How to Save a Constitutional Democracy

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University of Chicago Press, Oct 5, 2018 - Law - 305 pages
We can’t afford to be complacent any more: “A formidable book . . . extremely rich in historical examples, case studies, and quantitative data.” —International Journal of Constitutional Law

Democracies are in danger. Around the world, a wave of populist leaders threatens to erode the core structures of democratic self-rule. In the United States, the tenure of Donald Trump marks a decisive turning point for many. What kind of president intimidates jurors, calls the news media the “enemy of the American people,” and seeks foreign assistance investigating domestic political rivals? Many think the Constitution will safeguard us from lasting damage. But is that assumption justified?

Drawing on an array of other countries’ experiences, Tom Ginsburg and Aziz Z. Huq show how constitutional rules can both hinder and hasten the decline of democratic institutions. The checks and balances of the federal government, a robust civil society and media, and individual rights—such as those enshrined in the First Amendment—often fail as bulwarks against democratic decline. The sobering reality, they contend, is that the US Constitution’s design makes democratic erosion more, not less, likely. Its structural rigidity has had unforeseen consequence—leaving the presidency weakly regulated and empowering the Supreme Court to conjure up doctrines that ultimately facilitate rather than inhibit rights violations. Even the bright spots in the Constitution—the First Amendment, for example—may have perverse consequences in the hands of a deft communicator who can degrade the public sphere by wielding hateful language banned in many other democracies. We—and the rest of the world—can do better, and the authors conclude by laying out practical steps for how laws and constitutional design can play a more positive role in managing the risk.

“This book makes a huge contribution to our understanding of how democracies erode and what institutional reforms would make it harder for authoritarian populists to entrench their power.” —Yascha Mounk, author of The People vs. Democracy

“Whereas other recent books on the crisis of American democracy focus on what has gone wrong, Ginsburg and Huq provide us with clear-eyed proposals—including some bold constitutional reforms—for how to fix it.” —Steven Levitsky, New York Times–bestselling coauthor of How Democracies Die


1 Liberal Constitutional Democracy and Its Alternatives
2 Two Pathways from Liberal Constitutional Democracy
3 When Democracies Collapse
4 When Democracies Decay
5 Will American Democracy Persist?
6 Making Democratic Constitutions that Endure
7 Saving Democracy American Style
On Fighting Democratic Erosion

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About the author (2018)

Tom Ginsburg is the Leo Spitz Professor of International Law and professor of political science at the University of Chicago. He is the author or coauthor of several books, including Judicial Reputation, The Endurance of National Constitutions, and Judicial Review in New Democracies. Aziz Z. Huq is the Frank and Bernice J. Greenberg Professor of Law at the University of Chicago.

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