Israel Lecture namesake addresses presidency, Constitution


The University’s Jerry and Carol Israel Lecture on Public Policy is now in its fifth year, and the community gave an especially warm reception on March 3 to this year’s speaker—President Emeritus Jerry Israel himself. Israel, who served the institution from 1998 to 2005, returned to deliver a speech on the scope of American politics, “By What Authority: The President and the Constitution,” engaging the crowded Ruth Lilly Performance Hall in his first address since his retirement.

Israel asked the audience to ponder where the levels of authority within our nation originate and how the issue of authority applies to the current state of American politics and the evolving roles of the presidency, Supreme Court, and Constitution. Drawing from his experience as an historian and former professor of history and political science, Israel’s self-proclaimed “lecture style” was filled with humor, advice, and topical arguments to explain German political economist Max Weber’s three types of authority that exist within the U.S. Constitution: traditional, rational, and charismatic.

Israel looked at each, explaining the lack of traditional authority that exists in our current government.

“A case could be made that it comes from the Bills of Rights or even the Supreme Court, but a solid, undeniable traditional authority is hard to pin down,” Israel said.

In order to improve the current state of authority in contemporary politics, Israel offered three suggestions. He quipped that a new Constitution might be in order. However, he also suggested that increasing the number of Supreme Court justices to 15 and re-evaluating term limits on all political offices may be the key to establishing a responsible, authoritative government.

“By trying to understand the nature of authority in our country, we can begin to affect the balance of that authority,” Israel stated.

After the talk, Israel fielded a range of questions touching on current policy, the presidency, and the meaning of patriotism. One audience member wondered what question Israel would pose to James Madison, author of the Constitution, if he could go back in time to meet the founding father. Israel couldn’t resist a quip.

“I would ask about the original intent of the Constitution—but also gauge how he felt about this whole Facebook thing.”