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03/20/2021

Ilya Somin Interviews Charles Kessler on "The Crisis of the Two Constitutions"
Michael Ramsey

From Ilya Somin at Volokh Conspiracy

I recently interviewed prominent conservative political theorist Charles Kesler for C-SPAN Book TV, on his interesting new book The Crisis of the Two Constitutions: The Rise, Decline, and Recovery of American Greatness. The video is available here.

I tried to strike a balance between giving Kesler a chance to expound on the arguments of the book, and raising  questions about  points where I have reservations. To me, the most interesting part may be the exchange at roughly 20:00-31:00, where it becomes clear that Kesler's rationale for why we have to follow the original meaning of the Constitution is that it got unanimous consent. But he also eventually seems to concede that no such thing ever actually happened (e.g.—groups such as Loyalists and slaves either refused to consent or had no meaningful opportunity to do so). Even the members of the Constitutional Convention did not all consent to it, as three refused to sign (most notably, George Mason). My own rationale for originalism does not rely on consent theory.

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At other points in the C-SPAN interview, I try to draw Kesler out on the extent to which he actually rejects the institutions and innovations established by advocates of what he calls the "progressive Constitution." It turns out he may accept a lot more of them than we might initially expect.

And here is the description of Professor Kessler's book from Amazon:

American politics grows embittered because it is increasingly torn between two rival constitutions, two opposed cultures, two contrary ways of life. American conservatives rally around the founders’ Constitution, as amended, and as grounded in the natural and divine rights and duties of the Declaration of Independence. American liberals herald their “living Constitution,” a term that implies the original is dead or superseded, and that the fundamental political imperative is constant change or “transformation” (as President Obama called it) toward a more and more perfect social democracy, made possible by man’s increasingly god-like control of his own moral evolution.

Crisis of the Two Constitutions details how we got to and what is at stake in our increasingly divided America. It takes controversial stands on matters political and scholarly, describing the political genius of America’s founders and their efforts to shape future generations through a constitutional culture that included immigration, citizenship, and educational policies. Then it turns to the attempted progressive refounding of America, tracing its accelerating radicalism from the New Deal to the 1960s’ New Left to today’s unhappy campus nihilists. Finally, the volume appraises American conservatives’ efforts, so far unavailing despite many famous victories, to restore the founders’ Constitution and moral common sense. From Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump, what have conservatives learned and where should we go from here?

Along the way, Charles R. Kesler, editor of the Claremont Review of Books, argues with critics on the left and right, and refutes fashionable doctrines including relativism, multiculturalism, and neoconservatism, providing in effect a one-volume guide to the increasingly influential Claremont school of conservative thought by one of its most engaged thinkers.