From Parchment to Dust

The Case for Constitutional Skepticism

The prominent constitutional law scholar’s fascinating (and yes, mind-boggling) argument that we don’t need the Constitution after all

For some, to oppose the Constitution is to oppose the American experiment itself. But leading constitutional scholar Louis Michael Seidman argues that our founding document has long passed its “sell-by” date. It might sound crazy, but Seidman’s arguments are both powerful and, well, convincing.

As Seidman shows, constitutional skepticism and disobedience have been present from the beginning of American history, even worming their way into the Federalist Papers. And, as Seidman also points out, no one alive today has agreed to be bound by these rules.

In From Parchment to Dust, Seidman offers a brief history of the phenomenon of constitutional skepticism and then proceeds to a masterful takedown of our most cherished, constitutionally enshrined institutions and beliefs, from the Supreme Court (“an arrogant elite in robes”), to the very concepts of civil rights, due process, and equal protection—all of which he argues are just pretenses for preserving a fundamentally rigged and inequitable status quo.

Rather than rely on the specific wording of a flawed and outdated document, rife with “Madison’s mistakes,” Seidman proposes instead a version that better reflects our shared values, and leaves it to people currently alive to determine how these values will play out in contemporary society.

From Parchment to Dust is a short, sharp, and iconoclastic book questioning the value (and ultimately the hypocrisy) of embracing the Constitution—which, after all, was written more than 230 years ago—as our moral and political lodestar.


“The genius of Seidman’s book is that the author is two steps ahead of the reader at every turn. Every reader will appreciate the arguments, and every one of us is bound to become a more interesting dinner companion, whether our friends are to the left or right of us.”
—Saul Levmore, William B. Graham Distinguished Service Professor of Law, University of Chicago Law School
“Michael Seidman is one of the most provocative and compelling thinkers about the cult of constitutional law that we have. This remarkable work deserves everyone’s attention.”
—Paul Stephan, John C. Jeffries Jr. Distinguished Professor of Law, Virginia School of Law
“This work could not be more timely. As frustration grows over the structural flaws of the Constitution, such as its built-in anti-democratic features and institutional inequalities, Mike Seidman traces the pedigree of ‘constitutional skepticism’ about the operation of the document and points the way out of the legal straitjacket. He is not the first to treat the issues, but he may be the most patient. A compelling book.”
—Dennis J. Hutchinson, William Rainey Harper Professor, University of Chicago Law School, and former editor of the Supreme Court Review
“General readers interested in the U.S. Constitution, its shortcomings, its history, and the concept of constitutional skepticism will be interested in this book.”
Library Journal
“A bracing defense of a thoroughgoing skepticism about the veneration Americans give our Constitution but also a bracing defense of a thoroughgoing democracy all the way down. Seidman’s acute mind pierces through the pieties of conventional talk about the Constitution to reveal why we should rely on debate among ourselves about what we should do rather than foisting responsibility off on the Constitution—or worse, on to the Supreme Court.”
—Mark Tushnet, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law Emeritus, Harvard Law School
“Seidman magnificently applies his coruscating intelligence to the constitutional pieties of judges, lawyers, and pundits alike, clearing the ground for a new and vital form of skeptical constitutionalism, and winnowing our constitutional heritage for a bright thread of truth and decency. Timely, incomparable, and vital.”
—Aziz Huq, Frank and Bernice J. Greenberg Professor of Law, University of Chicago Law School, and co-author (with Tom Ginsburg) of How to Save a Constitutional Democracy
“Everyone in the country should read this book. If you love the Constitution, read it. If you hate the Constitution, read it. Just read it. Louis M. Seidman is one of our greatest living constitutional scholars. After you’ve read his brilliant book, you’ll never think about the Constitution in the same way again.”
—Rosa Brooks, Scott. K. Ginsburg Professor of Law and Policy, Georgetown University Law Center, and former counselor to the Undersecretary of Defense
“In From Parchment to Dust, Mike Seidman offers a compelling, unsettling and fascinating challenge to our nation’s commitment to constitutional law.”
—Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law, University of Chicago Law School
From Parchment to Dust is a brilliant distillation of the corrosive effects of American constitutional veneration and of the irremediable inconsistencies that saturate the modern constitutional order. In turns harrowing and hopeful, it documents a rich and surprisingly forthright tradition of skepticism among some of the nation’s most celebrated constitutional heroes. Seidman’s succinct retelling of American constitutional history builds a powerful case for the skeptic’s constitution.”
—Laura Weinrib, Fred N. Fishman Professor and Suzanne Young Murray Professor, Harvard Law School, and author of The Taming of Free Speech
“A sharp-edged and well-informed takedown of one of America’s sacred cows.”
Publishers Weekly
“At once provocative and engaging, bracing and stimulating, Seidman blows the dust off of settled views about the Constitution with skill and knowledge. Even those who disagree will find his questions and analysis memorable and instructive: like the sand irritating the oyster, pearls will result.”
—Martha Minow, former dean of Harvard Law School and author of Saving the News
“Makes the case—strongly and at times irrefutably—that our almost 250-year-old Constitution simply is not working anymore . . . an important call to attention.”
—Barry Friedman, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Professor of Law, NYU School of Law

News and Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Read a review of From Parchment to Dust in Publishers Weekly.

Goodreads Reviews