How Democratic is the Constitution?
A common misnomer about the United States Constitution is that it is a democratic document inspired by democratic sensibilities. Rather, the founders, fearful of democratic impulses, sought to constrain democracy and alleviate potential worries about majority tyranny by creating a counter-majoritarian document. While the Bill of Rights does include some protections, a serious critique of the Constitution requires looking at the document as a whole and thinking about the different ways it also constrains political liberty, political equality and popular sovereignty. While we will spend more time thinking about how democratic the Constitution is when we learn about Federalism, we can familiarize ourselves with the key components of the Constitution here and think about the consequences of them for democracy.
First, make sure you’ve read The Constitution – Lenz and Holman Ch 2 and viewed the PBS Crash Courses on the Constitution: Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances (Links to an external site.):and Constitutional Compromises. (Links to an external site.)
Next, read the United States Constitution (Links to an external site.). Think about the way the Constitution is constructed, the separation of powers, checks and balances and other provisions. If democracy, among other things means that the people hold power and have the ability to see their interests reflected in both offices and policy, then what aspects of the Constitution might prevent the people from gaining a majority and capture government power?
Finally, reflect on the problem of majority tyranny. Do you think the founders were right to worry about this prospect and write in protections that might work to, as Madison says in Federalist 10: “secure the public good and private rights against…faction, and at the same time preserve the spirit and the form of popular government.”?
This assignment should be at least one-page in length (~250 words).
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