Constitution Cafe: Jefferson's Brew for a True Revolution

Reply Sun 8 Apr, 2012 10:22 am
Constitution Cafe: Jefferson's Brew for a True Revolution
by Christopher Phillips

Book Description
Publication Date: August 22, 2011

The author of the Socrates Café trilogy hits the road once again—this time to inspire a new, nationwide Constitutional Convention.

Energized by the initial optimism surrounding Obama's presidency and, conversely, the fierce partisanship in Congress, Christopher Phillips has set out to engage Americans in discussions surrounding our must fundamental rights and freedoms, with some help from Thomas Jefferson. A radical in his own day, Jefferson believed that the Constitution should be revised periodically to keep up with the changing times. Instead, it has become a sacred, immutable text-and in Phillips's opinion, it's in need of some shaking up.

From a high school in West Virginia to People's Park in Berkeley, California; from Burning Man to the Mall of America, Phillips gathered together Americans from all walks of life, moderating dialogues inspired by Jefferson's own populist political philosophy, formulating new Constitutional articles. With contagious passion and conviction, Philips has taken up Jefferson's cause for a truly participatory democracy at a time when our country needs it most.

Editorial Reviews

“The author skillfully interweaves a history of the early days of the Republic and the disputes at that time with a discussion of Jefferson’s involvement with constitutional issues in the state of Virginia as well as for the country as a whole, and he offers useful insight to Jefferson’s thoughts over his long career. A provocative extension of Jefferson’s original plan.” (Kirkus Reviews )

“An engaging and informative narrator, Phillips intersperses the modern-day conversations with Jefferson’s thoughts about the issues under discussion and the founding fathers’ own disagreements as they framed the Constitution. In an era of hyper-partisanship, it’s refreshing to read instances of Americans from all political persuasions holding rational, respectful, and thought-provoking conversations with one another.” (Publisher’s Weekly )

“This book represents the best of American democracy -- the irreverent and perpetual questioning of authority and received wisdom. Christopher Phillips dares to suggest that we should smash open the Constitution's glass case and hand it to the people the Founding Fathers called the 'mob.' With infinite curiosity and an intellectual integrity that is rare among professional thinkers, Phillips says about the bible of American tradition the unthinkable, the glorious, and the liberating: let it rip.” (Thaddeus Russell, author of A Renegade History of the United States )

“A truly radical and deeply patriotic book, Constitution Café illustrates the power and promise of democracy, using the extra-ordinary conversations of ordinary citizens to re-animate the founding ideas and documents of this country. America needs this book...now!” (Stephen Duncombe, author of Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy )

“The United States needs constitutional change, but how to get it done? Christopher Phillips has the right answer. Get Americans talking to Americans about how we can improve our nation. Phillips has combined the approach of Socrates and the wisdom of Jefferson to show us the way.” (Dr. Larry J. Sabato, author of A More Perfect Constitution and Director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics )

About the Author

Christopher Phillips is an educator, author, and pro-democracy activist.


REVIEW By dubbio1 (Los Angeles, CA)

I have read all of Christopher Phillips's books about engaging in contemporary socratic dialogue. His latest, CONSTITUTION CAFE, is a much appreciated and exciting follow-up to this project. Here the focus is the question, "How could we, the American public, 'rewrite' the Constitution?"

The book is a series of discussions from around the United States with diverse groups covering different Articles and Amendments. Two examples are lawyers talking about the patent clause and teenagers talking about the voting age amendment. Each group comes up with new Articles attempting to redress perceived problems with the existing Constitution.

While I like the _ideas_ proposed by the groups, I found any given one slightly unsatisfactory. I think this is the point: it is difficult to write a one-size (and time)-fits-all Constitution. Particularly in the case of the 2nd Amendment, Phillips gives an example of where there is so much schism between the participants they come up with two conflicting versions. I would have liked to have seen more instances of this.

Phillips's historical interludes on the conflicts the Founding Fathers had among (and within) themselves highlights the difficulties and compromises needed back in 1783. I especially liked the dichotomy between Jefferson's democratic ideals vs his actions as the 3rd President. I think this drives the point that the US Constitution is a living document subject to constant rereading and reinterpretation.

If you are looking for concrete action items to solve America's problems, you will be disappointed; likewise, if you seek a scholarly treatise or a polemic.

My only wish is that a copy of the most current US Constitution had been printed in the book--I ended up buying myself a copy of the US Constitution to thumb through.

In conclusion, CONSTITUTION CAFE is in keeping with the idea and ideal of Phillips's contemporary socratic dialogues. The point is not necessarily coming up with The Answer; rather, his books outline a way for the public to collaborate in seeking answers. I plan to use this book in my future Socrates Cafe dialogues.

REVIEW By Jim Wilder "WilderCO" (Colorado Springs, CO)

Phillips travels across the U.S. to conduct a series of informal working sessions with a broad swath of citizens to re-examine the Constitution and suggest updates and improvements.

This book brings to life the ideas and mindsets of Jefferson and Madison during founding of the United States. This work raises many ideas which could be implemented to reinvigorate our political systems, by applying the reasoning and current experiences of ordinary citizens. This book is equally a history lesson as well as a call for thoughtful changes to our Constitution. Phillips often quotes Jefferson, who wrote: "...laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also and keep pace with the times."

Though I often found the proposed rewordings in the Constitution Café Article sections to be impractical or incomplete, indicating the ideas could be further elaborated, this realization melds with the purpose of the book - which is that our systems must be improved. I found the section on judicial power especially informative - it is this branch which does the necessary interpretation and adaptations that enable our Constitution to be applied to current society. Yet this branch of government consists of appointed rather than elected judges who hold court for decades - and hold powers over the other two branches of government that are not specified in the Constitution.

If we cannot adapt our political systems to befit the modern world (the US Constitution was crafted before corporations existed) then our national political vigor is indeed in peril. This book shows how simple, and interesting, it could be to have ordinary citizens continue the work of improving our government by improving its Constitution.
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Reply Sun 8 Apr, 2012 12:53 pm
Corporations have existed since Roman times... other than that, a house divded against itself cannot stand or change its constitution.. it needs to be trashed.
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Reply Sun 8 Apr, 2012 05:16 pm
Jefferson is an interesting figure as being as near to an open Atheist as ever serve as President.

Supported the French revolution long after it turn bad and blood by the gallons was flowing in the streets of Paris and stated that the tree of liberty need to be watered by the blood of Patriots and Tyrants from time to time.

He was against a strong central government and a powerful Presidential yet during his terms he used the power of his office to double the size of the country.

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