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The Presence of the Past

Essays on the State and the Constitution

Sheldon Wolin

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All constitutions are ultimately about power, Sheldon Wolin writes: about how power is used and by whom, according to what understandings, and to whose advantage. The provisions of our own Constitution regarding slavery—and disregarding women—show that even a liberal constitution does not legitimate all types of politics. What is constituted, rather, are conditions that favor certain forms of politics over others.

The Presence of the Past explores the relationship between present-day American politics and the COnstitution of 1787. Wolin does not attempt to establish the "real" meaning of the…

All constitutions are ultimately about power, Sheldon Wolin writes: about how power is used and by whom, according to what understandings, and to whose advantage. The provisions of our own Constitution regarding slavery—and disregarding women—show that even a liberal constitution does not legitimate all types of politics. What is constituted, rather, are conditions that favor certain forms of politics over others.

The Presence of the Past explores the relationship between present-day American politics and the COnstitution of 1787. Wolin does not attempt to establish the "real" meaning of the document or the "intent" of the Founders. ("A constitution is not a revelation and the Philadelphia Convention was not an epiphanic moment.") Instead, he examines the Constitution from a breathtaking variety of perspectives, drawing meanings from the text that is our richest source of American values, myths, ideologies, and theories. And he shows how the Constitution created the American version of the modern state and how the ideology of bicentennialism works to obscure the contradictions between the state and democracy.

In a variety of ways, The Presence of the Past concerns itself with kinds of loss—the loss of democratic values, the weakening of democratic elements in our institutions, the stifling of democratic hopes. In the explorations of our constitutional culture, Wolin connects a wide range of topics, from a discussion of the Federalist Papers to the Irangate scandal, from the dieas of Montesquieu and Tocqueville to the political implications of Allan Bloom's polemic on education.

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The Presence of the Past

Sheldon Wolin

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Reviews

Reviews

In this book, our foremost theorist of the political moves beyond his classical work to a critique of the state... For Wolin, the past must live through a memory of past injustices and the experience of political action. He quotes Richard Hooker to the effect that five hundred years of acts are ours. In defending the value of political experience, Wolin stays true to his distinctive ground.

The enlightenment so generously supplied by Wolin reveals a grim view of the American Republic in the wake of its Bicentennial celebrations... Clearly this is a very important book, and I recommend it most highly.

About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
248
ISBN
9780801841163
Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Chapter 1. Collective Identity and Constitutional Power
Chapter 2. Injustice and Collective Memory
Chapter 3. Eliticsm and the Rage against Postmodernity
Chapter 4. Archaism

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Chapter 1. Collective Identity and Constitutional Power
Chapter 2. Injustice and Collective Memory
Chapter 3. Eliticsm and the Rage against Postmodernity
Chapter 4. Archaism, Modernity, and Democracy in America
Chapter 5. Trending and Intending a Constitution: Bicentennial Misgivings
Chapter 6. Montesquieu and Publius: The Crisis of Reason and The Federalist Papers
Chapter 7. E Pluribus Unum: The Representation of Difference and the Reconstitution of Collectivity
Chapter 8. COntract and Birthright
Chapter 9. Democracy and the Welfare State: The Political and Theoretical Connections between Staatsräson and Wohlfahrsstaaträson
Chapter 10. Democracy without the Citizen
Chapter 11. Democracy and Operation Democracy
Notes
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Sheldon Wolin

Sheldon Wolin has been professor of politics at Princeton University and at the University of California, Berkeley. He also served as Eastman Professor at the University of Oxford. Among his books is the classic Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought.