HomeGroupsTalkMoreZeitgeist
Have you checked out SantaThing, LibraryThing's gift-giving tradition?
dismiss
This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Loading...

How Democratic is the American Constitution? Second Edition

by Robert A. Dahl

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
229286,362 (4.31)1
In this provocative book, one of our most eminent political scientists poses the question, "Why should Americans uphold their constitution?" The vast majority of Americans venerate the Constitution and the democratic principles it embodies, but many also worry that the United States has fallen behind other nations on crucial issues, including economic equality, racial integration, and women's 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 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 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.… (more)

None.

None
Loading...

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 1 mention

Showing 2 of 2
A profoundly depressing book since it makes clear (without apportioning blame) the inherently undemocratic structures of the American Constitution while make a good argument as to why it is unlikely to be amended. The events of the decade that has elapsed since it was first published show little sign of the few developments that Dahl hoped might somehow ameliorate the most undemocratic or inegalitarian aspects of the American system. ( )
  mmyoung | Mar 17, 2013 |
Jim Jones lives...: The issue of how best to govern a nation is of great importance and should be explored through intellectual, logical debate. Dahl's book does not carry the weight this topic deserves because he entirely avoids exposure of the logical constructs from which his conclusions stem.

Dahl's unstated presupposition is that democracy is a superior form of government compared with representative democracy. This presupposition is never discussed and simply assumed true by Dahl. This is strong evidence that Dahl hopes to persuade, not promote his ideas in this op-ed piece. Since he offers no logical constructs regarding his specific ideas and avoids direct questioning of potential hazards of his ideas, he does not offer the non-critically thinking reader pause for review. Instead he promotes safe, non-threatening ideas that will be easily agreed to by the reader. Once the reader is agreeing with what is said it is nearly effortless to get the reader to agree to the next idea, even if the two ideas are completely unrelated. In fact, the very fashion in which Dahl presented his justification for changing the constitution was one such trick.

Dahl states that during the time of the constitutional convention we were far less technologically advanced. He tells the reader that DaVinci could have done absolutely marvelous things had modern technology been at his dispose. This is certainly debatable if one were to stop and question what circumstances allowed DaVinci to do what he had done. However, for most, this is an idea that will be readily agreed to and will strike imagination and hope, exactly the combination needed to persuade people of such things as Dahl desires. Dahl never strikes his assumption that technological advances also bring about social and political advances, for which he could have at least made a case. He never brings the topic for discussion and simply behaves as if the point had been struck. However, societal advances are not directly conjured through technological advances and in many cases societal norms become less democratic (what Dahl would call more advanced) with technological advances. And thus, we can see why Dahl avoided intellectual debate and instead opted for a trick.

This is an old, extremely effective sales trick which has personally been used to do things like sell movies to people that did not own a television and found movies morally wrong. This anecdote is not just presented to expose Dahl's method, but is also presented here to strike a point: People are gullible and will easily agree to do things to which they are morally opposed, much less unsure of or apathetic to. This is the very reason to avoid a direct democracy and there are historical examples of such things happening, which of course, Dahl fails to acknowledge. Furthermore, it is precisely self-serving tricksters that the founding fathers had in mind when writing the constitution--no wonder Dahl detests it so.

Dahl uses others tricks that an unsuspecting reader will miss. For example, Dahl goes through some effort to legitimize his term "founding framers," in preference to "founding fathers." This has absolutely no relevance to the discussion of representative government versus pure democracy. However, what it does do is remove a name that places the creators of the constitution on a pedestal and replaces it with something less reverent. This is not to suggest that changing the name to "founding framers," and removing some of the reverence is a bad thing. But combined with the other tricks in this book, it is highly suspicious and comes across as name calling.

Furthermore, it is a rather surprising move on Dahl's part after he showed such deftness with persuasion (discussed in the previous paragraph) in other parts of the book. The reason it is surprising is that the very people he would hope to convince would likely be the people that would put his book away after reading this passage. Dahl is certainly not a dumb individual; so for whom is this book written, the like minded or the variant of Dahl? It is most likely the latter of the two.
He claims that Tocqueville predicted a "collapse of society," due to the nature of a pure democracy and gives examples of trials which modern societies have faced without collapsing. Yet, again, he fails to address the heart of his argument and instead opts for something safe and at best tangent to his point, i.e. wars and depression which have nothing to do with the nature of democracy causing a legislative overload and collapse. And yet, Tocqueville is highly accurate when he discusses the stifling laws and regulations that will govern a purely democratic state. On needs to look no further than license requirements for bicycles in modern democratic countries.

Dahl claims he believes in "intrinsic equality," which he defines as inalienable political equality among all citizens. He further claims that the intrinsic equality is what not only allows but actually promotes democracy because the majority population will respect the intrinsic equality of the minority population. So, live and let live, allow for consideration of differences of opinion on even the most important subjects is what Dahl claims to believe in and promote. However, talk is cheap. Dahl later states, "...it is difficult for me to see how a significantly different proposition could be defended, particularly if we draw on crucial historical cases...," (131). He later refers to his own judgments as, "prudent," while referring to the judgments of others as based in "hopeless ignorance." It appears that Dahl fails to uphold the very standard he promotes as being the basis for a pure democracy.

Dahl directly states that he considers his own opinions correct and prudent and perceives views in variation from his own as invalid. He claims that the founding fathers had personal motivations and designed our government to promote their own interests. He claimed that people today are superior that people in the past. And because of these things, it must seem to Dahl that the debate of a purely democratic society versus a representative democracy is moot.

That said, merit exists in some of his points and objections about our current government. However, his methods of tricking and avoiding direct promotion of his ideas are distasteful and less effective than its compliment. Without allowing the reader preview to arguments, one cannot accurately gauge Dahl's position and thus cannot identify where differences of opinion stem. Since it is highly unlikely that Dahl will be charged with the tasks of creating a new constitution, it is likely that Dahl's work will only benefit his cause by creating a stir among his like-minded, which is certainly not respectful to Dahl's dissenters.

If offered the opportunity, it would be of great interest to hear what Dahl would say regarding the role of pure democracy in the fall of Athens, or to have him explain what mechanism would prevent a pure democracy from passing arbitrary or spiteful laws into action. Or perhaps it would be good to see a working example of a successful pure democracy in business or politics (money and power); the two things that ultimately drive government action. These are the issues that his concepts bring forth and since he wholly failed to address them, his book lacks the weight required to address how to best govern a free body of people.
1 vote mugwump2 | Nov 29, 2008 |
Showing 2 of 2
no reviews | add a review

Belongs to Publisher Series

You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
People/Characters
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
Epigraph
Dedication
First words
Quotations
Last words
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Blurbers
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (1)

In this provocative book, one of our most eminent political scientists poses the question, "Why should Americans uphold their constitution?" The vast majority of Americans venerate the Constitution and the democratic principles it embodies, but many also worry that the United States has fallen behind other nations on crucial issues, including economic equality, racial integration, and women's 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 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 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.

No library descriptions found.

Book description
Haiku summary

Quick Links

Popular covers

Rating

Average: (4.31)
0.5
1
1.5
2
2.5
3 2
3.5
4 7
4.5
5 7

Yale University Press

2 editions of this book were published by Yale University Press.

Editions: 0300095244, 0300092180

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.

 

About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 152,582,221 books! | Top bar: Always visible