Constructing a Modern Canon for The Federalist

by Sanford Levinson

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I do hope that there is something useful to be gained from assessing the results of a decidedly informal and unscientific survey of a number of legal academics, historians, and political scientists as to the extent to which they actually assign any of the The Federalist. Following my summary of and observations about what appears to be role of The Federalist in the contemporary college and law school curriculum, I will then turn to a much larger subject, which is the presence of The Federalist in the “civic education” of students before they ever arrive at college or, even more certainly, law school. What, for example, is required of “advanced placement” students in high school, as well, more importantly, of the vast mass of students whose education is in part structured by basic requirement for American history or social studies set out by state legislatures or departments of edu-cation? Again, I do not profess to offer a comprehensive survey, as valuable as that might be. But I take it that one can learn some interesting things, especially in these moments of cultural warfare over the inculcation of proper notions of citizenship and membership in the American community, from looking at how some states address The Federalist. I am primarily interested here in what is conveyed, and why, as we shall see, only a very small portion of the eighty-five essays that comprise that work are, with rare exceptions, actually taught.