Academic journal article Constitutional Commentary

Ordered Liberty: A Response to Three Views

Academic journal article Constitutional Commentary

Ordered Liberty: A Response to Three Views

Article excerpt

ORDERED LIBERTY: RIGHTS, RESPONSIBILITIES, AND VIRTUES. James E. Fleming and Linda C. McClain. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. 2013. Pp. 371. $49.95 (Cloth).

We wish to begin by thanking Constitutional Commentary for publishing these three thoughtful reviews of our book, Ordered Liberty: Rights, Responsibilities, and Virtues. The essays by Abner Greene, Ken Kersch, and Toni Massaro (1) reflect a rich and illuminating range of perspectives on our project. We will respond briefly to each.


We are grateful to Toni Massaro for her careful and sympathetic reading of our book. It is encouraging that she believes that Ordered Liberty contributes to making sense of contemporary rights practice--and liberal democracy--in the United States. We concur with her that the November 2012 election provides a useful opportunity, both before the election, when she wrote her review, and after, as we write this response, to reflect on "the national mood" with respect to the evident competing visions of government "as ally" versus government "as antagonist." (2) She helpfully relates these clashes at the level of political campaigns to the broader debates over constitutional law and political theory that we address. Moreover, it is especially encouraging that she concludes that the book has something useful to say to "the various patriot armies marching under American constitutional banners." (3) Indeed, this assessment contrasts sharply with that of Ken Kersch, who faults us for situating our book--including its title--"at a stratospheric level of abstraction," oblivious to the practical battles of contemporary social and political movements taking place on the ground below. (4)

Massaro grasps that claims about the Constitution and about the best balance between rights and responsibilities, governmental authority and individual liberty, liberty and equality, and so forth, are at issue in many of these movements. Again, a contrast with Kersch's review is instructive. While he views our project as straining to produce a "new liberalism" relevant to America, (5) Massaro perceives that "the scope and content of constitutional liberalism are very much at issue" in contemporary national debates about "the proper reach of government authority." (6) She indicates that Ordered Liberty can provide "[m]ore realism about our constitutional liberalism." (7) She argues that our book shows "the complexities and paradoxes of our constitutional law as it is" at a time when "a growing number of people" argue for "tectonic changes" in it and "some even favor a second constitutional convention." (8) We consider our time on the book well spent if a thoughtful scholar like Massaro draws this conclusion, given her own substantial contributions to making sense of some of the constitutional controversies we take on in Ordered Liberty.

In that regard, we especially appreciate her image of a "liberty spectrum" as a way to characterize what we describe as thin versus thick justifications for rights, and her observation that constitutional rights can migrate from one end of the spectrum to the other over time. (9) She offers the example of the evolving level of constitutional protection for gay men and lesbians, from decriminalizing sodomy on a toleration rationale to allowing same-sex couples to marry (a move, we suggest, entailing appeals both to rights and to moral goods (pp. 177-206)). Her point that "constitutional liberalism in practice is both thick and thin" (10) is one missed by Kersch, who views our approach to rights justification as moving immediately to full respect and appreciation and leaving out steps along the way. (11) It does not.

Massaro praises us for clearing up many "false dichotomies" about constitutional liberalism and the relationships among rights, responsibilities, and virtues. However, she comments that we introduce a false dichotomy of our own--that between responsibility as autonomy and responsibility as accountability. …

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