Karen Taliaferro on Originalism’s Promise

The Narrows from Staten Island, Jasper Francis Cropsey

Book Review: Originalism’s Promise

By Karen Taliaferro

“‘It is no small feat in 2020 to say something original about originalism. Lee Strang’s Originalism’s Promise: A Natural Law Account of the American Constitution (Cambridge University Press, 2019), however, is more than up to the task. The book is at once ambitious and minutely detailed (Chapter Two alone contains a jaw-dropping 546 footnotes), carefully building a two-pronged theory based on what Strang calls the Constitutional Communication model of originalism and the Law-as-Coordination account of originalism and positive law…

…As a note, it is hard (at least for this reader) to argue with Strang’s basic premise that those entrusted with interpreting the Constitution need the virtue of justice to do so well. But basing jurisprudence on both originalist interpretation and the cultivation of virtue (and as we soon see, a rather specific tradition of virtue ethics, an Aristotelian-Thomist-New Natural Law strain) is ambitious. Nor does the cultivation of virtue end with judges; as Strang freely admits, not only judges but “all federal and state officers – and citizens – also need the necessary habits of character to follow the Constitution’s original meaning.” I do not disagree, but the downside to this ambitious reach of Professor Strang’s argument is that he risks losing audiences not already persuaded of the very thing he is advocating, viz., virtue. Unfortunately, this may not be the majority of those living under the United States Constitution…”

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Karen TaliaferroKaren Taliaferro is an Assistant Professor in the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University. Her research interests include ancient and medieval political philosophy as well as religion and politics, with a particular emphasis on Islamic thought. Her 2019 book, The Possibility of Religious Freedom: Early Natural Law and the Abrahamic Faiths examined the perennial conflict of divine law and human law, proposing a re-examination of ancient and medieval traditions of natural law to held mitigate the conflict. Professor Taliaferro was awarded a 2011 NSEP/Boren grant for Arabic studies and research on human rights curriculum in Morocco. Prior to her academic career, she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 2006-2008 in rural Morocco, focusing on health education and development training.

Professor Taliaferro is a Jack Miller Center fellow.

Learn more about Karen Taliaferro >>



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