In this provocative book, one of our most eminent political scientists questions the extent to which the American Constitution furthers democratic goals. Robert Dahl reveals the Constitution's potentially antidemocratic elements and explains why they are there, compares the American constitutional system to other democratic systems, and explores how we might alter our political system to achieve greater equality among citizens. In a new chapter for this second edition, he shows how increasing differences in state populations revealed by the Census of 2000 have further increased the veto power over constitutional amendments held by a tiny minority of Americans. He then explores the prospects for changing some important political practices that are not prescribed by the written Constitution, though most Americans may assume them to be so.
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Levinson argues that too many of our Constitution's provisions promote either unjust or ineffective government. Under the existing blueprint, we can neither rid ourselves of incompetent presidents nor assure continuity of government following catastrophic attacks. Less important, perhaps, but certainly problematic, is the appointment of Supreme Court judges for life. Adding insult to injury, the United States Constitution is the most difficult to amend or update of any constitution currently existing in the world today. Democratic debate leaves few stones unturned, but we tend to take our basic constitutional structures for granted. Levinson boldly challenges the American people to undertake a long overdue public discussion on how they might best reform this most hallowed document and construct a constitution adequate to our democratic values. "Admirably gutsy and unfashionable." --Michael Kinsley, The New York Times "Bold, bracingly unromantic, and filled with illuminating insights. He accomplishes an unlikely feat, which is to make a really serious argument for a new constitutional convention, one that is founded squarely on democratic ideals." --Cass R. Sunstein, The New Republic "Everyone who cares about how our government works should read this thoughtful book." --Washington Lawyer
A bold call to reclaim an American tradition that argues the Constitution imposes a duty on government to fight oligarchy and ensure broadly shared wealth. Oligarchy is a threat to the American republic. When too much economic and political power is concentrated in too few hands, we risk losing the “republican form of government” the Constitution requires. Today, courts enforce the Constitution as if it has almost nothing to say about this threat. But as Joseph Fishkin and William Forbath show in this revolutionary retelling of constitutional history, a commitment to prevent oligarchy once stood at the center of a robust tradition in American political and constitutional thought. Fishkin and Forbath demonstrate that reformers, legislators, and even judges working in this “democracy of opportunity” tradition understood that the Constitution imposes a duty on legislatures to thwart oligarchy and promote a broad distribution of wealth and political power. These ideas led Jacksonians to fight special economic privileges for the few, Populists to try to break up monopoly power, and Progressives to fight for the constitutional right to form a union. During Reconstruction, Radical Republicans argued in this tradition that racial equality required breaking up the oligarchy of slave power and distributing wealth and opportunity to former slaves and their descendants. President Franklin Roosevelt and the New Dealers built their politics around this tradition, winning the fight against the “economic royalists” and “industrial despots.” But today, as we enter a new Gilded Age, this tradition in progressive American economic and political thought lies dormant. The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution begins the work of recovering it and exploring its profound implications for our deeply unequal society and badly damaged democracy.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “Comprehensive, enlightening, and terrifyingly timely.”—The New York Times Book Review (Editors' Choice) WINNER OF THE GOLDSMITH BOOK PRIZE • SHORTLISTED FOR THE LIONEL GELBER PRIZE • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Washington Post • Time • Foreign Affairs • WBUR • Paste Donald Trump’s presidency has raised a question that many of us never thought we’d be asking: Is our democracy in danger? Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have spent more than twenty years studying the breakdown of democracies in Europe and Latin America, and they believe the answer is yes. Democracy no longer ends with a bang—in a revolution or military coup—but with a whimper: the slow, steady weakening of critical institutions, such as the judiciary and the press, and the gradual erosion of long-standing political norms. The good news is that there are several exit ramps on the road to authoritarianism. The bad news is that, by electing Trump, we have already passed the first one. Drawing on decades of research and a wide range of historical and global examples, from 1930s Europe to contemporary Hungary, Turkey, and Venezuela, to the American South during Jim Crow, Levitsky and Ziblatt show how democracies die—and how ours can be saved. Praise for How Democracies Die “What we desperately need is a sober, dispassionate look at the current state of affairs. Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, two of the most respected scholars in the field of democracy studies, offer just that.”—The Washington Post “Where Levitsky and Ziblatt make their mark is in weaving together political science and historical analysis of both domestic and international democratic crises; in doing so, they expand the conversation beyond Trump and before him, to other countries and to the deep structure of American democracy and politics.”—Ezra Klein, Vox “If you only read one book for the rest of the year, read How Democracies Die. . . .This is not a book for just Democrats or Republicans. It is a book for all Americans. It is nonpartisan. It is fact based. It is deeply rooted in history. . . . The best commentary on our politics, no contest.”—Michael Morrell, former Acting Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (via Twitter) “A smart and deeply informed book about the ways in which democracy is being undermined in dozens of countries around the world, and in ways that are perfectly legal.”—Fareed Zakaria, CNN
Explores Canada's parliamentary system from the decisions made by the Fathers of Confederation, to the daily work of Members of Parliament in the Commons and Senate chambers. Also contains useful information on Canada's constitution, the judicial system and provincial and municipal powers.
The story of how the American people have taken an imperfect constitution—the product of compromises and an artifact of its time—and made it more democratic Who wrote the Constitution? That's obvious, we think: fifty-five men in Philadelphia in 1787. But much of the Constitution was actually written later, in a series of twenty-seven amendments enacted over the course of two centuries. The real history of the Constitution is the astonishing story of how subsequent generations have reshaped our founding document amid some of the most colorful, contested, and controversial battles in American political life. It's a story of how We the People have improved our government's structure and expanded the scope of our democracy during eras of transformational social change. The People's Constitution is an elegant, sobering, and masterly account of the evolution of American democracy. From the addition of the Bill of Rights, a promise made to save the Constitution from near certain defeat, to the post–Civil War battle over the Fourteenth Amendment, from the rise and fall of the "noble experiment" of Prohibition to the defeat and resurgence of an Equal Rights Amendment a century in the making, The People's Constitution is the first book of its kind: a vital guide to America's national charter, and an alternative history of the continuing struggle to realize the Framers' promise of a more perfect union.
In America’s Constitution, one of this era’s most accomplished constitutional law scholars, Akhil Reed Amar, gives the first comprehensive account of one of the world’s great political texts. Incisive, entertaining, and occasionally controversial, this “biography” of America’s framing document explains not only what the Constitution says but also why the Constitution says it. We all know this much: the Constitution is neither immutable nor perfect. Amar shows us how the story of this one relatively compact document reflects the story of America more generally. (For example, much of the Constitution, including the glorious-sounding “We the People,” was lifted from existing American legal texts, including early state constitutions.) In short, the Constitution was as much a product of its environment as it was a product of its individual creators’ inspired genius. Despite the Constitution’s flaws, its role in guiding our republic has been nothing short of amazing. Skillfully placing the document in the context of late-eighteenth-century American politics, America’s Constitution explains, for instance, whether there is anything in the Constitution that is unamendable; the reason America adopted an electoral college; why a president must be at least thirty-five years old; and why–for now, at least–only those citizens who were born under the American flag can become president. From his unique perspective, Amar also gives us unconventional wisdom about the Constitution and its significance throughout the nation’s history. For one thing, we see that the Constitution has been far more democratic than is conventionally understood. Even though the document was drafted by white landholders, a remarkably large number of citizens (by the standards of 1787) were allowed to vote up or down on it, and the document’s later amendments eventually extended the vote to virtually all Americans. We also learn that the Founders’ Constitution was far more slavocratic than many would acknowledge: the “three fifths” clause gave the South extra political clout for every slave it owned or acquired. As a result, slaveholding Virginians held the presidency all but four of the Republic’s first thirty-six years, and proslavery forces eventually came to dominate much of the federal government prior to Lincoln’s election. Ambitious, even-handed, eminently accessible, and often surprising, America’s Constitution is an indispensable work, bound to become a standard reference for any student of history and all citizens of the United States.
Democracies are in danger. Around the world, a rising wave of populist leaders threatens to erode the core structures of democratic self rule. In the United States, the election of Donald Trump marked a decisive turning point for many. What kind of president calls the news media the "enemy of the American people," or sees a moral equivalence between violent neo-Nazi protesters in paramilitary formation and residents of a college town defending the racial and ethnic diversity of their homes? Yet, whatever our concerns about the current president, we can be assured that the Constitution offers safeguards to protect against lasting damage--or can we? How to Save a Constitutional Democracy mounts an urgent argument that we can no longer afford to be complacent. Drawing on a rich array of other countries' experiences with democratic backsliding, Tom Ginsburg and Aziz Z. Huq show how constitutional rules can either hinder or hasten the decline of democratic institutions. The checks and balances of the federal government, a robust civil society and media, and individual rights--such as those enshrined in the First Amendment--do not necessarily succeed as bulwarks against democratic decline. Rather, Ginsburg and Huq contend, the sobering reality for the United States is that, to a much greater extent than is commonly realized, the Constitution's design makes democratic erosion more, not less, likely. Its structural rigidity has had the unforeseen consequence of empowering the Supreme Court to fill in some details--often with doctrines that ultimately facilitate rather than inhibit the infringement of rights. Even the bright spots in the Constitution--the First Amendment, for example--may have perverse consequences in the hands of a deft communicator, who can degrade the public sphere by wielding hateful language that would be banned in many other democracies. But we--and the rest of the world--can do better. The authors conclude by laying out practical steps for how laws and constitutional design can play a more positive role in managing the risk of democratic decline.