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The Decline and Fall of the American Republic (The Tanner Lectures on Human Values) First Edition Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674057036
ISBN-10: 0674057031
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ackerman (The Failure of the Founding Fathers) makes an academic yet mostly accessible argument against the "triumphalist" (a "Johnny-come-lately to the legal scene") attitude of American constitutionalists on both sides of the political divide and suggests that this signals a dangerous complacency. Ackerman, a triumphalist himself, elaborates on themes developed by Arthur Schlesinger in The Imperial Presidency to warn, "The triumphs of the presidency in the past have prepared the way for a grim future," citing "the decisive triumph of the presidential primacy and caucus system (1972)" for opening the door "for extremists candidates to win major party nominations." Ackerman also tackles more commonly accepted criticisms, like the use of sound bites and polls, and the presidential reliance on signing statements to nullify laws, and sees the de facto inclusion of the military as part of civilian government, as well as the enhanced role of White House staffers (including the National Security Advisor, a position not ratified by the Senate) as symptoms of a government in desperate need of reform. As part of Harvard's "Tanner Lectures on Human Values," Ackerman's effort will appeal most to serious scholars of constitutional law. (Oct.)
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Review

Ackerman makes a powerful case that the Executive's reach has expanded by leaps and bounds over the last half century, due to factors internal and external to the presidency itself… The questions he raises regarding the threat of the American Executive to the republic are daunting. This fascinating book does an admirable job of laying them out. (Bezalel Stern The Rumpus 2010-10-19)

The nature of the power embodied in the U.S. presidency has evolved over the years, and if Bruce Ackerman's The Decline and Fall of the American Republic is right, the results of that evolution are unfortunate. The contemporary view that tends to see the president as the center of our country's government and the locus of its political power is something new and quite different from what was intended by the founders. Ackerman, a professor of law and political science at Yale who has written more than a dozen books on American politics, makes clear that his fear is not that the nation is in imminent danger of ceasing to exist as a country. What seems more likely is that its distinctively republican form of government could be lost, crushed under the weight of an unbalanced political structure. In particular, Ackerman worries that the office of the presidency will continue to grow in political influence in the coming years, opening possibilities for abuse of power if not outright despotism. (Troy Jollimore Boston Globe 2010-11-14)

The persuasiveness of [Ackerman's] individual points varies, but the overall view is rather compelling. (Matthew Yglesias American Prospect)

Ackerman must be commended for the honesty and directness of his defense of constitutionalism, irrespective of the ‘sensitivities’ he quite obviously offends… The book has already made a significant impact in America where it has generated a robust debate over the ‘renewal’ of U.S. constitutionalism. (Emilios Christodoulidis Modern Law Review 2011-10-01)

Bruce Ackerman's The Decline and Fall of the American Republic is a profoundly important constitutional wake-up call. It presents a powerful, multi-layered, yet highly accessible argument that the body politic faces the serious and unprecedented structural risk of presidential extremism and lawlessness—and a series of new checks and balances that offer the rare combination of pragmatism and originality. One hopes that the book will receive its just deserts by provoking a vigorous new constitutional debate not only among fellow academics but also, more importantly, among We the People. (Stephen Gardbaum Balkinization blog 2010-10-16)

Ackerman's central contention is right on target—our constitutional system is in grave difficulty. He points to the right evidence, a recurrent series of crises linked to the exercise of presidential power: Watergate, Iran-contra, and the illegalities of the Bush II administration. These crises must be taken seriously as objects of analysis as they are central to a proper understanding of where we stand. Ackerman is also right to claim that the constitutional triumphalism so pervasive in our political culture has gone stale. (Stephen Griffin Balkinization blog 2010-10-16)

In his extraordinary new book, The Decline and Fall of the American Republic, Bruce Ackerman begins, quite literally, by condemning the 'triumphalism' that surrounds most discussion of the Constitution… I certainly agree that he has identified a genuine problem with our polity, and I admire him, not for the first time, in having the willingness to speak in tones that many of his more moderate and 'reasonable' colleagues in the legal academy will undoubtedly dismiss as overwrought. (Sandy Levinson Balkinization blog 2010-10-17)

Alarmist or alarming, The Decline and Fall of the American Republic, is a serious attention-getter. Bruce Ackerman has adroitly woven recent changes in our institutional arrangements into a provocative argument that the expanding powers of the 21st century presidency have put our constitutional order at risk. (Joyce Appleby, University of California, Los Angeles, author of The Relentless Revolution)

At once audacious and plain spoken, Ackerman offers a fierce critique of democracy's most dangerous adversary: the abuse of democratic power by democratically elected chief executives. (Benjamin R. Barber, Demos, author of Jihad vs. McWorld and Consumed)

In The Decline and Fall of the American Republic, Bruce Ackerman, one of our nation's most thoughtful and most influential constitutional theorists, sounds the alarm about the dangers posed by our ever-expanding executive authority. Those who care about the future of our nation should pay careful heed to Ackerman's warning, as well as to his prescriptions for avoiding a constitutional disaster. (Geoffrey R. Stone, University of Chicago Law School, author of Perilous Times)
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Product Details

  • Series: The Tanner Lectures on Human Values (Book 12)
  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; First Edition edition (October 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674057031
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674057036
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #673,971 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In his book The Decline and Fall of the American Republic, Professor Ackerman begins by condemning the triumphalism that surrounds most discussions of the American Constitution. He professes to be (or to have been) a triumphalist himself, since his constitutional theory features a distinctive hero: not the Founders nor the New Deal's success in adapting classical constitutional forms reinforced by the Warren Court, but the ordinary American citizens who have shaped the country's fundamental commitments over the centuries.
But he also acknowledges that next to a bright side of American constitutional history stands a dark one. This is represented by the transformation of the presidency into a real and present danger to the American republic, as a result of developments that were not anticipated by the Founders: the rise of political parties, mass media, and massive bureaucratic and military establishments.
In view of this one must ask: can the transformation of American constitutional law described in The Decline and Fall of the American Republic be viewed in terms of Professor Ackerman's theory of constitutional moments? Furthermore, can his proposals concerning the reform of the presidency be attained by means of this theory? The answers to both questions are, I'm afraid, negative.
It appears there are several differences between the theory of constitutional moments and the transformations the American presidency is currently enduring. The theory of constitutional moments makes the best of a characteristic feature of the American system which consists in undercutting the pretensions of any particular branch to serve as the unique spokesman for the people.
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The premise of this work is that the Office of the President, and the President himself, have been gaining power since the time the Constitution was written and that the level of power now enjoyed by the President is becoming (or has become) dangerous. The author gives a number of examples of the expansion of power and the problems it can create. He cites Lincoln's abolition of habeas corpus during the Civil War, the packing of the Supreme Court by Roosevelt, Watergate, Iran-Contra and the issue of the torture in the War on Terror during the latest Bush administration as examples of how power has been corrupted.

One example of an increase in power is the professional officer corps that the Commander in Chief now commands. The author points to the Founding Fathers and their belief in a citizen army. The officers were men of authority (business and trade leaders) who gave up their civilian job to command the armed forces. Upon the end of the disturbance, they returned to their real profession and went about life. The professional officer in the military is a fairly recent event, and the author feels the possibility for abuse by the President is enormous. Do the officers follow commands given by the Commander in Chief, even though they may be illegal or do they refuse such orders. The authors belief is that they will follow orders. That could lead to a situation of a President seizing command of the country.

That is but one example given by the author to support his theory. He makes a good case for the increase in power and the need to check that power going forward. His ideas for fixing the problem however, seem somewhat simplistic and unworkable in the toxic political environment now present in Washington.
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Ackerman's arguments presents an interesting perspective on the American political system with emphasis on the role of the executive. It's a good read and pretty accessible to students. His writing system will get you excited about his arguments, allow you to critically consider this points, and formlate questions of your own. If one agrees or disagrees with his point is irrelavent, rather its the discourse that the book can provide that made he glad I read it.
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The cover of this book is an insult to all the men and women who are now serving or have ever served in uniform our great Nation. As an American veteran, having proudly served 28 years in the United States Air Force, I find the cover of this book demeaning to our proud Country. I will never, ever buy a book with a cover that demeans my Flag and will also recommend that my friends also show the same disdain to the author as he has shown my flag.

Enrique A. Perez, SMSgt, USAF (Ret)
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