Book Review on
This book review has been written by Name of Student of Class of Student of Name of College on Date of submission
The book” How Democratic is the American Constitution” is written by Robert A. Dahl's who is a political scientist and teaches political science at Yale university. He is author of many books on political science and other text books, and has earned many honors and awards as an author. The book was published in 2001 and covers a discussion on the undemocratic elements of American constitution. The author has highlighted the continuity in development of democratic practices and philosophies as compared to the constitution that moves no further. The writer has praised people who prepared the constitution and called them as people of exceptional talent. The idea of American constitution standing still and democracy moving forward has been discussed in detail in the book. The writer has identified seven elements in the American constitution that do not conform to the democratic norms and make the constitution less democratic.
First undemocratic element identified by the writer is about the slavery. The writer highlights that American constitution tolerated slavery in order to ensure participation of Southern states and was only taken out of constitution after the American civil war. Second undemocratic element in the constitution is the suffering caused to the African Americans, Native Americans and women. Their right to vote was not protected. It was only after passing of fourteenth amendment that suffering due to race was legally stopped. Passage of nineteenth amendment in 1920 stopped suffering due to sex and twenty-fourth amendment stopped the toll taxes that were used to discriminate against African Americans in some states. Third undemocratic element highlighted by the writer of the book is the election of President of America. Article II section of the constitution defines the Electoral College and each state is given proportion equal to number of senators. Senators would give votes to the person of their own choice and may not be in accordance with the popular will, which means election of President is not through the correct will of the people. Although, at present states used a system to give vote of their electors basing on the outcome of a popular vote in the state, but distribution of votes to the states remains unaffected. Fourth undemocratic element found in the constitution by the writer is the number of senators from each state is two which is not proportionate to the population of each state, however, they have equal representation in the Electoral College meant to elect the President of America. Equal representation in the Senate from each state comprising two senators from each state with no relevance to the population of the states is not justified. Fifth undemocratic element found in the constitution is the procedure for election of senators. As per Article 1 of the constitution, senators are to be appointed by the state legislature directly. Seventeenth amendment in 1913, changed the system for election of senators and they are now popularly elected in the states. Sixth element found undemocratic in the constitution by the author of the book is judicial powers vested in judiciary. As per the constitution, judges have been vested with the powers to declare any law or regulation as unconstitutional, despite the fact that it has been approved by the legislature and signed by the President. Judges do not come through an electoral process and are appointed. Judiciary has thus used their authority to make the national policy through their judicial command. The seventh and last undemocratic element found in American constitution by the author is limitations on congressional powers. The constitution has sovereignty in many aspects and powers of congress are limited to a list. Interpretation of direct taxes by the court from 1895 to 1913 limited the revenues to the federal government until sixteenth amendment was signed. Similarly, Supreme Court interpreted the powers of congress wrongly which gave very little powers to the congress to improve the economy. Modern interpretation of constitution of the law has allowed the congress, senate and federal government to exercise greater influence on the economic activities in America.
In the book” How Democratic is the American Constitution”, Robert A. Dahl compared the different aspects of amended American constitution with the other democracies of the world. His comparison is based on political stability, protection of democratic rights, democratic impartiality, and building of unanimity and success of problem solving. He identifies, that from 1950 onwards, democracy has steadily prevailed in only twenty-two countries including America. The author identifies that federalism and presence of strong federal institutions and subordinate machineries well protected by the constitution are essential for the continuity of democratic process in the country. Presence of two houses with substantial powers, equal representation in the upper house and strong judiciary conducting a critical review of the legislation done by the two houses are few important aspects of a democratic constitution. Importance of electoral system with one seat per district, and further proportional representation by dividing them on the proportion of vote received by political parties, is highlighted by the author. Countries with two party system have better prospects for progression of democracies whereas a country with multi party political system will have problem in legislation. In a presidential system of democracy, separation of powers between the legislature and executive is important for democracy to flourish. The aspect of protection of democratic rights did not find any correlation among the twenty-two countries with steady democracy. Author concludes through solid arguments that countries with proportional system of government are fairer as they promote consensus building. Dahl considers American constitution as a hybrid system because of having two houses and due to clear separation of powers between the two. American constitution has the powers and flexibility to ensure progress and economic growth, reduce unemployment, lessen inflation and demand for no foreign aid. These aspects of the constitution makes the government effective and strong and such a government can surely solve the problems of the public.
The book” How Democratic is the American Constitution” does not have much of positivity as it concentrates on finding negatives from American constitution. The author has even tried to incorporate the undemocratic elements in the constitution that have already been addressed through passage of different amendments over a period of history. Identifying elements already a history is no good to the audience and does not serve any purpose. It does cover the issue in detail as it deals with the problems with the American constitution and author seems to be very good at finding out problems even with an ideal document. Nothing that I would like to add to the book or take out from it, and I will not recommend this book to anyone for a reading.
Dahl, Robert A. (2001). How Democratic is the American Constitution.