Synopses & Reviews
In this provocative book, one of our most eminent political scientists 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 womens rights. Robert Dahl explores this 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, our 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 our 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 worlds 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 our political system be altered to achieve more democratic ends? To what extent did the Framers of the Constitution build features into our political system that militate against significant democratic reform?
Refusing to accept the status of the American Constitution as a sacred text, Dahl challenges us all to think critically about the origins of our political system and to consider the opportunities for creating a more democratic society.
"[A] slim, accessible volume....Perhaps the most enlightening aspect of Dahl's critique is his comparison of our system with those of other stable democracies....This book originated as a series of lectures at Yale and, as a result, the argument is abbreviated and clear." Publishers Weekly
"This book is vintage Dahl at the highest possible level. It is lucid, acutely analytic, literate, and both consistent with the long series of previous books by Dahl and new in its details and broad contours." Fred Greenstein, Princeton University
Includes bibliographical references (p. -190) and index.
In this provocative book, an eminent political scientist poses the question: "Why should we uphold our constitution?"
About the Author
Robert A. Dahl is Sterling Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Yale University and past president of the American Political Science Association. He is the author of numerous books, including Who Governs?, Democracy and Its Critics, and On Democracy, all published by Yale University Press.
Table of Contents
Ch. 1 Introduction: Fundamental Questions 1
Ch. 2 What the Framers Couldn't Know 7
Ch. 3 The Constitution as a Model: An American Illusion 41
Ch. 4 Electing the President 73
Ch. 5 How Well Does the Constitutional System Perform? 91
Ch. 6 Why Not a More Democratic Constitution? 121
Ch. 7 Some Reflections on the Prospects for a More Democratic Constitution 141
App. A On the Terms "Democracy" and "Republic" 159
App. B: Tables and Figures 163