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Robert A. Dahl’s book – “How Democratic is the American Constitution” Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Nov 15th, 2018

‘How Democratic Is the American Constitution’ is a book written by Robert A. Dahl that raises many provocative questions and doubts about the U.S. constitutional document. Dahl, the book’s author, is a former president of the Political Science Association of the United States and Yale’s University Sterling Professor Emeritus. To introduce the thesis of the book’s main subject matter, the author sarcastically poses the question ‘How democratic is the American Constitution?’ which also serve as the book’s title.

According to Dahl’s perceptions and opinions, as presented in the text, many American citizens have always held their country’s Constitutional document and the principle this has to embody into their lives, with much honor and esteem. However, majority of the American citizens have always been worried that their esteemed Constitutional draft fails short in addressing some of the crucial aspects affecting the general humanity such as women rights, racial integration, and economic equality (Robert 16).

In this text, Dahl explicitly explores the big tension existing between the people’s faith in the credibility of the laws governing their country and their stand on the principles of democracy presented by these laws. In this book, Dahl reminds the American society of the missing link in their constitution; a flaw that makes the sacred draft unqualified as a basis for the country’s democratic system.

The book presents the writer’s viewpoint about the Constitution as just a representation of the history that surrounded its creation and implementation. This actually makes him to believe that, most the current Constitutional does not address the present day issues affecting the humanity.

According to Dahl, the framers of this constitution had failed completely in some respects such as establishment of a strong democratic system of government. Some of the approaches used by the writer to achieve his purpose on the book include the power of transparency, outright critique of American political institutions, and use of reliable evidence and examples to support his claims. More importantly, the writer also applies a gentle but a persistent approach to express his critics on the subject matter.

Dahl has widely applied historical evidence throughout the text to reveal the imperfection of the American democracy, as stipulated by the constitution. There is also a wide application of contemporary aspects such as real-life events and other people’s observations by the writer, to provide substantial evidence as to why he thought the American Constitution was indeed undemocratic.

A good example of how evidence applies in the book is observed in various episodes where he compares the American Constitutional system with that of other countries of the same status. Dahl observes that, the most reasonable revisions on the constitution were done more than a century ago and no significant changes have been applied on the document since then.

I personally tend to agree with Dahl’s point of view on the American secret document, if I may call it so. We cannot just rise up and start condemning Dahl, simply for his attempts to highlight some of the most unusual elements of the constitution that needs to be revised and amended, to fit the standards of democracy.

Despite what many of his critics may tend to observe, Dahl is part of the many brilliant personalities who have openly come out to condemn the many loopholes in the U.S. Constitution. Dahl’s main agenda here is to encourage critique of both the American political institutions and the Constitutional system, in a manner that will call for significant amendments on the constitution, thus making it more democratic.

Dahl may not have had any big hopes that his claims will succeed in making significant democratic changes in the American Constitution in the immediate future, but his outright observations of the document’s shortcomings have always raised debate and discussions on the matter. This gives him the hope that maybe; with time, this may lead to something more beneficial to the future American generations.

One reason why I would agree with Dahl is the issue of the various questionable aspects presently surrounding the American Constitution, as far as democratic representation is concerned. Lieven observes that, “there is often the issue of unequal senate representation in the U.S. whereby some states continue to receive larger representation compared to others” (17). There is really no good reason as to why the Constitution should continue to permit such unequal representation.

Another questionable aspect of the Constitution is the system of the Electoral College, normally applied in the selection of American presidents. According to Levinson, “this system has serious democratic defects” and a good example here is the failure of the person receiving the majority of votes to become the holder of the highest office, in most cases, owing to some confusing elements of the constitution (353).

This system raises more questions than answers, especially to the voters who may never get to understand the real sense of democracy as expressed in the constitution. As a matter of fact, this deprives the American residents of their rights of citizenship and democracy.

These are some of the parts that need to be amended, so as to make the U.S. Constitution more acceptable as a democratic system of governance. Just as Dahl observes, the U.S. Constitution has been eluded by other recent developments observed in other democracies in the world.

As witnessed from this useful text, Dahl has succeeded at raising informed questions that every patriotic American citizen should be informed about, regarding the nature of the constitution. As a matter of fact, by pointing out some of the many imperfections in the U.S. Constitution and calling for the necessary reforms and amendments, Dahl has fully achieved his purpose on the book.

His overview on this crucial matter deserves universal recommendation, for it reminds the Americans of the need to revise their constitution and consider the chances for coming up with a more democratic society, which can only be achieved through a well-drafted constitution.

Dahl’s agenda here is not to condemn or to criticize the U.S. Constitution system, but to offer some light to some of the elements that make the system appear imperfect. By incorporating a number of provocative questions and assertions throughout the text, Dahl challenges all of us to utilize the opportunities we have, to help our country achieve the democratic systems befitting its outstanding status as a Superpower and a global economy leader.

Instead of wasting time criticizing Dahl’s indictment of the constitutional structure, it is time for the government to push for immediate reforms on the highlighted sectors and establish a governance system that guarantees the citizens all the rights, opportunities, and liberties which could be found in a more democratic society.

Works Cited

Levinson, Sanford. “Looking Abroad When Interpreting the US Constitution: Some Reflections.” Tex. Int’l LJ 39. 17 (2003): 353. Print.

Lieven, Anaton. America right or wrong: an anatomy of American nationalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Print.

Robert, Dahl. How Democratic is the American Constitution? United Kingdom: Yale University Press, 2003. Print.

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