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Aziz Rana, "The Rise of the Constitution"

Thursday, February 2, 2017 - 4:45pm

Kaufmann Auditorium, Goldwin Smith Hall
ICM Lecture Series

Professor, Cornell Law School

This talk, drawn from a book manuscript, explores how the Federal Constitution became a site of near unanimous public support in American life. It argues that the dominance and substantive meaning of constitutional veneration is actually a relatively recent development—the product of a series of interconnected political struggles between the American emergence onto the global stage with the Spanish-American War and World War I and the fallout of student and civil rights protest in the 1970s. In the process, the book raises a series of questions that have thus far been largely overlooked but that should be central to our conversations about the Constitution. How did our current consensus emerge? To what degree did such acceptance depend on the active suppression of alternatives? And what are the implications of this consensus and its history for contemporary political discourse and institutional possibilities? In engaging with these questions, Rana highlights how the Constitution became wedded to a very specific account of national purpose—one grounded in universal equality—which a century ago existed only at the margins of American politics. Indeed, the rise of modern constitutional veneration is ultimately a story of how the document became synonymous with a once highly embattled view of national identity and, through that process, effectively rose above meaningful political dissent.

Aziz Rana is a professor of law at Cornell Law School. His research and teaching center on American constitutional law and political development, with a particular focus on how shifting notions of race, citizenship, and empire have shaped legal and political identity since the founding. His publications include The Two Faces of American Freedom (Harvard University Press), which situates the American experience within the global history of colonialism, examining the intertwined relationship in American constitutional practice between internal accounts of freedom and external projects of power and expansion. He is currently working on a book manuscript that explores the modern rise of constitutional veneration in the twentieth century—especially against the backdrop of growing American global authority—and how veneration has influenced the boundaries of popular politics.

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Co-sponsored by the Clarke Center for International & Comparative Legal Studies, the Department of Government, and the Department of History

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