The U.S. Constitution, with its blueprint for self-governance, changed the direction of world history, said Akhil Reed Amar, the Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University, during the Constitution Day lecture at the Chapel Sept. 16.
In the world before the U.S. Constitution, most governments were undemocratic, led by force and inherited power; now, many of the great powers in the world are democracies, said Amar, a constitutional law scholar and author of several books, including The Constitution Today: Timeless Lessons for the Issue of Our Era.
“The world changes because of the legal, military, political, economic and social success of this project called the United States Constitution, the last best hope of Earth,” Amar said.
The Constitution Day lecture, sponsored by the American Founding Group, the School of Public and International Affairs and the School of Law with support from the Charles Koch Foundation, was held in honor of the signing of the Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787.
Part of what was remarkable about the Constitution, said Amar, is that it was ratified across all of the states with free speech to debate its merits and the opponents of the Constitution were not ostracized. In fact, some of the Constitution’s initial opponents would go on to propose the Bill of Rights and become presidents, vice presidents and Supreme Court justices.
The power of the Constitution lives on today, said Amar, but commitment to its strengths should not be taken for granted.
“There is an arch to this project that’s still unfolding in America and around the world,” he said, and currently the U.S. is at a “crossroads” with its commitment to the letter and spirit of the Constitution.
Global terrorists and thuggish world leaders are threatening peace and stability at home and abroad, and Amar said that the way the U.S. reacts to these threats will have a worldwide impact. He called for a commitment to the Constitutional values of religious tolerance and engagement with democracies across the world.
“We are a light unto the world if we stay true to our values,” Amar said.