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Our Undemocratic Constitution: Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (And How We the People Can Correct It) Hardcover – September 28, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0195307511 ISBN-10: 0195307518

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (September 28, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195307518
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195307511
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,000,432 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review


"Levinson's critical discussion of the founding document is bold, bracingly unromantic, and filled with illuminating insights. He accomplishes an unlikely feat, which is to make a really serious argument for a new constitutional convention, one that is founded squarely on democratic ideals. Levinson has valuably shown that parts of America's founding document are seriously flawed, and he has demonstrated that both representatives and citizens should treat the document not with "sanctimonious reverence" but as the revisable product of fallible human beings."--Cass R. Sunstein, The New Republic


"Admirably gutsy and unfashionable."--Michael Kinsley, The New York Times Book Review


"Levinson locates the flaws of the system in America's founding document itself--the Constitution. His book is compelling because of [his] breadth of erudition and his willingness to propose solutions to the flaws he perceives."--John O. McGinnis, The Wall Street Journal, Northwestern University School of Law


"Everyone who cares about how our government works should read this thoughtful book."--Washington Lawyer


"Sanford Levinson's irreverent tour reveals the subtle and not-so-subtle ways our Constitution blocks the responsible practice of democratic government. We ignore his critique at our peril."--Bruce Ackerman, Yale Law School


"Sanford Levinson is the most imaginative, innovative and provocative constitutional scholar of our time. His new, sharp critique of the Constitution makes for bracing reading and forces us to confront what we really think of the Constitution. Every American needs to read this book and see if he or she agrees with Levinson that it is necessary to abandon the Framer's work and adopt a fundamentally new system of government. This work cannot be ignored."--Walter Dellinger, O'Melveny & Myers, Former Acting Solicitor General of the United States


"In an ideal world, every citizen would read this book and ponder the profound issues it raises about how to achieve democracy in our republic. As Socratic in spirit, as it is engaging in style, this is a marvelous guide to the pros and cons of democratic reform. Take up its invitation to look freshly at institutions you have taken for granted."--James Fishkin, Stanford University


"Few scholars are in the same league with Professor Sanford Levinson when it comes to raising provocative questions about the Constitution and conventional modes of interpreting its provisions. Whether one agrees or disagrees with his analyses and prescriptions is largely beside the point; what matters is that he forces readers to think about dimensions of constitutional questions that ordinarily go unnoticed. In Our Undemocratic Constitution, Professor Levinson is at his thought-provoking best."--Robert P. George, Princeton University


"A lucidly written and compelling work, Our Undemocratic Constitution asks hard questions about the nature of our founding document. Levinson, who is one of the nation's leading constitutional scholars, argues here that much about the Constitution stands in need of dramatic change. This is a timely and important book, and our country would benefit if its ideas provoked real debate."--Elena Kagan, Dean, Harvard Law School


From the Back Cover

Advance Praise for Our Undemocratic Constitution

"Sanford Levinson's irreverent tour reveals the subtle and not-so-subtle ways our Constitution blocks the responsible practice of democratic government. We ignore his critique at our peril." -- Bruce Ackerman, Yale Law School

"Sanford Levinson is the most imaginative, innovative and provocative constitutional scholar of our time. His new, sharp critique of the Constitution makes for bracing reading and forces us to confront what we really think of the Constitution. Every American needs to read this book and see if he or she agrees with Levinson that it is necessary to abandon the Framer's work and adopt a fundamentally new system of government. This work cannot be ignored." -- Walter Dellinger, O'Melveny & Myers, Former Acting Solicitor General of the United States

"In an ideal world, every citizen would read this book and ponder the profound issues it raises about how to achieve democracy in our republic. As Socratic in spirit, as it is engaging in style, this is a marvelous guide to the pros and cons of democratic reform. Take up its invitation to look freshly at institutions you have taken for granted." -- James Fishkin, Stanford University

"Few scholars are in the same league with Professor Sanford Levinson when it comes to raising provocative questions about the Constitution and conventional modes of interpreting its provisions. Whether one agrees or disagrees with his analyses and prescriptions is largely beside the point; what matters is that he forces readers to think about dimensions of constitutional questions that ordinarily go unnoticed. In Our Undemocratic Constitution, Professor Levinson is at his thought-provoking best." -- Robert P. George, Princeton University

"A lucidly written and compelling work, Our Undemocratic Constitution asks hard questions about the nature of our founding document. Levinson, who is one of the nation's leading constitutional scholars, argues here that much about the Constitution stands in need of dramatic change. This is a timely and important book, and our country would benefit if its ideas provoked real debate." -- Elena Kagan, Dean, Harvard Law School


More About the Author

Sanford Levinson holds the W. St. John Garwood and W. St. John Garwood, Jr. Centennial Chair in Law at the University of Texas Law School. His is the author of over 200 articles in professional and more popular journals, and has written numerous books.

Customer Reviews

That it was less than perfect, as originally written is not at issue.
Charles Wilson
Sanford Levinson has written an excellent essay which suggests that a Second Constitutional Convention is required to restore American democracy.
Thomas W. Sulcer
They are led by Kirkpatrick Sale, author of Human Scale and I judge most of their grievances and demands to be LEGITIMATE.
Robert David STEELE Vivas

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Michael Heath VINE VOICE on July 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
If you are looking for an unvarnished, unbiased critique of the U.S. Constitution along with some recommended changes and recommendations on how to amend, I highly recommend this book. However, this book has a couple of major flaws that cause me to not support the author's promotion of our holding a constitutional convention in the near future.

What I liked about the book is the conversational tone, the lack of rhetoric and legalese, and while the author Sanford Levinson is a proud liberal, he's extremely fair, unbiased, and respectful to Americans who may not share his political ideology. In fact, the author stays away from reviewing or promoting any amendments that are hot-button social issues like abortion, gay marriage, or current special interest attempts to establish religion.

Instead the author mostly focuses on what he believes are structural weaknesses, like the unequal representation of voters regarding how representation is structured in the Senate or when voting for President or his belief that judges should be term-limited rather than having lifetime appointments. This isn't to say the book is boring by sticking to structural issues, in fact quite the opposite, the book is filled with anecdotes like how senators from smaller states wield enormous power over senators from large states or how campaign strategies could improve if we scrapped the electoral college when voting for President and went to a popular election.

The highest compliment I can pay the author beyond a well-written book is that he changed my position on a number of issues.
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49 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Doepke on January 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
For better or worse (I think, worse), our educational system tends to paint a semi-religious portrait of the Founding Fathers and their most hallowed offspring-- the Constitution. Questioning the wisdom or perfection of either, I'm afraid, strikes too many Americans as unpatriotic, at best, and treasonous, at worst. For proof, take a look at reviewer Horton's thoroughly ignorant version of this mind-set. It's ironic that those who would honor the nation's ideals by turning our Constitution into Holy Writ, at the same time, do the most to dishonor its democratic spirit.

Levinson's brief text (180 pages, excluding the helpful appendicies), goes beyond the popular depiction to point up those provisions among the six Articles and twenty-seven Amendments whose democratic pedigree are in serious doubt. The Electoral College is probably the best known and most egregious of these. Others, perhaps less glaring, but no less questionable, include distribution of the Senate, life tenure for Supreme Court justices, excessive presidential power, and a half-dozen other dubious provisions. You may agree with some, disagree with others, but all merit second thoughts in light of decades of practical experience.

It's important to point out that Levinson does not take up the hornet's nest topic of Constitutional interpretation. There is no discussion of whether Constitutional provisions establish a Right of Privacy or a Right to Equal Access, or other questions of interpretation that tend to rile partisan emotion. Instead, the focus remains exclusively on those structural aspects requiring no judicial review, as, for example, the clear provision limiting Senatorial representation to two per-state.
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28 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Brian Mulconrey on November 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Great book! I just devoured it in a few hours. Levinson reminds us that at the age of 73, Thomas Jefferson noted that "some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence and treat them like the Ark of the Covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment." Jefferson also suggested that we should "think about" revising the constitution about every 19 years to coincide with the arrival of a new generation.

After reading this book I had a palpable sense that our Founding Fathers would be disappointed in our stewardship of their remarkable work. Instead of worshipping the Constitution, we're responsible for maintaining it - during their lifetimes they actively amended the Constitution but they can't do that anymore.

Today, as we ask Supreme Court justices to extract 21st century meaning from 18th century passages, it helps to have courageous visionaries like Sanford Levinson remind us that "We" are still "the People."
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37 of 48 people found the following review helpful By P. Schonauer on April 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
According to Levinson "The Constitution is both insufficiently democratic, [...] and significantly dysfunctional" and therefore "we should not longer express our blind devotion to it". Levinson wants the reader to join him in a call for a new constitutional convention, and "Our Undemocratic Constitution" is the argument for that cause. Each reader must decide if Levinson succeeds.

Levinson takes the reader through the many shortcomings, pitfalls, and inadequacies of our federal Constitution. Regardless of opinion "Our Undemocratic Constitution is wanting, the first of which is a First Chapter.

Levinson presents the United States as "a country that professes to believe in democracy." Unfortunately, Levinson never presents the reader with his clear idea of democracy let along explain why it is better than what the United States is - a Constitution Republic, or a "constraint" democracy (professions notwithstanding). It has been over 150 years since the use of the phrase, "The United states ARE..." and even more years since a person called himself or herself a "Virginian" or "Carolinian". Presidential power and federalism has grown dramatically, but can we so easily say that we are now one big country and no longer a collection of "states"? Perhaps we can, but not without explanation. Unfortunately, Levison provides no explanation of his democracy and why it is superior and begins his book with the assumed premise that Federalism and a more direct democracy (?) is implicitly better.

The Journey takes the reader through unequal representation, bicameralism, the Electoral College, the tenure of federal judges, and the process required to amend the Constitution. During that journey the reader will meet some Straw men.
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