (2001)

After the People Vote: A Guide to the Electoral College (1992, 2004)

Taking the Constitution Seriously (1987)

In Defense of Liberal Democracy (1984)

After the People Vote: Steps in Choosing the President (1983)

For Capital Punishment: Crime and the Morality of the Death Penalty (1979, 1991)

The First Amendment and the Future of American Democracy (1976)

Freedom, Virtue and the First Amendment (1957, 1969)

Selected Articles and Commentary

In Memoriam: Robert A. Goldwin,” AEI Online, January 21, 2010

Interrogations and Presidential Prerogative,” Wall Street Journal, May 23, 2009

Why America Celebrates Lincoln,” Wall Street Journal, February 17, 2009

The Case for Keeping the Electoral College,” Roll Call, April 3, 2008

On George Kateb’s Patriotism,” Cato Unbound, March 12, 2008

Religion and the Death Penalty,” Weekly Standard, February 4, 2008

Sticks and Stones?Commentary, June 1, 2005

Recipes for Anarchy,” Washington Post, July 16, 2004

The Insignificant Office,” National Review Online, July 9, 2004

The Libertarian Dodge,” Claremont Review of Books, September 1, 2003

The Perennial Trashing of Bourgeois Democracy,” Academic Questions, September 1, 2002

Ancients and Moderns: The Emergence of Modern Constitutionalism,” Institute of United States Studies, March 2002

From the Ashes, Patriotism Reborn,” Boston Globe, September 23, 2001

Where Are the Death Penalty Critics Today?Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2001

Two-and-a-Half Cheers for the Electoral College,” Ashbrook Center, February 20, 2001

Should the Current Electoral College System Be Preserved?Congressional Digest, January 1, 2001 

Revisiting States’ Rights Controversy at the Wrong Time, with Altered History,” Washington Times, October 15, 2000

“The Clear and Present Danger Test,” Journal of Supreme Court History, July 1, 2000

Pornography Versus Democracy,” Society, September/October 1999

Historians Spring an ‘October Surprise,’Wall Street Journal, November 3, 1998

My Days with Frieda Lawrence,” Commentary, August 1, 1998

Covering Their Eyes with Parted Fingers,” New York Times, April 4, 1998

“In Our Own Image,” National Interest, April 1, 1998

Why the Death Penalty Is Fair,” Wall Street Journal, January 9, 1998

Clothes for Working Women—or Working Girls?Wall Street Journal, October 27, 1997

Proposals for Electoral College Reform,” House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on the Constitution, September 4, 1997

Is There a Worldwide Conservative Crackup?Weekly Standard, August 25, 1997

Clinton Lays an Egg,” Weekly Standard, July 7, 1997

Vengeance? Executing McVeigh Would Be Moral,” Washington Post, June 8, 1997

Taking Virtue Seriously,” Public Interest, June 1, 1997

“Thorny Beliefs,” National Review, February 10, 1997

On the Future of Conservatism,” Commentary, February 1, 1997

Examining the Qualities That Make for Leadership,” Washington Times, September 22, 1996

On Patriotism,” AEI Bradley Lecture Series, September 16, 1996

Marriage Anyone?First Things, April 1, 1996

We Are the World?National Review, February 26, 1996

The Great Emancipator,” Commentary, January 1, 1996

Third Party Candidates Face a High Hurdle in the Electoral College,” American Enterprise, January 1, 1996

Defunding the Humanities,” The American Enterprise, May 1995

Sue the Warden, Sue the Chef, Sue the Gardener . . . ,” Wall Street Journal, April 24, 1995

Blue Movies,” Public Interest, April 1, 1995

New Deal vs. Nine Old Men,” Wall Street Journal, March 16, 1995

The Prattling Presidency,” Wall Street Journal, October 31, 1994

When Men Are the Prey of Women,” Washington Times, October 25, 1994

What D-Day Message from Clinton?Washington Times, May 22, 1994

Getting Away with Murder,” Commentary, April 1, 1994

Dirty Words,” Public Interest, January 1, 1994

Learning to Live with Sex and Violence,” National Review, November 1, 1993

Art (?) in America – Leaving Town Alive,” Commentary, August 1, 1993

New Start for Statehood?Washington Times, May 24, 1993

Let’s Hear It for the Electoral College,” Wall Street Journal, December 2, 1992

Electoral College Quiz,” Washington Times, November 3, 1992

In 272 Words,” Commentary, November 1, 1992

On Hamilton and Popular Government,” Public Interest, September 1, 1992

An Office That We Take More Seriously Today,” Washington Times, July 27, 1992

On Madison and Majoritarianism,” Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, January 1, 1992

Natural Law, Natural Rights,” Washington Times, September 9, 1991

Flag-Burning and Other Modes of Expression,” Commentary, October 1, 1989

Public Trial by Public Jury,” Wall Street Journal, July 24, 1987

Comment on Carl Rowan Article,” Maryland Law Review, Fall 1987

“Government by Lawyers and Judges,” Commentary, June 1, 1987

The Constitution & Us,” Commentary, February 1987

The Words According to Brennan,” Wall Street Journal, October 23, 1985

Has the Burger Court Gone Too Far?Commentary, October 1, 1984

Third-World Ways in Cambridge USA,” Wall Street Journal, December 28, 1983

Voting Rights and Wrongs,” Commentary, March 1, 1982

Judicial Review and the Rights and Laws of Nature,” Supreme Court Review, 1982

Let Me Call You Quota, Sweetheart,” Commentary, May 1, 1981

Bonds of Cliche,” Commentary, September 1, 1980

The Clerks’ Tale,” Commentary, March 1, 1980

For Capital Punishment,” Harper’s Magazine, April 1979

Free Speech and the Corporation,” National Legal Center for the Public Interest, 1979

Thinking About the City,” Commentary, October 1, 1973

The Constitution and the Migration of Slaves,” Yale Law Journal, December 1968

Defending Politics,” Commentary, August 1, 1966

Law and Behavioral Science,” Law and Contemporary Problems, Winter 1963

Buck v. Bell: Due Process of Law?Western Political Quarterly, December 1953