Law School and political science professor Bruce Ackerman was awarded the Insignia of Commander of the French Order of Merit by French Minister for European Affairs Noelle Lenoir at a ceremony at the Law School Monday.
Ackerman received the award for his renowned career as a scholar and teacher of constitutional law and political science. He has written more than a dozen books and testified before Congress during the impeachment of former U.S. President Bill Clinton LAW ’73.
France’s Order of Merit was created in 1963 by Charles de Gaulle to reward “distinguished merit in a public post, civilian or military, or in the exercise of a private activity,” the French Defense Ministry said on its Web site.
Ackerman said he was “absolutely surprised” to receive such an honor.
“[The award] just came out of nowhere,” he said.
Law School dean Anthony Kronman said he was pleased Ackerman was recognized for his scholarly achievements.
“This is a high honor indeed, and it pleases all of us to know that Bruce’s original and inspiring work in the fields of legal and political theory has gained for itself the wide respect it deserves,” Kronman said in a press release. “Bruce is a citizen of the world, and the National Order of Merit is a wonderful recognition of the cosmopolitan spirit of his work and the man behind it.”
In his acceptance speech, Ackerman discussed the history of the exchange of honors between New Haven and France, beginning with the 1785 naming of the French Marquis de Condorcet as an “Honorary Freeman” of New Haven. Condorcet was later executed during the French Revolution.
“So honors can be dangerous — they can get to your head,” Ackerman said in the speech. “Nevertheless, and despite Condorcet’s ill-started precedent, I have been an active participant in the ongoing debate on the European Constitution, and I am deeply honored by this token of recognition. This is a particularly good time to reaffirm the deep bonds linking France and the United States. They were forged centuries ago. They will endure centuries into the future.”
Lenoir said at the ceremony that Ackerman’s book “We the People” has helped people outside the United States understand the American political process, while also broadening American understanding of the European Union.
“Since [the book] was translated in French [and] since it’s one of the most important contributions to American constitutional thought in the last half century, no one in France has the excuse of ignorance about your constitution,” Lenoir said. “But, in the other way around, you have also helped Americans better understand the European Union as your constitutionalist analysis of the future of liberal revolution deals precisely with us, Europeans.”
Ackerman, who has been a Sterling Professor at Yale since 1987, co-wrote “The Stakeholder Society” in 1999 with Law School professor Anne Alstott. Great Britain has used this book as the basis for a system which provides capital grants to its citizens when they turn 18.
Ackerman said his award is purely honorary and will not give him any special privileges, but he said he did receive a “very fancy medal.”