San Diego Law Review

Library of Congress Authority File


Document Type



The American Constitution at its founding is often associated with "the Enlightenment," and modern liberal constitutionalism continues to be associated with what Bruce Ackerman refers to as "the spirit of the Enlightenment." This article contrasts the essential features of the classical or historical Enlightenment with those of the modern Enlightenment, as reflected in the thinking of theorists like Rawls, Dworkin, and others and as embodied in a good deal of modern constitutional doctrine. The article argues that the modern Enlightenment is more accurately viewed as an inversion than a continuation of the classical Enlightenment. Moreover, this inversion threatens to undermine the historic constitutional commitments - to freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, individual rights, and equality. Hence, those who are concerned to maintain the historic constitutional commitments might naturally wish for a recovery of the classical Enlightenment. But the prospects for such a recovery are not promising. And the principal obstacle to any such recovery is ... the modern Enlightenment.