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The Decline and Fall of the American Republic Format Kindle
|Longueur : 264 pages||Word Wise: Activé||Langue : Anglais|
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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. To his credit, the author makes the point that his ideas are not a finishing point in the discussion, but a starting point.
The book is well written and the author presents a compelling case for changes in the current system. I would recommend this to those readers who are concerned about the Federal government and the power it yields.
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. This means that a constitutional moment cannot really occur in a moment; it takes a lot of time before a political movement can obtain the popular support required to speak for the people. This is arguably what happened at the Founding, after the Civil War and with the New Deal.
But the strengthening of the presidency is not the result of a constitutional moment. This is because we are now confronted with real "moments" in time and precisely for that reason they are scarcely "constitutional". The president claims to be the only spokesman for the people with the exclusion of any other branch, not least because he pretends to act in response to an emergency situation (even if this situation will never end), and this claim makes obsolete the very distinction between constitutional and normal politics. Furthermore, this distinction is also made obsolete by a new feature of presidential politics, that is, government by the polls.
The pessimism persists if we turn to the question whether Professor Ackerman's proposals concerning the reform of the presidency - such as Deliberation Day, a National Endowment for Journalism, a new Canon of Military Ethics, the Popular Sovereignty to revise the Electoral College and the Supreme Executive Tribunal - can be attained by means of his theory of constitutional moments. In theory that would surely be possible, even desirable, since a "constitutional moment" is often triggered on by a "transformative president" who wants to inscribe a new constitutional vision into statute law and judicial precedents.
However, in the final pages of The Decline and Fall of the American Republic, Professor Ackerman makes clear his opinion that President Obama is not up to the job of a "transformative president". But even if he were, one must ask: how transformative can one expect a president to be, if it's his own powers that are at stake? It seems that the internal logic of the theory of constitutional moments has been pushed to its limit.
So The Decline and Fall of the American Republic is really about the sinking of republican values as a basic pattern of the past two centuries of American constitutional history, a pattern so forcefully and brilliantly put up by Professor Ackerman in his past books.
Professor Ackerman thinks, however, that the death of the republic does not necessarily mean the end of democracy. Even if the American constitutional tradition is overwhelmed by presidential power he maintains that the presidency may well remain an elective office. I think this is part of an effort to save his theory of American constitutional history. But can we maintain a democracy without keeping it republican?
Enrique A. Perez, SMSgt, USAF (Ret)
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