Monday, May 16, 2016

McWilliams Reviews the Book for Tulsa Law Review

Susan McWilliams, Professor of Politics at Pomona College, reviews America's Forgotten Constitutions for the latest issue of the Tulsa Law Review.  She calls the book a "magisterial work...surely one of the most captivating works on American political thought and American constitutional history to be written in the last several years."  Professor McWilliams observes:
Tsai has a good eye for what makes for a good story, and he knows how to put that good story together.... The case studies are captivating, each on its own merits. Tsai could have merely walked through the narration of some of these stories and written a memorable book. For weeks after reading America’s Forgotten Constitutions, I badgered my friends and loved ones with accounts of Etienne Cabet’s Icaria, an attempted agrarian socialist republic made up mostly of French immigrants in the late 1840s and early 1850s.... I imagine that Tsai’s chapter on Icaria alone would make a valuable contribution to many courses and conversations about American political thought.... What is remarkable is that in this sense, the Icaria chapter is not exceptional within the book; all the case studies here beg for further study.
She goes on to consider the broader theoretical implications of the book:
Tsai may be at his most intellectually provocative when he is operating at the level of this kind of broad analysis, using his case studies and comparisons to venture some important thoughts about the traditions of American constitutional order in particular and the traditions of written constitutionalism and popular sovereignty more generally. That is what I take to be the third level of the story in America’s Forgotten Constitutions.... That there is a tradition of alternative constitution writing in the United States almost paradoxically demonstrates the strength of the standing constitutional order. This form of resistance to this Constitution is, oddly enough, also a form of reverence for its constitutionalism. It is subversion that should please the powers that be.
The entirety of Professor McWilliams's review can be found here.

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