25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Promotes a critical perspective on our Constitution and republicanism,
This review is from: Our Undemocratic Constitution: Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (And How We the People Can Correct It) (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. I embrace republican values and the fact our founders created a constitutional republic rather than a democracy; in fact I was and remain extremely suspicious of pure democracy just like the framing architects (i.e., Madison, Hamilton, et al.). However, the author makes a strong case that more democracy in regards to each voter having equal power would improve the will of the people to influence their government in a manner that doesn't risk our liberties.
I do believe Dr. Levinson's editorial decisions leaves the book flawed in two areas.
Most Americans and the media are woefully ignorant regarding what democracy is relative to what we established in 1787, which was a constitutional republic especially in terms of how liberty is impacted by each form of government. These differences were a primary concern of James Madison's when he evaluated different forms of government and created and successfully introduced the framework of a constitutional republic at the Philadelphia Convention (see Wikipedia page for "constitutional republic" for a pretty good definition and comparison). Indeed, Madison focused strictly on past republics to construct the framework of our government and often dismissed democracies as little better than monarchies.
I believe Dr. Levinson should have included a chapter early in the book that discussed the differences between our republican form of government upon ratification and how its evolved towards a more democratic form of government, and the benefits but also the costs and risks of continued democratization in terms of individual liberty which are much better protected in a republic than a demoracy.
This leads to the second weakness of the book. While writing the book, Dr. Levinson obviously had a lot of concern thrown at him by liberals (pg. 174) regarding the frightening prospect of a constitutional convention in which the results of such a convention severely limited or eradicated many of our rights so unpopular with social conservatives (i.e., equal protection, judicial power to protect our rights from unconstitutional legislation, the 9th amendment, establishment clause, and full incorporation of the 14th amendment).
Dr. Levinson calls for a constitutional convention in hopes his concerns are addressed, while failing to address the fact that some interest groups will certainly leverage this opportunity to meet their political agenda as well that directly contradict the founding ideals of liberty by the framers. In fact he correctly terms this liberal concern "Madisonian" for reasons provided above.
His response to what I believe is a valid concern by liberals is a mere one paragraph that is unsupported by any empirical evidence, it's merely a vague notion held by Dr. Levinson's faith in the democratic process in spite of our continued inability to currently hold meaningful debates free of rhetorical fallacies on other hot-button subjects (e.g., gay marriage, where conservatives refuse to even discuss equal protection rights, instead the Media allows them to get away with opposing gay marriage due to their personal religious beliefs without challenging them on equal protection grounds).
These two flaws are not enough to stop me from recommending this book. The book really helped me to more critically analyze many features of our Constitution that do prevent a more optimal form of government, features I took for granted can not be changed where Levinson effectively challenges our inertia. The book also opened the door to my evaluating the Constitution in a more critical manner, which I greatly appreciate Levinson doing for me.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 2, 2008 3:57:51 PM PST
In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2008 6:28:41 PM PST
Michael Heath says:
I believe the first letter in your sentence should be capitalized.
Regarding your point: 88% of readers who took the time to vote obviously disagree, so while my review may not earn an A in a English grammar class, the evidence we have regarding its appeal argues strongly for an opposite conclusion than yours. However, thanks for the critique; I've turned on my grammar check in MS Word in hopes of improving my status as a life-long B- english student (though always an A student in math and science).
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