A Constitution in Full
Recovering the Unwritten Foundation of American Liberty
Peter Augustine Lawler and Richard M. Reinsch, II
When political debates devolve, as they often do these days, into a contest between big-government progressivism and natural rights individualism, Americans tend to appeal to the “self-evident” truths inscribed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But Peter Lawler and Richard Reinsch remind us that these truths understood in the abstract are untethered from a prior, unwritten constitution presupposed by the Framers—one found in culture, customs, traditions, experiences, and beliefs. A Constitution in Full is Lawler and Reinsch’s attempt to return this critical context to US constitutionalism—to recover a political sense of individualism in relation to country, family, religious community, and nature.
Power, the authors suggest, is a public trust, not a form of obedience to either majoritarian suppression of particular liberties or the endless rights-claims lodged by autonomous individuals against society. Instead, power is ordered to the demands of a shared political enterprise that emerges from man’s social nature. Building on political insights from Alexis de Tocqueville, Orestes Brownson, John Courtney Murray, and others Lawler and Reinsch seek to restore the relational person—the individual grounded in family, work, faith, and community—to a central place in our understanding of republican constitutionalism. Their work promotes the ongoing development of constitutional self-government rooted in our historical, legal, and religious foundations.
“Peter A. Lawler and Richard M. Reinsch have identified the malady plaguing American constitutionalism in our day: a desiccated Lockeanism that makes an idol of individual choice at the expense of political life. Equally important, they have found a remedy in the unwritten constitution as well as the rich and neglected thought of Orestes Brownson. This study is a fitting denouement of Lawler’s vast and deep corpus of work, and in making A Constitution in Full an indispensable book in full, Reinsch has proven himself a worthy successor to the scholar who taught him and so many others so much.”
—Greg Weiner, author of American Burke: The Uncommon Liberalism of Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Madison’s Metronome: The Constitution, Majority Rule, and the Tempo of American Politics
“This provocative and unusual interpretation of the American constitutional tradition takes Orestes Brownson (1803–1876) as its inspiration and guide. A socialist before socialism in his youth, Brownson converted to Catholicism in his maturity, which was when he reflected on the unwritten constitution that makes America’s written constitution work. Brownson’s idea of an unwritten constitution is the touchstone for Professors Lawler and Reinsch’s analysis, and one does not have to agree with their interpretation to profit from their distinctive understanding of what constitutionalism means.”
—James Russell Muirhead Jr., Robert Clements Professor of Democracy and Politics, Dartmouth College
The shared middle-class values that once united almost all Americans as well as any confidence in democratic deliberation or political liberty are rapidly atrophying. This book aims to rebuild this confidence by helping us think seriously about the complex interplay between political and economic liberties and the relational life of creatures and citizens.