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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: July 2009

4 - Modern Resonances

Summary

So far, this volume has shown that the lessons of ancient history enriched and conditioned the Framing generation's appreciation of the political theory of constitutionalism as well as the crucial elements of the American charter. The Framers' use of classical authority for these purposes was eclectic and selective, anecdotal and abstract. Depending on the kind of argument being advanced, members of the Framing generation felt perfectly comfortable in citing ancient jurists for natural law truths, classical historians for the constitutional life of specific Mediterranean polities as well as of confederal leagues, and ancient political philosophers for enduring insights into human government. As I think I have shown, some of the Framers were quite prepared to engage in close textual readings and glosses of ancient texts, and to attempt to reach narrowly drawn historical conclusions about the advisability of various kinds of institutional features for constitutional governance.

Although all of this makes a proof of the influence of antiquity on the making of the structural Constitution, I am mindful that for some academic lawyers and constitutional historians there is an additional intellectual step to be taken in this argument. That is to assess whether the Framers' discussions of classical antiquity had any affect on specific doctrines of constitutional law that are significant today. This double demand of contemporary relevance and doctrinal specificity would, for example, tend to preclude discussion of the broad constitutional principles of federalism and separation of powers.

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