Sanford Levinson, “Four Tropes of The Federalist: What Meaning Do They Have For Us Today?”
Publius, the putative author of The Federalist, begins by justifying his enterprise through the rhetoric of “reflection and choice” (Federalist 1), moves on to place the actions of the Constitution’s drafters within the context of “exigency” or “crisis” (Federalist 40), and then emphasizes the desirability of “venerating” the new Constitution (Federalist 49). At least two central questions suggest themselves and will be the subject of the lecture: First, is there a significant tension among the tropes of reflection, choice, crisis, and veneration, or can they be made to mesh with one another? Second, to what extent do we view Publius as writing to us today, and, if we view him as anything other than an historical artifact, do we view the arguments as ones that we should accept today?
Sanford Levinson is the W. St. John Garwood and W. St. John Garwood, Jr. Centennial Chair and Professor of Government at the University of Texas-Austin. He has written, edited, or co-edited thirteen books on the American judicial system and constitutional law, including Framed: America’s 51 Constitutions and the Crisis of Governance (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); Our Undemocratic Constitution: Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (And How We the People Can Correct It) (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); Torture: A Collection (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2004) (editor); Wrestling with Diversity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003); and Interpreting Law and Literature (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1988) (editor, with Steven Mailloux).