Amar’s Absent Shall in America’s Constitution ~ A New Post on the Bryan William Brickner Blog

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In noting an absent shall (an imperative) in Akhil Reed Amar’s America’s Constitution, political theorist Bryan W. Brickner finds something else unusual in Amar’s acclaimed book ~ a relationship to the French post-modern theories of Jacques Derrida and Jean Baudrillard.

Scene at the signing of the Constitution of the United States

The legal meaning of shall isn’t contentious ~ which is why it’s there.

In reviewing Akhil Reed Amar’s book, America's Constitution: A biography (hardcover, 2005), Bryan W. Brickner finds a missing shall and more than just traces of post-modernism in the post, “Amar’s Absent Shall in America’s Constitution.”

The Bryan William Brickner blog is an ongoing resource for the political science of constitutions; Brickner has a 1997 political science doctorate from Purdue University and is the author of several political theory books, to include The Promise Keepers (1999), Article the first of the Bill of Rights (2006), and The Book of the Is (2013).

“The absent shall from Amar’s book,” Brickner observed, “undermines his theoretical approach to the US Constitution. In missing an imperative in Article I (a shall), his biography reads like a post-modern text – in this case, masking a basic reality – the constitutional definition of We the People.”

Akhil Reed Amar is an American legal scholar, author of several books on the US Constitution, and teaches constitutional law as a professor at Yale College and Yale Law School.

“The key moment is on page 76,” Brickner explained, “where Amar’s text leads the reader to a falsehood; when discussing the Constitution’s representation ratio in Article I, Amar reads shall as ‘should’ and not as a command – a constitutional imperative.”

“The legal meaning of shall isn’t contentious,” closed Brickner, “which is why it’s there.”

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