Our Character is Our Fate: The Constitutionalism of George Anastaplo

Our Character Is Our Fate: The Constitutionalism of George Anastaplo

George Anastaplo, The Constitution of 1787: A Commentary

(Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989).

Cited in the text as (I: – ).

George Anastaplo, The Amendments to the Constitution: A Commentary

(Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995).

Cited in the text as (II: – ).

If we could first know where we are, and whither we are

tending, we could better judge what to do, and how to do it.

-Abraham Lincoln

One benefit of George Anastaplo’s prolific publishing is that his readers are able to see what Anastaplo thought years ago about controversial issues now generally considered somewhat settled. This should equip readers to judge what he thinks about important issues today. Thus, since the early 1950s Anastaplo has been critical of many of our actions during the Cold War, just as he is now critical of many of our actions in the Persian Gulf struggle against the tyrant Saddam Hussein.

I recall that thirty years ago, upon the sudden death of Willmoore Kendall, Anastaplo was recruited to offer a series of seminars in political philosophy at the University of Dallas. (These were semester-long courses on Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, and Hobbes.)

I also recall how receptive I, a veteran of three years in the Army, and a conservative student at the University was at the time to arguments supportive of our campaign in Vietnam. Anastaplo, in the course of conversations in and out of the classroom, questioned the easy acceptance of the common opinion of the day in support of that war. I myself have come over the years, to see the wisdom of his critique of the whole Cold War in general and of our efforts in Vietnam in particular, however noble our original intentions no doubt were. Indeed I am, and I suspect others are also, embarrassed now by the arguments we found persuasive during that dreadful time.

It was also at the University of Dallas that I learned from Willmoore Kendall to question the claims by Presidents and their supporters to have knowledge, understanding, or authority superior to the Congress in both domestic and foreign affairs. How much less would have been the cost to the generation that had to fight in Vietnam, and to the generations that followed, had the views of Congress and of critics such as Anastaplo carried the day. However much punishment Saddam Hussein personally deserves, has our Gulf War policy been just or prudent? Are there not likely to be serious costs not yet anticipated?

Anastaplo’s The Constitutionalist, Human Being and Citizen, The Constitution of 1787, “On Freedom,” Lessons for the Student of Law, The American Moralist, and The Amendments to the Constitution– all discussed in this symposium- provide compelling examples of how a scholar, working from the public record and drawing upon a constantly reexamined set of moral and political principles, may benefit his fellow citizens as they attempt to deal with passions that are necessary but not sufficient for a sound patriotism.


With the publication of The Constitution of 1787: A Commentary and its companion volume The Amendments to the Constitution of the United States: A Commentary, George Anastaplo completes his bicentennial-inspired reflections on the aspirations, character and limits of American constitutionalism. Twenty-five years earlier in his treatise The Constitutionalist: Notes on the First Amendment, Anastaplo examined the principles upon which the American regime rests from the perspective of the First Amendment. In these two later Commentaries he further elaborates on that theme, this time from the perspective of the entire Constitution. There are significant differences as well as similarities between The Constitutionalist and these Commentaries. The differences and the similarities may be summed up in the suggestion that The Constitutionalist addresses a limited audience of scholars, while these two Commentaries address the wider audience of citizens and beneficiaries of the Constitution.

a PDF of the full text is here.

This entry was posted in About Anastaplo, Book Reviews, Constitutional Law, US Constitution, US Supreme Court and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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