Reflections on Life, Death, and the Constitution

Reflections on Life, Death, and the Constitution

Reflections on Life, Death, and the Constitution

Reflections on Life, Death, and the Constitution


The role of law in government has been increasingly scrutinized as courts struggle with controversial topics such as assisted suicide, euthanasia, abortion, capital punishment, and torture. Reflections on Life, Death, and the Constitution explores such issues by using classical standards of morality as a starting point for understanding them. Drawing on works of literature and philosophy, and on U.S. Supreme Court decisions, George Anastaplo examines the intimate relationship between human nature and constitutional law.


I strove with none, for none was worth my strife:
Nature I loved, and, next to Nature, Art:
I warmed both hands before the fire of Life;
It sinks; and I am ready to depart.

—Walter Savage Landor, Dying Speech of
the Old Philosopher

The Essays in this volume draw on my half-century of Great Books seminars in the Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults at the University of Chicago and on my quarter-century of Constitutional Law and Jurisprudence courses in the School of Law at Loyola University Chicago. This volume of constitutional sonnets includes suggestions (1) about texts that illuminate enduring issues with respect to mortality and the law, (2) about United States Supreme Court cases that attempt to deal with such matters, and (3) about how life-and-death issues might well be regarded by us. Both public policy and constitutional questions are dealt with in the light of principles that draw upon long-familiar notions about life, death, religion, liberty, natural right/natural law, nature, chance, morality, and the common good. An effort is made thereby to suggest—to legislators, judges, and other citizens interested in the principles and practices of the Constitution—how to think further about the matters examined in these Essays.

The Essays developed here begin with reminders of what is said elsewhere (in space and in time) about the matters critical for understanding the life-and-death issues addressed in American constitutional law. The first half of Part One mostly recalls the ways that such issues were addressed by gifted authors prior to the emergence of the United States.

After the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are drawn on in this context, there is a series of examinations of the modern efforts to reconcile the attractions of individualism with the demands of . . .

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