Designing Democracy: What Constitutions Do

Oxford University Press
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"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.
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About the author

Cass Sunstein is Karl Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago Law School and Department of Political Science. His many books include Republic.com, One Case at a Time: Judicial Minimalism on the Supreme Court, Free Markets and Social Justice, Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech, and The Partial Constitution. He has advised many nations on constitution-making and law reform initiatives, including Ukraine, South Africa, China, Bosnia, Israel, Russia, and Poland. A former law clerk to Justice Thurgood Marshall and a former Attorney-Advisor in the Department of Justice, he has testified before Congress on many issues, including free speech in the media, separation of powers, discriminations against gays in the military, and presidential impeachment. He served on the President's Advisory Committee on the Public Service Obligation of Television Broadcasters and is a frequent contributor to The New Republic and The New York Times Book Review.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Oxford University Press
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Published on
Sep 27, 2001
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Pages
296
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ISBN
9780195349245
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Language
English
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Genres
Law / Constitutional
Political Science / History & Theory
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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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Our ability to make choices is fundamental to our sense of ourselves as human beings, and essential to the political values of freedom-protecting nations. Whom we love; where we work; how we spend our time; what we buy; such choices define us in the eyes of ourselves and others, and much blood and ink has been spilt to establish and protect our rights to make them freely. Choice can also be a burden. Our cognitive capacity to research and make the best decisions is limited, so every active choice comes at a cost. In modern life the requirement to make active choices can often be overwhelming. So, across broad areas of our lives, from health plans to energy suppliers, many of us choose not to choose. By following our default options, we save ourselves the costs of making active choices. By setting those options, governments and corporations dictate the outcomes for when we decide by default. This is among the most significant ways in which they effect social change, yet we are just beginning to understand the power and impact of default rules. Many central questions remain unanswered: When should governments set such defaults, and when should they insist on active choices? How should such defaults be made? What makes some defaults successful while others fail? Cass R. Sunstein has long been at the forefront of developing public policy and regulation to use government power to encourage people to make better decisions. In this major new book, Choosing Not to Choose, he presents his most complete argument yet for how we should understand the value of choice, and when and how we should enable people to choose not to choose. The onset of big data gives corporations and governments the power to make ever more sophisticated decisions on our behalf, defaulting us to buy the goods we predictably want, or vote for the parties and policies we predictably support. As consumers we are starting to embrace the benefits this can bring. But should we? What will be the long-term effects of limiting our active choices on our agency? And can such personalized defaults be imported from the marketplace to politics and the law? Confronting the challenging future of data-driven decision-making, Sunstein presents a manifesto for how personalized defaults should be used to enhance, rather than restrict, our freedom and well-being.
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