CHRISTOPHER PHILLIPS / CONSTITUTION CAFÉ: Jefferson’s Brew for a True Revolution
“Engaging and informative…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.” —Publishers Weekly
A central feature of modern political life in the United States is public veneration of the Constitution. The Constitution forms the basis of our understanding of the rights of citizens, it is the last argument of politicians across the political spectrum, and it has the moral gravity of secular scripture. This modern reverence makes Thomas Jefferson's opinion of the Constitution all the more shocking: Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and third president of the United States, believed that Americans should get together every twenty years and rewrite the Constitution to meet their current needs. Essentially, every generation of Americans would rip up the Constitution and start again. In CONSTITUTION CAFÉ, bestselling author and scholar Christopher Phillips puts Jefferson's radical idea to the test and asks Americans from all walks of life to create a new Constitution.
For over fifteen years, Christopher Phillips has been facilitating national philosophy discussion groups as part of his Socrates Café project. In these meetings, Americans from Main Street to Wall Street, from across racial and economic barriers, gather together to explore timeless existential problems through reasoned and thoughtful discussions. During one of these meetings, the discussion turned to President Obama's memoir, The Audacity of Hope, and Obama's statement that it's "hard to shake the feeling these days that our democracy has gone seriously awry." Reminded of Jefferson's scheme for keeping America's political life fresh and vibrant, Phillips decided to launch a thought experiment on a national scale. Phillips traveled from Colonial Williamsburg to the Mall of America, from the Burning Man arts and culture festival to Boy Scout troop meetings, and asked everyday Americans to reinvent the Constitution. The results are surprising, and you’re invited to join the discussion of them this evening.
Phillips offers a hopeful portrait of a people who, working together, move beyond party lines to understand the challenges modern America faces. The Constitution Café project proves that the political creativity that defined Jefferson's infant democracy is still alive and well in America.
Christopher Phillips is the author of Socrates Café, Six Questions of Socrates, and Socrates in Love. He lives in Williamsburg, Virginia.
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