Eben Moglen


Bruce Ackerman, We the People: Foundations. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991. Pp. x, 369. $24.95 (cloth), $9.95 (paper).

With this book, the first in a projected series of at least three volumes, Bruce Ackerman confirms what attentive readers of his law review articles of the past ten years have already known-he is the most original and important writer on constitutional theory in the contemporary English-speaking world. We the People: Foundations, despite its informal, sometimes overly talky style, is not an easy book. Filled to the brim, even to overflowing, and containing many gestures in the direction of arguments to be made in future volumes rather than the substance of the arguments themselves, it presents both the casual reader and the reviewer with a complex task of assimilation, understanding, and judgment. No single critique of the book can do justice to the whole of its content, let alone its potential, particularly when appropriate reservation is made for the fact that much of this first volume is promise rather than delivery.

But even with what we have, Ackerman's book attempts to establish in a single imaginative bound the agenda for both constitutional history and theory in the last decade of the twentieth century; given the scope of its ambitions, the dialogue over its significance cannot begin too soon, or be carried on too heatedly. My own interest as a legal historian is with Ackerman's attempt to revise the entire span of American constitutional history; others will no doubt concentrate on his political theory, or his analysis of the contemporary quandary of constitutional politics and the Supreme Court. But while this book could hardly be styled a seamless web, a summary of Ackerman's remarkably fertile theoretical conceptions must precede any attention to his historical and historiographic arguments.