Social & Education Policy

Rethinking the New Deal

Gordon, C.


In "We the People: Foundations," the first volume of a projected trilogy, Professor Bruce Ackerman advanced a theory and an account of constitutional change in the United States in which Americans can amend their Constitution without resorting to the formalities of Article V. The account rests on three epochal moments of political crisis and popular sovereignty: the Founding, the Civil War and Reconstruction, and the New Deal. In the second volume of the trilogy, "Transformations," reviewed here, Ackerman offers the historical evidence and context for his larger explanation. In this Book Review, Professor Gordon focuses on and assesses Ackerman's claims regarding the New Deal, and finds them sharply at odds with current historical scholarship. In portraying the New Deal as a simple give-and-take between an administration which proposed reforms and an electorate which ratified them, Ackerman overstates the importance of electoral platforms and mandates and understates the importance of social protest and economic interests in the making of the New Deal. In the end, Gordon suggests, Ackerman cannot sustain his historical account of the New Deal. This, in turn, jeopardizes Ackerman's broader theory of constitutional innovation, which ultimately rests far more heavily on his account of the New Deal than on his accounts of either the Founding or the Civil War and Reconstruction.



Gordon C. Rethinking the New Deal. 1998;98(8):2029-2054.