Democracy—its aspirations, its dangers—is what, most fundamentally, our Constitution is about. The question, Richard Parker argues in this powerful book, is how to imagine our democracy. Provocative in style and substance, this manifesto challenges orthodoxies of constitutional legal studies, particularly the idea that constitutionalism and populist democracy stand opposed. Parker presents a populist argument. He contends that the mission of constitutional law should be to promote, not limit, the expression of ordinary political energy—thus to extend, rather than constrain, majority rule.
At the root of the matter, Parker finds a question of “sensibility”—assumptions and attitudes about the political energy of ordinary people. He approaches this sensibility in a novel way, through a work of fiction about politics, Thomas Mann’s Mario and the Magician. Offering two “takes” on the story, Parker shows how it evokes—and elucidates—our deepest, most problematic attitudes about popular political energy in our own democracy. He goes on to elaborate these attitudes within our practice of constitutional argument. This is a book about the people, and for the people, a reimagination of constitutional law’s populist potential. It will disorient—then reorient—the thinking of everyone who is concerned about democracy and the Constitution.
This book deserves to be read, reread, and reread again. Its logic and fundamental understanding of the purpose of constitutional law will persuade, challenge, or infuriate readers. But Parker’s words will linger and his book will sow an intellectual revolution grounded in the experience and sensibilities of citizens. Oligarchs, plutocrats, sophists, and practitioners of noblesse oblige beware: your controlling processes stand exposed by a profoundly illuminating mind.
What a breath of fresh air! Anyone who thinks a constitutional court must be conceived solely in terms of restraining popular impulse and containing the passions of the masses will have to think again after reading Parker’s provocative books which makes a very eloquent plea for assigning to courts and constitutions the very difficult mission of unleashing political energy and stimulating public participation in civic life.
Much of this book is downright fun to read—a rarity in legal scholarship. Parker’s main theme—that we need to rediscover constitutional law’s populist/majoritarian nature and possibilities—is both provocative and supremely important.
Even those of us who disagree with some of Parker’s arguments should welcome his central point: that it is neither desirable nor possible in a democracy to find permanent bypasses around public opinion on the most important issues.
Though I didn’t concur with all of it, this is the most provocative book on law and politics in a long time.
- 144 pages
- 5 x 7-1/2 inches
- Harvard University Press
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