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Constitutional Self-Government

Constitutional Self-Government

Christopher L. Eisgruber

ISBN 9780674034464

Publication date: 07/01/2009

Most of us regard the Constitution as the foundation of American democracy. How, then, are we to understand the restrictions that it imposes on legislatures and voters? Why, for example, does the Constitution allow unelected judges to exercise so much power? And why is this centuries-old document so difficult to amend? In short, how can we call ourselves a democracy when we are bound by an entrenched, and sometimes counter-majoritarian, constitution?

In Constitutional Self-Government, Christopher Eisgruber focuses directly on the Constitution's seemingly undemocratic features. Whereas other scholars have tried to reconcile these features with majority rule, or simply acknowledged them as necessary limits on democracy, Eisgruber argues that constitutionalism is best regarded not as a constraint upon self-government, but as a crucial ingredient in a complex, non-majoritarian form of democracy. In an original and provocative argument, he contends that legislatures and elections provide only an incomplete representation of the people, and he claims that the Supreme Court should be regarded as another of the institutions able to speak for Americans about justice. At a pivotal moment of worldwide interest in judicial review and renewed national controversy over the Supreme Court's role in politics, Constitutional Self-Government ingeniously locates the Constitution's value in its capacity to sustain an array of institutions that render self-government meaningful for a large and diverse people.


  • This is a cogent defense of a robust form of judicial review in a democratic polity. Eisgruber rejects simplistic majoritarian conceptions of democracy and the idea that judges owe any kind of mechanical obeisance either to constitutional or statutory texts or to ascribed legislative intentions. Rather, he advances a conception of democracy that sees judges as participants in democratic deliberation, and that demands of them that they make and defend moral readings of the constitution. The book is sure to spark controversy and debate and to widen and deepen our understanding of the judicial role in a well-functioning democratic government.

    —John Ferejohn, Stanford University


  • Christopher L. Eisgruber is Provost of Princeton University.

Book Details

  • Harvard University Press

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