The Constitutional Bind
University of Chicago Press; First Edition (April 16, 2024)
Some Americans today worry that the Federal Constitution is ill-equipped to respond to mounting democratic threats and may even exacerbate the worst features of American politics. Yet for as long as anyone can remember, the Constitution has occupied a quasi-mythical status in American political culture, which ties ideals of liberty and equality to assumptions about the inherent goodness of the text’s design. The Constitutional Bind explores how a flawed document came to be so glorified and how this has impacted American life.
In a pathbreaking retelling of the American experience, Aziz Rana shows that today’s reverential constitutional culture is a distinctively twentieth-century phenomenon. Rana connects this widespread idolization to another relatively recent development: the rise of US global dominance. Ultimately, such veneration has had far-reaching consequences: despite offering a unifying language of reform, it has also unleashed an interventionist national security state abroad while undermining the possibility of deeper change at home.
Revealing how the current constitutional order was forged over the twentieth century, The Constitutional Bind also sheds light on an array of movement activists—in Black, Indigenous, feminist, labor, and immigrant politics—who struggled to imagine different constitutional horizons. As time passed, these voices of opposition were excised from memory. Today, they offer essential insights.
“The Constitutional Bind removes the cloak of veneration to reveal a tragically flawed document and generations of critics for whom the U.S. Constitution was an obstacle to democracy, a safeguard of white settler rule, and a barrier to universal freedom. In doing so, Rana has unearthed a dynamic history of alternative democratic movements and imaginaries within the U.S. and beyond. A genuine masterpiece.” -- Robin D. G. Kelley | author of “Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination”
“This astonishing masterpiece divides the age that came before it from the new era that its appearance opens. Rana’s refusal to look away from the disturbing reasons why an American culture of venerating the Constitution took hold will lead more people than ever before to rethink that devotion. No more important book about the Constitution has appeared in a hundred years—if ever.” -- Samuel Moyn | author of “Liberalism against Itself: Cold War Intellectuals and the Making of Our Times”
“Paradigm shifting. Rana argues that Americans’ reverence for their Constitution is the cause of our problems—not the remedy—and he recovers histories of resistance and emancipation that provide resources for this generation’s freedom struggles.” -- Reva Siegel | Yale Law School
“Illuminating in his excavation of several important critics of the Constitution whose voices have been stifled and given the uncertain health of the American constitutional order, Rana’s book could not be arriving at a better time. It deserves wide readership and, more to the point, discussion.” -- Sanford Levinson | author of “Our Undemocratic Constitution: Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (And How We the People Can Correct It)”