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July 30, 2012

America's Constitutional Flaws

Non-Democratic Flaws in Constitution

There are numerous non-democratic flaws that lie glaringly at the heart of America’s constitution. The constitution of America is one of the most valued documents in the history of man. Akin to Pericle’s Funeral Oration, Locke’s Second Treatise and Rousseau’s Social Contract, the constitution of America hold its unique position as an important quest for self-government and freedom. Americans often pride themselves on their constitution which has earned them an enduring structure of government. It can be argued that the rise of America as a super power and its clout owes much to the constitution. Though most Americans praise the constitution but it is nonetheless profoundly flawed once judged against modern democratic standards. Robert Dahl rightly pinpoints all the flaws of American constitution in his book.
            The constitutional flaws are evident in regards to presidential elections and the Electoral College. The same can also be said about the Senate and the House of Representatives. By ensuring the representation of states instead of people, the Senate undermines one man’s vote or more precisely the political equality which is the zenith of ideal democracy. The House, on the other hand, meets the requirement of vote equality, but the today’s districts of more than 700,000 persons stretched beyond recognition Madison’s goal of a House of Representatives with an “intimate” connection with the public. All in all, Dahl attempts to reinvigorate the principles of democracy by “correcting” and “revitalizing” the constitution.
                    Robert Dahl raises three questions of utmost significance in the beginning of his books titled “How Democratic is the American Constitution? In the first place, why should America remain committed to a document which was prepared and produced more than two centuries ago by a group of fifty-five mortal men? The document was signed by only thirty-nine among whom a great number was slaveholders and adopted by only thirteen states with the votes of fewer than two thousand men. Secondly, did Americans ever enjoy an opportunity to express their consent or dissent on the constitutional system?  Thirdly, he asks whether how well the constitutional system of America has lived up to the democratic standards of the present day.
            To a question regarding the purpose of modern constitution, Dahl, the leading scientist and democratic thinker of his age answers: “The only legitimate constitution for a democratic people, it seems to me, is one crafted to serve democratic ends.  Viewed from this perspective an American constitution ought to be the best that we can design for enabling politically equal citizens to govern themselves under laws and government policies that have been adopted and are maintained with their rational consent.”(Dahl, 2003)
                            He points out that in 2000 it was the fourth instance in the history of United States that a presidential candidate with the majority of votes eventually faced defeat. And second time in history, the Supreme Court which can be dubbed as nondemocratic branch of the government decided the election. To add insult to an injury, within six months following the election, only a tiny majority in the country expressed its disapproval over the election’s outcome calling for return to more direct and popular election of the president.
The author likens the failure of democracy in 2000 to the inherent flaws of the constitution. According to him, the 2000 election was merely the reflection of drawbacks embedded in the constitutional scheme of the country. These self-evident defects in the constitution of America compel Dahl to question the credibility and authenticity of the constitution.  He bitterly asks “what obligates us to follow a constitution drafted and ratified by a bunch of old, dead, while, male property owners? He debunks the credibility of the slaveholding lot that played a pivotal role in crafting the constitution.  
As a matter of fact, constitution is instrumental for a truly democratic government but it failed in the case of United States because the framer of the constitution allowed various “undemocratic elements” to creep in. For example, slavery was accepted and suffrage limited to white men. He lashes out at two disagreeable provisions that have remained unchallenged and unchanged ever since.  The Electoral College and the Senate both have reduced the significance of votes to mere geography of the country instead of population empowering the coalitions of smaller states whose interests are always likely to undermine the interests of the nation as a whole.  
  Equal representation of states in the Senate is a singularly unlikely candidate for mass political mobilization for at least three reasons: it has an assortment of respectable rationales, it is profoundly ingrained constitutionally and hence would be costly to change, and even it does contribute somewhat to injustice it does so without representing and expressing explicit moral insult such as racial discrimination.(Macedo, 2004 )
             Dahl contends that the fundamental democratic principle allows each person’s interest in a political community to be given equal weight and consideration. For that matter, he uses the term polyarchic to refer to societies in which certain set of institutions and procedures are treated as the driving force to lead to such democracy.
What concerns indeed the pluralist like Dahl is not the utilitarian requirement of maximizing its own interests, the tyranny of the satisfaction of the desire of an individual, a minority or a majority, but to ensure that power is shared and submitted to the competition from as many groups representing various interests. This is the idea put forth in the famous book by Robert Dahl.   
         The American political scientist believes that the power should be democratically shared, subjected to the test of pluralistic competition, pitting in a multiplicity of groups seeking to influence public policies.  A true democracy can be recognized, according to Dahl, through two criteria: the existence of effective participation of people and the regular organization of a real competition.
         He thinks that if there are competitive electoral systems, involving a multiplicity of competing individuals or parties, only then democratic freedom will be guaranteed. The dividing line between authoritarian and democratic can be ruled through pluralism, regular elections and political competition among individuals, groups and parties. A true democratic society must be a pluralistic satisfied and constitution is a cornerstone for that matter.
           Thus, the democratic character of a constitutional political regime should be based on the existence of a social and political plurality. If all citizens have no access to power, they should at least be able to exercise control over governments through regular elections. The elections are an instrument of pluralism as they allow different groups to express their competing claims. They are also necessary because they allow ordinary citizens to choose their leaders. 
     Following Madison, Dahl argues that pluralism and the existence of a real diversity of interests and perspectives, protects society from the "tyranny of the factional majority "
. In a pluralistic democracy, power must be effectively shared or at least it cannot be concentrated in the hands of one individual or group. In a democratic society, the exercise of power is measured by the ability to use resources to influence the development and decision making. The resources are varied because there are many social inequalities in terms of health, wealth, and education.
However, as different groups have access to different kinds of resources, there is a multiplicity of possible influences. In this perspective, the power cannot be concentrated in a single center. Power is dispersed because there is a "multiple poles of pressure". According to the classical theory of pluralism, there is no power alone, but a diversity of centers of competing public policy and decision-making, "a variety of competing formulating policy-and decision-making centers." That is what Dahl means by a polyarchy regime.
            According to this vision Dahl’s idea of pluralist democracy or of democratic pluralism, the terms "pluralism"and "pluralistic"refers to the existence of a plurality of relatively autonomous and independent organizations in the state sphere. It is therefore an organized pluralism, institutionalized ("organizational Pluralism") the pluralism of political parties. He believes that the constitution must encourage equality in voting that each individual has an equal vote and effective participation of all the citizens. The constitution must foster enlightened understand or the political wisdom. The business of state of politics should be driven by the principle of control and the principle of inclusion.
            Dahl criticizes the framework of constitution for disallowing and discouraging the political parties to be at the heart of democratic and pluralistic society. The pluralism, if permitted through constitution, allows the seizure of power through elections and protects democracy against the monarchical drift. In order to consolidate hallmark of democracy, pluralism is instrumental being a process of institutionalization of political competition and choice of partisan elites.
          Given the fact that American constitution is far from perfect, Dahl pinpoints the pitfalls and flaws of the constitution and reflects on the way through which constitution can be ameliorated with the removal of all “undemocratic” elements from it.


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