In this provocative work, an American political scientist poses the question, Why should we uphold our constitution?. The vast majority of Americans venerate the American Constitution and the principles it embodies, but many also worry that the United States has fallen behind other nations on crucial democratic issues, including economic equality, racial integration and women's rights. Robert Dahl explores the vital tension between the Americans' belief in the legitimacy of their constitution and their belief in the principles of democracy. Dahl starts with the assumption that the legitimacy of the American Constitution derives solely from its utility as an instrument of democratic governance. Dahl demonstrates that, due to the context in which it was conceived, the constitution came to incorporate significant antidemocratic elements. Because the Framers of the Constitution had no relevant example of a democratic political system on which to model the American government, many defining aspects of the political system were implemented as a result of short-sightedness or last-minute compromise. Dahl highlights those elements of the American system that are most unusual and potentially antidemocratic: the federal system, the bicameral legislature, judicial review, presidentialism, and the electoral college system. The political system that emerged from the world's first great democratic experiment is unique - no other well-established democracy has copied it. How does the American constitutional system function in comparison to other democratic systems? How could the political system be altered to achieve more democratic ends? To what extent did the Framers of the Constitution build features into the political system that militate against significant democratic reform? Refusing to accept the status of the American Constitution as a sacred text, Dahl challenges America to think critically about the origins of its political system and to consider the opportunities for creating a more democratic society.
Robert A. Dahl, one of the world's most influential and respected political scientists, has spent a lifetime exploring the institutions and practices of democracy in such landmark books as Who Governs?, On Democracy, and How Democratic Is the American Constitution? Here, Dahl looks at the fundamental issue of equality and how and why governments have fallen short of their democratic ideals. At the center of the book is the question of whether the goal of political equality is so far beyond our human limits that it should be abandoned in favor of more attainable ends, or if there are ways to realistically address and reduce inequities. Though complete equality is unattainable, Dahl argues that strides toward that ideal are both desirable and feasible. He shows the remarkable shift in recent centuries toward democracy and political equality the world over. He explores the growth of democratic institutions, the expansion of citizenship, and the various obstacles that stand in the way of gains in political equality. Dahl also looks at the motives, particularly those of emotion and reason, that play such a crucial role in the struggle for equality. In conclusion, Dahl assesses the contemporary political landscape in the United States. He looks at the likelihood of political inequality increasing, and poses one scenario in which Americans grow more unequal in their influence over their government. The counter scenario foresees a cultural shift in which citizens, rejecting what Dahl calls "competitive consumerism," invest time and energy in civic action and work to reduce the inequality that now exists among Americans.
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