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A Constitution for the Living: Imagining How Five Generations of Americans Would Rewrite the Nation's Fundamental Law, Beau Breslin

Reviewed by Alin Fumurescu

BUY

 

Beau Breslin's latest book is proof that academia has its own daredevils. To write a counterfactual book and still expect to be counted as a serious scholar is already a bold move, regardless of the topic. But to write one starting from the question “What would America's Constitution have looked like in each major era if Jefferson had convinced [his fellow Founders] that each generation ought to draft its own text?” (p. 29) is to raise the stakes even further. Yet in A Constitution for the Living, Breslin dares the reader to believe that, scholarly speaking, even a work of fiction can teach us a lot. “It is a book that entertains the possibility of future constitutional reform primarily by imagining past constitutional texts” (p. 34). Using the life expectancy of Americans loosely as a generational marker, Breslin notices that it intersects with some of the most significant periods of American history. As a result, in this account, the fictional “Jeffersonian conventions,” as Breslin labels them, would take place in 1825, 1863, 1903, 1953, and—hold your breath—2022!

One does not know what to admire first—the audacity of the enterprise or the way the challenge is addressed. Breslin's book is a pleasure to read, yet it is also highly informative. Each of the five Jefferso

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