Blog of the International Journal of Constitutional Law

Virtual Book Roundtable: “Revolutionary Constitutions,” Featuring Bruce Ackerman in Conversation with Roberto Gargarella and Tom Ginsburg

Richard Albert, William Stamps Farish Professor in Law and Professor of Government, The University of Texas at Austin

In the latest installment in our video series here at I-CONnect, we feature a roundtable discussion among Bruce Ackerman, Roberto Gargarella and Tom Ginsburg on Ackerman’s new book entitled Revolutionary Constitutions: Charismatic Leadership and the Rule of Law (Harvard 2019). Here is a short description of Ackerman’s new book:

Populism is a threat to the democratic world, fuel for demagogues and reactionary crowds—or so its critics would have us believe. But in his award-winning trilogy We the People, Bruce Ackerman showed that Americans have repeatedly rejected this view. Now he draws on a quarter century of scholarship in this essential and surprising inquiry into the origins, successes, and threats to revolutionary constitutionalism around the world. He takes us to India, South Africa, Italy, France, Poland, Burma, Israel, and Iran and provides a blow-by-blow account of the tribulations that confronted popular movements in their insurgent campaigns for constitutional democracy. Despite their many differences, populist leaders such as Nehru, Mandela, and de Gaulle encountered similar dilemmas at critical turning points, and each managed something overlooked but essential. Rather than deploy their charismatic leadership to retain power, they instead used it to confer legitimacy to the citizens and institutions of constitutional democracy.

Ackerman returns to the United States in his last chapter to provide new insights into the Founders’ acts of constitutional statesmanship as they met very similar challenges to those confronting populist leaders today. In the age of Trump, the democratic system of checks and balances will not survive unless ordinary citizens rally to its defense. Revolutionary Constitutions shows how activists can learn from their predecessors’ successes and profit from their mistakes, and sets up Ackerman’s next volume, which will address how elites and insiders co-opt and destroy the momentum of revolutionary movements.

In the roundtable, Gargarella and Ginsburg both draw from their own essays published in Revolutionary Constitutionalism: Law, Legitimacy, Power (Hart 2020), a volume that gathers reflections on Ackerman’s book from 20 leading scholars of public law. The volume grew out of a conference held at the Yale Law School to mark the publication of Ackerman’s book. The volume is now available here at a discount. Details follow immediately below.

The full video roundtable runs for roughly 60 minutes. It is available for viewing here.

I-CONnect sends warm thanks to Bruce Ackerman, Roberta Gargarella and Tom Ginsburg for participating in this latest edition of our video series.


8 responses to “Virtual Book Roundtable: “Revolutionary Constitutions,” Featuring Bruce Ackerman in Conversation with Roberto Gargarella and Tom Ginsburg”

  1. Humberto Briceno Leon Avatar
    Humberto Briceno Leon

    Professor Richard
    The virtual roundtable about Professor Ackerman’s Book and yours is extraordinary. I will read soon Ackerman’s Book and yours. You and the other professor approached the very fundamental issue you raised about my last article: the inter-influence between Constitution and reality (history). I learned a lot from all of you. Thank you very much. Humberto Briceño Leon

    1. Richard Albert Avatar

      Thank you for your kind note, Humberto. I look forward to reading your forthcoming book, by the way. When it is published, we can organize a similar video discussion with you. Until then, stay safe!

  2. Claudia Heiss Avatar

    Very good seminar. It is regretful, however, that you could not find a female scholar to join you. It seems offensive at this point to see male panels like this.

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