The Limits of Constitutional Democracy

Princeton University Press
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Constitutional democracy is at once a flourishing idea filled with optimism and promise--and an enterprise fraught with limitations. Uncovering the reasons for this ambivalence, this book looks at the difficulties of constitutional democracy, and reexamines fundamental questions: What is constitutional democracy? When does it succeed or fail? Can constitutional democracies conduct war? Can they preserve their values and institutions while addressing new forms of global interdependence? The authors gathered here interrogate constitutional democracy's meaning in order to illuminate its future.

The book examines key themes--the issues of constitutional failure; the problem of emergency power and whether constitutions should be suspended when emergencies arise; the dilemmas faced when constitutions provide and restrict executive power during wartime; and whether constitutions can adapt to such globalization challenges as immigration, religious resurgence, and nuclear arms proliferation.


In addition to the editors, the contributors are Sotirios Barber, Joseph Bessette, Mark Brandon, Daniel Deudney, Christopher Eisgruber, James Fleming, William Harris II, Ran Hirschl, Gary Jacobsohn, Benjamin Kleinerman, Jan-Werner Müller, Kim Scheppele, Rogers Smith, Adrian Vermeule, and Mariah Zeisberg.

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About the author

Jeffrey K. Tulis teaches political science at the University of Texas, Austin. His books include The Rhetorical Presidency (Princeton). Stephen Macedo is the Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Politics at Princeton University. His numerous books include Democracy at Risk.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Oct 18, 2010
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Pages
360
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ISBN
9781400836796
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Language
English
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Genres
Law / Constitutional
Political Science / Political Freedom
Political Science / Political Ideologies / Democracy
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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It is no longer controversial that the American political system has become deeply dysfunctional. Today, only slightly more than a quarter of Americans believe the country is heading in the right direction, while sixty-three percent believe we are on a downward slope. The top twenty words used to describe the past year include “chaotic,” “turbulent,” and “disastrous.” Donald Trump’s improbable rise to power and his 2016 Electoral College victory placed America’s political dysfunction in an especially troubling light, but given the extreme polarization of contemporary politics, the outlook would have been grim even if Hillary Clinton had won. The greatest upset in American presidential history is only a symptom of deeper problems of political culture and constitutional design.

Democracy and Dysfunction brings together two of the leading constitutional law scholars of our time, Sanford Levinson and Jack M. Balkin, in an urgently needed conversation that seeks to uncover the underlying causes of our current crisis and their meaning for American democracy. In a series of letters exchanged over a period of two years, Levinson and Balkin travel—along with the rest of the country—through the convulsions of the 2016 election and Trump’s first year in office. They disagree about the scope of the crisis and the remedy required. Levinson believes that our Constitution is fundamentally defective and argues for a new constitutional convention, while Balkin, who believes we are suffering from constitutional rot, argues that there are less radical solutions. As it becomes dangerously clear that Americans—and the world—will be living with the consequences of this pivotal period for many years to come, it is imperative that we understand how we got here—and how we might forestall the next demagogue who will seek to beguile the American public.
"In modern nations, political disagreement is the source of both the gravest danger and the greatest security," writes Cass Sunstein. All democracies face intense political conflict. But is this conflict necessarily something to fear? In this provocative book, one of our leading political and legal theorists reveals how a nation's divisions of conviction and belief can be used to safeguard democracy. Confronting one explosive political issue after another, from presidential impeachment to the limits of religious liberty, from discrimination against women and gays to the role of the judiciary, Sunstein constructs a powerful new perspective from which to show how democracies negotiate their most divisive real-world problems. He focuses on a series of concrete concerns that go to the heart of the relationship between the idea of democracy and the idea of constitutionalism. Illustrating his discussion with examples from constitutional debates and court-cases in South Africa, Eastern Europe, Israel, America, and elsewhere, Sunstein takes readers through a number of highly charged questions: When should government be permitted to control discriminatory behavior by or within religious organizations? Does it make sense to govern on the basis of popular referenda? Can the right to have an abortion be defended? Can we defend Internet regulation? Should the law step in if children are being schooled in discriminatory preferences and beliefs? Should a constitution protect rights to food, shelter, and health care? Disputes over questions such as these can be fierce enough to pose a grave threat. But in a paradox whose elaboration forms the core of Sunstein's book, it is a nation's apparently threatening diversity of opinion that can ensure its integrity. Extending his important recent work on the way deliberation within like-minded groups can produce extremism, Sunstein breaks new ground in identifying the mechanisms behind political conflict in democratic nations. At the same time, he develops a profound understanding of a constitutional democracy's system of checks and balances. Sunstein shows how a good constitution, fostering a "republic of reasons," enables people of opposing ethical and religious commitments to reach agreement where agreement is necessary, while making it unnecessary to reach agreement when agreement is impossible. A marvel of lucid, subtle reasoning, DESIGNING DEMOCRACY makes invaluable reading for anyone concerned with the promises and pitfalls of the democratic experiment.
As countries in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries change from colonialist to independent rule, or from a socialist to a democratic society, the need for a written constitution becomes apparent. Countries in the former Soviet Union, Africa, or nations once part of the British Empire face social, economic, and humanitarian problems as they experiment with democratic rule. Such issues as clearly defining where sovereignty lies, how much power is given to the people, and what rights are possessed by a nation's citizenry are new to these countries. While a constitution, being a man-made document, is subject to interpretation and does not always delineate in a lucid framework its parameters for future generations, it is clear that constitutions do matter.

This volume, compiled under the direction of the City University of Stockholm, is an important study on the significance of constitutions and constitutional law in a democratic society. A number of scholars in law, political science, and economics have contributed to this volume. They include: James Buchanan, Aleksander Peczenik, Mats Lundstrom, Joakim Nergelius, Sverker Hard, Niclas Berggren, Peter Kurrild-Klitgaard, Wolfgang Kasper, and Erik Moberg. All add to the understanding of the intertwining roles of politics and the social sciences in a modern democratic state.

They explore why a constitution is essential; the relationship between a constitution and a rational political system; the democratic principle of majority rule; why constitutional constraints are needed in a democratic state; recent constitutional reforms in the United Kingdom; the electoral system and its centrality in a democracy; evolution in constitutional change; competition within a federal structure; and the connection between politics and economics. Why Constitutions Matter is a fascinating and timely study of constitutionalism, and will be of interest to students of politics, law, economics, and sociology.

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.
Does the United States have the right to defend itself by striking first, or must it wait until an attack is in progress? Is the Bush Doctrine of aggressive preventive action a justified and legal recourse against threats posed by terrorists and rogue states? Tackling one of the most controversial policy issues of the post-September 11 world, Michael Doyle argues that neither the Bush Doctrine nor customary international law is capable of adequately responding to the pressing security threats of our times.

In Striking First, Doyle shows how the Bush Doctrine has consistently disregarded a vital distinction in international law between acts of preemption in the face of imminent threats and those of prevention in the face of the growing offensive capability of an enemy. Taking a close look at the Iraq war, the 1998 attack against al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, among other conflicts, he contends that international law must rely more completely on United Nations Charter procedures and develop clearer standards for dealing with lethal but not immediate threats.


After explaining how the UN can again play an important role in enforcing international law and strengthening international guidelines for responding to threats, he describes the rare circumstances when unilateral action is indeed necessary. Based on the 2006 Tanner Lectures at Princeton University, Striking First includes responses by distinguished political theorists Richard Tuck and Jeffrey McMahan and international law scholar Harold Koh, yielding a lively debate that will redefine how--and for what reasons--tomorrow's wars are fought.

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.
Michael Ignatieff draws on his extensive experience as a writer and commentator on world affairs to present a penetrating account of the successes, failures, and prospects of the human rights revolution. Since the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, this revolution has brought the world moral progress and broken the nation-state's monopoly on the conduct of international affairs. But it has also faced challenges. Ignatieff argues that human rights activists have rightly drawn criticism from Asia, the Islamic world, and within the West itself for being overambitious and unwilling to accept limits. It is now time, he writes, for activists to embrace a more modest agenda and to reestablish the balance between the rights of states and the rights of citizens.

Ignatieff begins by examining the politics of human rights, assessing when it is appropriate to use the fact of human rights abuse to justify intervention in other countries. He then explores the ideas that underpin human rights, warning that human rights must not become an idolatry. In the spirit of Isaiah Berlin, he argues that human rights can command universal assent only if they are designed to protect and enhance the capacity of individuals to lead the lives they wish. By embracing this approach and recognizing that state sovereignty is the best guarantee against chaos, Ignatieff concludes, Western nations will have a better chance of extending the real progress of the past fifty years. Throughout, Ignatieff balances idealism with a sure sense of practical reality earned from his years of travel in zones of war and political turmoil around the globe.


Based on the Tanner Lectures that Ignatieff delivered at Princeton University's Center for Human Values in 2000, the book includes two chapters by Ignatieff, an introduction by Amy Gutmann, comments by four leading scholars--K. Anthony Appiah, David A. Hollinger, Thomas W. Laqueur, and Diane F. Orentlicher--and a response by Ignatieff.

Armed interventions in Libya, Haiti, Iraq, Vietnam, and Korea challenged the US president and Congress with a core question of constitutional interpretation: does the president, or Congress, have constitutional authority to take the country to war? War Powers argues that the Constitution doesn't offer a single legal answer to that question. But its structure and values indicate a vision of a well-functioning constitutional politics, one that enables the branches of government themselves to generate good answers to this question for the circumstances of their own times.

Mariah Zeisberg shows that what matters is not that the branches enact the same constitutional settlement for all conditions, but instead how well they bring their distinctive governing capacities to bear on their interpretive work in context. Because the branches legitimately approach constitutional questions in different ways, interpretive conflicts between them can sometimes indicate a successful rather than deficient interpretive politics. Zeisberg argues for a set of distinctive constitutional standards for evaluating the branches and their relationship to one another, and she demonstrates how observers and officials can use those standards to evaluate the branches' constitutional politics. With cases ranging from the Mexican War and World War II to the Cold War, Cuban Missile Crisis, and Iran-Contra scandal, War Powers reinterprets central controversies of war powers scholarship and advances a new way of evaluating the constitutional behavior of officials outside of the judiciary.

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