Freedom and Time

A Theory of Constitutional Self-Government

Jed Rubenfeld

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Should we try to “live in the present”? Such is the imperative of modernity, Jed Rubenfeld writes in this important and original work of political theory. Since Jefferson proclaimed that “the earth belongs to the living”—since Freud announced that mental health requires people to “get free of their past”—since Nietzsche declared that the happy man is the man who “leaps” into “the moment—modernity has directed its inhabitants to live in the present, as if there alone could they find happiness, authenticity, and above all freedom.

But this imperative, Rubenfeld argues, rests on a profoundly inadequate, deforming picture of the relationship between freedom and time. Instead, Rubenfeld suggests, human freedom—human being itself—-necessarily extends into both past and future; self-government consists of giving our lives meaning and purpose over time. From this conception of self-government, Rubenfeld derives a new theory of constitutional law’s place in democracy. Democracy, he writes, is not a matter of governance by the present “will of the people”; it is a matter of a nation’s laying down and living up to enduring political and legal commitments. Constitutionalism is not counter to democracy, as many believe, or a pre-condition of democracy; it is or should be democracy itself--over time. On this basis, Rubenfeld offers a new understanding of constitutional interpretation and of the fundamental right of privacy.

Jed Rubenfeld is Slaughter Professor of Law at Yale Law School.

“This brilliant book heralds a new era in constitutional thought.”—Bruce Ackerman, Yale Law School

“In this remarkable book, Jed Rubenfeld ranges elegantly across jurisprudence, philosophy, political theory, and law to offer a fresh understanding of constitutional government. He takes on the big questions of democratic theory and constitutional interpretation, and gives us new and compelling ways of thinking about them. This lucid and eloquent book will reshape existing debates about the meaning of the Constitution and its role in democratic life.”—Michael J. Sandel, Harvard University

“A breathtaking accomplishment. . . . Freedom and Time will move and enlighten those interested in political and moral philosophy, theological ethics, and even game theory; at the same time it will command attention from lawyers and anyone else concerned about the future of constitutional self-government in the United States.”—H. Jefferson Powell, Duke University School of Law

"This is an elegant book, full of erudition and insight. Rubenfeld’s arguments are genuinely original."—Lawrence G. Sager, New York University School of Law

“Rejecting the presentism of almost all competing theories of constitutional interpretation, Jed Rubenfeld reinserts time and commitment over time into the interpretative landscape and produces a nuanced and outflanking account of what we should be doing and often have been doing when we participate in and extend our judicial history. Graceful, learned, and immensely stimulating.”—Stanley Fish, University of Illinois at Chicago

"Rubenfeld’s voice is distinctive in contemporary constitutional theory. His fascinating book is sure to spark excited discussion."—Sandy Levinson, University of Texas Law School

“In this important and original work of political theory, Rubenfeld offers a new understanding of constitutional interpretation and of the fundamental right of privacy.”—Yale Law Report

“A remarkable book, essential for legal, political, and moral theorists.”—Virginia Quarterly Review

“[Rubenfeld’s] original conceptions of constitutionalism, democracy, and popular will make this a book worth reading.”—Judith A. Baer, The Law and Politics Book Review

“The original insight and impressive interdisciplinary breadth of this work will appeal not only to constitutional scholars, but also to moral philosophers, political theorists, and legal historians.”—Harvard Law Review

Freedom and Time joins the list of short books on the constitution that are worth reading. It is not a treatise, nor a monograph, but an essay, by which I mean that it is short and pleasant to read. . . . Rubenfeld writes well and he has the power to illuminate.”—L.H. LaRue, The Green Bag: An Entertaining Journal of Law

Selected by Choice as an Outstanding Academic title for 2001
ISBN: 9780300080483
Publication Date: April 10, 2001
272 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4