Before the Next Attack

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Preserving Civil Liberties in an Age of Terrorism

Bruce Ackerman

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A leading political and legal thinker explains how to end the dangerous cycle of repression unleashed by the war on terror

Terrorist attacks regularly trigger the enactment of repressive laws, setting in motion a vicious cycle that threatens to devastate civil liberties over the twenty-first century. In this clear-sighted book, Bruce Ackerman peers into the future and presents an intuitive, practical alternative. He proposes an “emergency constitution” that enables government to take extraordinary actions to prevent a second strike in the short run whileprohibiting permanent measures that destroy our freedom over the longer run.
Ackerman’s “emergency constitution” exposes the dangers lurking behind the popular notion that we are fighting a “war” on terror. He criticizes court opinions that have adopted the war framework, showing how they uncritically accept extreme presidential claims to sweeping powers. Instead of expanding the authority of the commander in chief, the courts should encourage new forms of checks and balances that allow for decisive, but carefully controlled, presidential action during emergencies. In making his case, Ackerman explores emergency provisions in constitutions of nations ranging from France to South Africa, retaining aspects that work and adapting others. He shows that no country today is well equipped to both fend off terrorists and preserve fundamental liberties, drawing particular attention to recent British reactions to terrorist attacks. Written for thoughtful citizens throughout the world, this book is democracy's constitutional reply to political excess in the sinister era of terrorism.

Bruce Ackerman is Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science, Yale University, and the author or coauthor of more than fifteen books on political philosophy, constitutional law, and public policy, including Social Justice in the Liberal State, The Stakeholder Society, and Deliberation Day, all published by Yale University Press.

“Ackerman teaches us, with characteristic elegance, that deep legal thought matters to the future of democratic government. We all know that we overreact to aggressive attacks, and Ackerman explains how constitutional structures can be the insurance policy we need to level our reactions before and after victims suffer.”—George P. Fletcher, Cardozo Professor of Jurisprudence, Columbia University

“A deep and thorough exploration of how to implement a genuine emergency 'constitution' within the framework of the Constitution. This is a formidable piece of work, interesting and provocative, and it will be an important and influential book."—John Ferejohn, Caroline S.G. Munro Professor of Political Science, Stanford University


“Bruce Ackerman has addressed what may be the biggest issue facing us in reconciling democracy, human rights, and national security in an age of terrorism: how to adjust to the next big attack. His focus on the politics of grave emergencies is essential reading; his recommendations are creative and surprising.”—Philip Heymann, James Barr Ames Professor of Law, Harvard University and former U.S. Deputy Attorney General




“Compelling and readable. . . . Ackerman explores in pristine prose and non-academic terms the implications of the war on terror’s assault on basic freedoms.”—Rinker Buck, Hartford Courant

"Original and timely proposals."—Future Survey

“Brilliant.”—G. John Ikenberry, Foreign Affairs


“Thought-provoking.”—The Economist


"The book is well written, clear, and backed up with tight analysis, which indicates [Ackerman] has considered virtually every argument that might be made against his proposals. . . . Before the Next Attack offers much to ponder. This is a book I highly recommend for everyone to read and debate."—Kimberly E. O'Leary, America

“Ackerman proposes an emergency constitution that would take effect after a major terrorist attack and would include some of the restrictions of the Bush administration’s approach. But it would also expire periodically and could be renewed only by ever-increasing Congressional majorities. Additionally, courts would be able to review any revisions. Ackerman’s solution may or may not be practical, but at least he confronts the problem intelligently, and he is surely correct to say that it’s not a good idea to respond to particular crises with ad hoc changes to our laws. If we don’t think through the basic structure of rules, rights and protections we want, every new attack will produce creeping but permanent limits on freedom.”—Fareed Zakaria, New York Times Book Review 

“[Ackerman] confronts the problem intelligently, and he is surely correct to say that it’s not a good idea to respond to particular crises with ad hoc changes to our laws.”—Fareed Zakaria, New York Times Book Review

"What Ackerman does is present an interesting 'outside the box' solution to the problem of curbing terrorism without curbing liberties (at least in the long term), and he does it in an engaging way. Especially foresighted, I think, are the proposals for rebuilding the House and the Court in the event of a governmental decapitation."—Sara C. Benesh, The Law and Politics Book Review

"A superlative work focusing on the danger that political reactions to terrorism may infringe on the rights and liberties that are the bedrock of freedom. . . . Ackerman argus that civil liberties are under serious attack in the wake of 9-11. . . . Before the Next Attack is required reading for all of us."—Mayer Nudell, Asiaonline

"Bruce Ackerman's book is a tour de force. He has brilliantly combined a subtle treatment of the legal issues with a politically astute—and courageous—plan for preserving our constitutional system in the event of a future cataclysm.  The time to think about these issues is now, and this book, which should be required reading for our national leaders, is the place to begin."—Eugene R. Fidell, President, National Institute of Military Justice



Co-winner of the 2006-2007 Scribes Book Award in honor of the best law book published in 2006. 
ISBN: 9780300122664
Publication Date: March 14, 2007
240 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
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