Adam Lebovitz — 2019 Leo Strauss Award Recipient

The American Political Science Association (APSA) will present the Leo Strauss Award to Dr. Adam Lebovitz at the 2019 APSA Annual Meeting & Exhibition, the world’s largest gathering of political scientists and source for emerging scholarship in the discipline.  The $750 award recognizes the best dissertation on political philosophy.

Adam Lebovitz is a political theorist and constitutional lawyer with a special interest in the constitutional theories of eighteenth-century Britain, America, and France.  Currently he is the WYNG Research Fellow in Political Theory and Philosophy at Trinity Hall, Cambridge.

He received his PhD from the Harvard University Department of Government in 2018, and his law degree from the Harvard Law School in 2012.  He has held visiting fellowships at the Harvard Law School and the New York University Law School, as well as the Max Planck Institute in Frankfurt, Germany.

His research has been published or is forthcoming in a variety of journals, including Modern Intellectual History, History of Political Thought, and the William and Mary Quarterly. His first book, a critical edition of an unknown text by Thomas Paine on the Reign of Terror, will be published by Harvard University Press in 2020.

Here is what the Award Committee had to say about their decision:

In his dissertation, “Colossus: Constitutional Theory in America and France, 1776-1799” Lebovitz provides an in depth historical analysis of the transatlantic travels of constitutional theories associated with the American, French, and other European revolutions.  By illustrating how constitutional theories as well as Enlightenment ideals, political leaders, and philosophical texts, crisscrossed the Atlantic, it sheds new light on this formative period in the history of western democracies.  Colossus has the potential to reinvigorate and transform the study of comparative constitutions.  The analysis of the American and French revolutions here could also prompt reconsideration, for example, of how the Haitian and other colonial revolutions affected European constitutionalism.  Its attention to Mary Wollstonecraft’s conceptual contributions to these debates is also potentially transformative of a field that has historically left women out of the story of the emergence of modern constitutional political theory and practice from the intellectual and political tumult of the Revolutionary era.

The ambitious dissertation traces the influence of the early American state constitutions and of the debates about them through the years of the French Revolution, compellingly demonstrating how important the rival Pennsylvanian democratic and Massachusetts moderate models were in shaping institutional imaginations across the Atlantic.  It then follows the intellectual path back again, as Americans followed the experience of constitutional experimentation in France and debated what lessons to learn from it.  The dissertation is the kind of scholarship that would be called “magisterial” in a book by a senior scholar: broad in scope and deep in archival research, ambitious and confident in its scholarly voice.

It includes admirable attention to theoretical debate about institutional forms and rules, not only abstract questions of liberty or legitimacy.  It restores rightful attention to the American state constitutional debates, and to Benjamin Franklin and (especially) John Adams as constitutional thinkers, attention that is typically eclipsed by the 1787 constitution and the authors of the Federalist Papers.  And, perhaps most importantly, it pushes the history of political thought toward the turn toward Atlantic history, and makes a compelling case for dislodging our understanding of both American and French revolutionary thought from the national silos in which they’re so often kept.

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