American constitutionalism is famously about written rules. Our constitutions are filled with “thou shalt nots.” So much so that many unfortunately jump to the conclusion that the entire point of a constitution is to impose limiting rules. And certainly for several decades, the American experiment with written constitutions stood out for the ways in which it bound government officials with legally enforceable rules.
CUNY staff members protesting on July 28, 2016 on campus in New York City. (Credit: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/Alamy Live News).
The closing of the XXX Olympic Games, in both French and English, reminds me of Charles Dickens who in the nineteenth century wrote famously about the Tale of Two Cities—Paris and London–separated by a channel of water. Paris was experiencing in 1789 the fervor of what Karl Marx was to later call “revolution in permanence,” and London was, following Edmund Burke, muddling through with reforms here and there. But the 2012 Olympics confirm that London, and not Paris, is the city of Europe. There are no longer two competing European tales.
But it would be wrong to conclude that the more sober tale of London has triumphed over the more intoxicating tale of Paris. It would be more accurate to say that the victory of London is the result of the ascendency of Parisian intoxication over the sobriety of the Londoner. What we witnessed at the closing of these games was not the display of good old-fashioned pomp and circumstance, or simply good old-fashioned British fun in the performance of Eric Idle’s famous Look on the Bright Side of Life skit. This was revolution in permanence. Or more delicately stated, Paris and London are now two cities with One Tale: democratic perfectionism.