CONSTITUTIONALISM, CONTESTATION, AND CIVIL SOCIETY

CONSTITUTIONALISM, CONTESTATION, AND CIVIL SOCIETY idealism, as much thesis and antithesis as synthesis — in our political lives and expectations. II Speaking of American constitutions in 1824, two years before his death, Thomas Jefferson said that “we consider them not otherwise changeable than by the authority of the people, on a special election of representatives for that purpose expressly: they are until then the lex legum”: But can they be made unchangeable? Can one generation bind another, and all others, in succession forever? I think not. The Creator has made the earth for the living, not the dead. Rights and powers can only belong to persons, not to things, not to mere matter, unendowed with will. . . . A generation may bind itself as long as its majority continues in life; when that has disappeared, another majority is in place, holds all the rights and powers their predecessors once held, and may change their laws and institutions to suit themselves. Nothing then is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights of man.1 In this characteristic statement of the constitutional views of the American Enlightenment, Jefferson evoked both political realism and rights-based legal idealism. The tension between these two concepts is, at one http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Common Knowledge Duke University Press

CONSTITUTIONALISM, CONTESTATION, AND CIVIL SOCIETY

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Publisher
Duke University Press
Copyright
Copyright 2002 by Duke University Press
ISSN
0961-754X
eISSN
1538-4578
D.O.I.
10.1215/0961754X-8-2-287
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

idealism, as much thesis and antithesis as synthesis — in our political lives and expectations. II Speaking of American constitutions in 1824, two years before his death, Thomas Jefferson said that “we consider them not otherwise changeable than by the authority of the people, on a special election of representatives for that purpose expressly: they are until then the lex legum”: But can they be made unchangeable? Can one generation bind another, and all others, in succession forever? I think not. The Creator has made the earth for the living, not the dead. Rights and powers can only belong to persons, not to things, not to mere matter, unendowed with will. . . . A generation may bind itself as long as its majority continues in life; when that has disappeared, another majority is in place, holds all the rights and powers their predecessors once held, and may change their laws and institutions to suit themselves. Nothing then is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights of man.1 In this characteristic statement of the constitutional views of the American Enlightenment, Jefferson evoked both political realism and rights-based legal idealism. The tension between these two concepts is, at one

Journal

Common KnowledgeDuke University Press

Published: Apr 1, 2002

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