Riffing on The Federalist

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Fall 2012 Reading Group
Meets: W 5:00pm - 7:00pm in Hauser Hall Room 103
1 classroom credit

Each of the six two-hour sessions of this reading course will focus on two (or, at the very most, three) Federalist papers. The point is NOT to use the particular essays to help determine how to interpret the United States Constitution, nor, just as certainly, is it to try to figure out what the fictive Publius “actually thought” in terms of some overall theory connecting the 85 Federalist papers, most of which will obviously remain unread and undiscussed. Instead, we will use the papers assigned in a particular week as a jumping-off point for discussion of how, if at all, the particular essay(s) speak to us today. For example, in Federalist #2, John Jay makes some rather remarkable statements about the presumed homogeneity of the new United States. Rather than spend time on whether or not Jay was accurate in his description, we will discuss whether homogeneity really matters in constructing a working constitutional order. Is it a cause for worry, as suggested by the late Samuel P. Huntington, that the United States is getting ever more heterogeneous along a number of dimensions, or is it, instead, one of America’s chief glories that the Unum can in fact be so pluralized? Similarly, when we turn to Federalists 23 and 41, the discussion will focus on some statements that Hamilton and Madison make about the operation of government during times of crisis or threats to national survival. The discussions will involve reference not only to American constitutionalism, but also the degree to which the particular essays suggest anything useful to anyone drafting new constitutions today throughout the world. (I would hope, therefore, that the discussions would prove interesting to some of the LLM students who comprise such an important part of the Harvard Law School.) The requirements include close reading and discussion of the twelve essays plus the preparation, by each student, of one response paper during the course of the semester that will help set the agenda for discussion that particular week.

Subject Areas: Legal History , Constitutional Law & Civil Rights .