At a time when America could use a goodwill ambassador, Burton Caine ’52 may seem like an unlikely candidate. He has sued his country’s government and spoken out against its actions. Because of that, people have called him anti-American and unpatriotic. But if people listen to him and learn from him, they will realize, he hopes, that they couldn’t be more wrong.
For much of his career, Caine has presented to the world an embodiment of American liberty. The constitutional law expert at Temple University School of Law, who last year taught in China, has traveled to “virtually every country you can name” to spread the word and message of a document that belongs, he says, not just to America.
“I hope when I teach American constitutional law, people will not write it down because it’s in a book. I hope it will govern their lives,” said Caine. “The people who wrote the Constitution thought they were writing a constitution for the world. They rejected every single form of government they’d seen. They had a revolutionary idea: that the people are sovereign.”
That idea is indeed revolutionary even today, as Caine has discovered in his travels. A Chinese law professor in Taiwan asked Caine, former general counsel for the Philadelphia ACLU, why he would sue the government in a country with such an exemplary constitution.
“It’s the best question I’ve ever gotten because it forces me to confront the American system,” he said. “The people who wrote the Constitution of the United States were people who were trying to identify the dangers to civil liberties, and they found it was government itself, all government, because government always abuses power.”
Many people around the world and within its borders may not like the government, the president, or the policies of the United States, says Caine. But they are persuaded by its freedoms. “That is such an advertisement for this country it’s amazing,” he said. “That’s a gift nobody has but us.”
People are listening and understanding, one country at a time. After the terrorist attacks of September, Caine received an e-mail from one of his former students in China. America will survive, the message said. It’s a strong country. It’s a beacon of the world.
“I’m just hoping that something I said or something we did in class ignited that thought, because these people are going to be the future leaders of China,” said Caine. “If they’ve learned that, I’d feel terrific.”