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The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy 1st Edition

3.4 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0156004947
ISBN-10: 0156004941
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Freelance writer Lazare offers a creative, constructive challenge to constitutional orthodoxy, arguing that the gridlock built into the Founders' design must be uprooted. The book moves slowly at first, with a large chunk devoted to an almost academic recap of American history viewed through the prism of constitutional interpretation. Lazare, refreshingly, looks abroad; while post-WWII European states devised new constitutions (Germany's encourages governmental activism), Americans reveled in a sort of "nostalgic conservatism." Thus, our uncoordinated branches of government have been unable to forge a real policy to address issues such as de facto segregation and urban safety. The author warns against our unrepresentative Senate, where California has weight equal to Vermont?suggesting the House of Representatives might dissolve it in a "democratic coup." Recognizing that his challenge presupposes an engaged citizenry, Lazare says Americans also must develop a "modern democratic movement" to guarantee their rights. Author tour.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

America is in a state of crisis. Society is fraying, and the government is unresponsive. The fault, claims Lazare, the New York editor for In These Times magazine, lies in adherence to an outdated system of checks and balances that guarantees inaction. In a historical examination of the Constitution and its antecedents, Lazare shows how that system arose and how we got from 1787 to now. Along the way, Gingrich, liberals, and Ross Perot receive their share of criticism, proving Lazare is, if nothing else, nonpartisan. One quibble: while Lazare spells out Constitutional problems clearly and well, he is somewhat less clear regarding the solutions he would prescribe. The book is bound to raise a fuss, and it should be considered essential reading.
-?Robert A. Curtis, Taylor Memorial P.L., Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy
  • Paperback: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Harvest Books; 1 edition (July 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156004941
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156004947
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #792,846 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Anyone who complains about the author's left-wing views, which are obvious, is pretty much missing the point of the book. Left vs. right is only one axis, orthogonal to and in many ways less significant than older distinctions - Whig/Tory, Court/Country, federalist/parliamentary, etc. What, you say? Those are old issues, no longer relevant today? In fact they are as important today as ever, and are infrequently discussed in the modern United States because only one approach to them is allowed by the Holy Constitution...and that's precisely Lazare's point.
According to Lazare, the Constitution and the religious awe in which it is often held (even to the extent of my feeling compelled to capitalize the word) form the straitjacket in which our current looney-bin government and culture are confined. He seems to feel particular hatred for the amendment clause, but this brings us to the major flaw in this book. Despite his claim that the barriers to amendment are too high, Lazare himself discusses examples (e.g. Prohibition) that might lead one to the opposite conclusion. Likewise, though he favors a strong unicameral legislature, his commentary on the conduct of House members hardly support his own argument. In the end, much of the essential message of the book is muddied and lost.
Despite these flaws, though, this book provokes thought on a variety of matters not limited to the form of government. Of particular interest is the way Lazare discusses the relationships between abstract concepts such as separation of powers or individual rights to very concrete concerns such as public-health policy and urban sprawl. While his leftist tendencies do become annoyingly apparent in the later chapters, the attempt to tie everything together is laudable. Even if you disagree vehemently with all of Lazare's views, including the central thesis, the book is well worth reading in the spirit of broad intellectual exploration.
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Format: Hardcover
It was amusing to read the reviews which describe Lazare as a "socialist." Socialism, technically, means state ownership of the means of production, and/or the absence of private property. Needless to say, you will find neither in this book. It is also interesting to note how conservatives tend to use the pjorative term "mob rule" instead of the proper word, "democracy." God forbid that the rebellious rabble who comprise most of society actually rise up to demand a fair share of the American Pie.
In any case, Lazare's arguments are forceful and beyond dispute. What have our vaunted limited government and hallowed checks and balances brought us? Crumbling cities, reactionary civic religion, an explosively growing gap between rich and poor, political apathy, and cultural stagnation. Because the Constitution is so difficult to change, we have opted to let the economy do everything. The results of this political abdication are obvious. Citizens would not even know where to begin, would they ever want to actually assert their collective will to make society more humane by acting through their polity.
Investing an elected parliament with supreme federal power is actually to best way to make government more efficient, responsive to the people (I'm not part of a "mob," I'm part of We the People), and capable of ensuring our civil liberties. As we careen towards war in Mesopotamia, led by a shrubby dictator, our civil liberties are squashed at home without a peep from our nine supreme judicial protectors. This is "limited government" as the Founders intended? I'm with Lazare. Let's find a way to scrap our moldy old Constitution and put something in its place that actually embodies democracy. What are we afraid of?
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an intelligent, reasonable exploration of the problems with the American governmental system. It is certainly not perfect; any effort so ambitious that it tries to cover the history of Constitutional governments for the last 600 years is bound to overreach. But Lazare does a nice job of producing a readable, rational hypothesis as to what's ailing the USA and of suggesting some solutions. The simple fact is that what the written Constitution says and what our government do are barely related. Lawyers take an entire class in law school studying the contradictions and hypocracies currently involved in Constitutional law. We lawyers learn how to use the current law to win cases and to argue our client's positions, but no one ever steps back and looks at the system as a whole and says, "hey, this needs to be fixed, it's not working anymore!"
Lazare in this book tries to give some reasons and make some suggestions. Most people will find his suggested response to the problems -- eliminating the Constitution and its checks and balances -- too radical. But those of us who are paying attention to our world are glad that someone is learning from history, and is attempting to raise the level of political discourse in this nation above the mindless level of the current political debates. ("I'm a real reformer!" "No, he's a Washington insider -- I'm a real reformer! I was only in Washington when Dad was acting as President!" "Even though I've been Vice-President for the past eight years, I'm really an outsider who's all for reform...!")
Real reform might have to jettison the entire system.
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