Power  /  Book Review

On Garrison, Douglass, and American Colonialism

Examining how William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass interpreted the nation's relationship with the Constitution.

Renouncing Our Constitutional Faith

The Constitutional Bind will no doubt add momentum to the growing critique of our current constitutional culture and, particularly, the role of the Supreme Court within that culture as the exclusive and unassailable font of constitutional meaning. The text offers a rigorous “constitutional accounting” (655) that rejects the overwhelming focus in constitutional law pedagogy on the Supreme Court and its practices of textual interpretation; it even rejects the constitutional culture of legal elites entirely.

But the real strength of The Constitutional Bind comes from the extended march that the text guides its readership through toward realizing, and ultimately questioning, the taken-for-granted presumption that “We the People” must maintain faith in our Constitution to hold our nation together on the path toward a more perfect union—however flawed that Constitution and nation might be. Professor Rana names this taken-for-granted presumption “creedal constitutionalism,” which he defines as “fusing of constitutional devotion with the idea of the country as an unfolding project in equal liberty” (11) (elsewhere, as an “overarching myth of peoplehood” (3) that contains both a “commitment to the document” and “belief in a national narrative of unfolding equality and liberty” (11)). By identifying and naming this particular strand of constitutional culture, The Constitutional Bind allows readers to question and interrogate the presumed universalism of our modern constitutional culture, reshaping discourse around constitutional practice, culture, theory, and law for generations to come. In example after example, Professor Rana reveals “creedal constitutionalism” as historically contingent. Though this culture often self-presents as reaching back to the Founding, it turns out not to be a creature of even the long nineteenth century, but rather came to life in the twentieth. 

In aiming to unsettle the dominant constitutional faith to forge a wholly different constitutional future, The Constitutional Bind sets its sights breathtakingly high. No text can spontaneously liberate a public from the constitutional culture that binds it—and the discourses of power that culture offers, however ephemeral—without presenting an alternative path forward, either toward dissolution of the state, transformation of our existing nation, or perhaps some form of insularity or secession. Whether The Constitutional Bind reaches those breathtaking heights will likely turn on whether it offers a viable path from our creedal constitutional present to such a utopian future. On this point, however, the text may serve too many masters.