"Returning to the Founders: the Debate on the Constitution," review of The Debate on the Constitution, Bernard Bailyn, ed., New Criterion, September 1993.
The publication of The Debate on the Constitution, in two new volumes of the Library of America, is an occasion for reflection. Edited by Bernard Bailyn, now the foremost professor of American history, these books are not intended for historians, who would turn up their noses at a mere selection of sources, but for us non-historians. What do we have to learn from the debate on the Constitution?
Most Americans regard the Constitution as an authority, as a success; so for them the debate is closed. Most American academics do not agree. Unimpressed with America’s relatively long survival, to say nothing of its greatness, they will praise the Constitution only for its openness, which consists mainly in its ability to inspire new invention. But a debate on the Constitution supports neither position: it shows the Constitution before it became an authority, but argues over it …