Friday, October 22, 2010

George Kenney's Interview: "The U.S. Constitution with Dr. George Van Cleve"

Dear Michael,
This is one of the two or three most important interviews I've done. The question is, how do we make sense of the Constitution? Is it reasonable to think that our problems with governance are artifacts of our political culture and our political classes, or does it go deeper than that? I've been arguing in one way or another for many years, indeed, decades, that our problems are structural, and that only structural solutions will work, if what we want are modern democratic institutions. To understand why, you have to go back to the Constitution and reexamine the logic behind its various elements. And to be honest, because I'm not an historian I haven't felt qualified to really tear the Constitution apart, but I've had my suspicions.

So when I found someone who's puzzled out the big picture, someone with a sterling practical and academic reputation to boot, I was beside myself with joy. It was dumb luck, really, that I found Dr. George William Van Cleve -- I'd been following Google links to do with the Constitution and slavery and stumbled across an article George had written on British law (the Somerset decision --interesting but not directly what I was trying to find out), but I thought to look up George's name and discovered he had a book soon to be published by the University of Chicago Press. The book looked like exactly what I was after, but locating George and arranging the interview took some doing. Long story short: the Press approved his being interviewed by me and very kindly sent me a review copy of the book. All in all, setting this up took months.

Even then I wasn't quite sure whether George understood the implications of what he's done. So I don't really get around to asking him the sixty four thousand dollar question until well into our conversation, and still I put it to him rather diffidently, giving him plenty of wiggle room. But he didn't hesitate for a second. 'We've got to rewrite the Constitution from scratch,' he said, to paraphrase. With that, I feel liberated to pursue more extravagant possibilities than I'd previously imagined.

I hope you listen to this one, even if you don't agree.

Also, just fyi, I've written an essay about the need for a new American Constitution for the Huffington Post and I'll send out an email blast (probably later today) with details when it's up.



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