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Michael Ramsey
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Michael Ramsey
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09/28/2011

Originalism on the Web
Michael Ramsey

Sophia Z. Lee reviews Daniel T. Rodgers' The Age of Fracture.

In Rodgers' intellectual history of the last quarter of the twentieth century, originalism apparently plays a surprisingly prominent role (albeit one some may find puzzling).  In the review's description:

Rodgers has an almost subversive account of originalism. It was, Rodgers argues, “Constitutional conservatism’s flirtation with timelessness.” (242) For Rodgers, originalism, despite its practitioners’ excavation of historical sources and efforts to divine the historical meaning of language, has much in common with postmodern and deconstructionist theory. Rodgers contends that end-of-days fiction like Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series laid the ground for conservatives to accept originalism, because both “short-circuit[ed] time” by “making not only the past but the future immediately accessible to the present.” (231) In this deft move, Rodgers synchronizes originalism’s promise to transport us back to 1788 or 1868 with the temporal pastiche found in postmodern aesthetics. Originalism, Rodgers observes, marked a change in conservatives’ relationship to time. Traditionally associated with Burkean incrementalism and stability, conservatives now sought to “to locate a trap door through which one could reach beyond history and find a simpler place outside of it.” (241) For conservative constitutionalists, as for transition economists, Rodgers suggests, trying to “slip[] instantly across time” in the name of stabilization could have profoundly destabilizing effects. (241)