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How Democratic Is the American Constitution?
ISBN 0300092180 / 9780300092189 / 0-300-09218-0
Publisher Yale Univ Press
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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. [via]