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From Words to Worlds

, 232 pages
January 2009



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From Words to Worlds

Exploring Constitutional Functionality

In the 225 years since the United States Constitution was first drafted, no single book has addressed the key questions of what constitutions are designed to do, how they are structured, and why they matter. In From Words to Worlds, constitutional scholar Beau Breslin corrects this glaring oversight, singling out the essential functions that a modern, written constitution must incorporate in order to serve as a nation’s fundamental law.

Breslin lays out and explains the basic functions of a modern constitution—including creating a new citizenry, structuring the institutions of government, regulating conflict between layers and branches of government, and limiting the power of the sovereign. He also discusses the theoretical concepts behind the fundamentals of written constitutions and examines in depth some of the most important constitutional charters from around the world. In assaying how states put structural ideas into practice, Breslin asks probing questions about why—and if—constitutions matter.

Solidly argued and engagingly written, this comparative study in constitutional thought demonstrates clearly the key components that a state’s foundational document must address. Breslin draws a critically important distinction between constitutional texts and constitutional practice.

Beau Breslin is a professor of government and director of the First-Year Experience at Skidmore College. He is the author of The Communitarian Constitution, also published by Johns Hopkins.

" From Words to Worlds displays Breslin at his best. It is comprehensive and well reasoned, and it is thoroughly readable. While others have thought about textualism primarily in the context of debates about interpretation, Breslin asks us to think about constitutions not simply in relation to the way they are read by judges but in terms of their larger political significance."

"This is an important work... written by a scholar who knows how to express complex ideas clearly and is well versed in the literature on public law, political theory, and comparative constitutionalism."

" From Words to Worlds provides a refreshing break from the common focus on the U.S. Constitution in favor of a global perspective that explores the functions of constitutions in many different societies."

"One of the most successful works of genuinely comparative constitutional theory to emerge recently... Breslin’s writing is also readily accessible, and the book could easily be assigned to undergraduates. His points are clearly developed, and his examples are illuminating."

"Breslin leaves no stone unturned in his analysis of constitutionalism as a theoretical construct and a modus operandi for relatively successful political systems."

" From Words to Worlds is an excellent introduction to constitutional design. Each chapter is self-contained and can be read in isolation, which works well for teaching purposes. The book also summarizes concisely the key scholarly works relevant to the topics he discusses."

"Breslin’s erudite book elucidates the reasons a people might engage in constitutional creation in the first place—the point at which dreams are the most glorious and words are the most inspirational. What follows can never match a people’s sheer audacity in that moment, but with Breslin’s helpful prompting, it may one day be possible to test their leap of faith."

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