shows how the institutional dynamics of the last half-century have transformed the American presidency into a potential platform for political extremism and lawlessness. Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the War on Terror are only symptoms of deeper pathologies. Ackerman points to a series of developments that have previously been treated independently of one another—from the rise of presidential primaries, to the role of pollsters and media gurus, to the centralization of power in White House czars, to the politicization of the military, to the manipulation of constitutional doctrine to justify presidential power-grabs. He shows how these different transformations can interact to generate profound constitutional crises in the twenty-first century—and then proposes a series of reforms that will minimize, if not eliminate, the risks going forward.
The book aims to begin a new constitutional debate. Americans should not suppose that Barack Obama’s centrism and constitutionalism will typify the presidencies of the twenty-first century. We should seize the present opportunity to confront deeper institutional pathologies before it is too late.
Ackerman makes a powerful case that the Executive’s reach has expanded by leaps and bounds over the last half century, due to factors internal and external to the presidency itself… The questions he raises regarding the threat of the American Executive to the republic are daunting. This fascinating book does an admirable job of laying them out.
The nature of the power embodied in the U.S. presidency has evolved over the years, and if Bruce Ackerman’s The Decline and Fall of the American Republic is right, the results of that evolution are unfortunate. The contemporary view that tends to see the president as the center of our country’s government and the locus of its political power is something new and quite different from what was intended by the founders. Ackerman, a professor of law and political science at Yale who has written more than a dozen books on American politics, makes clear that his fear is not that the nation is in imminent danger of ceasing to exist as a country. What seems more likely is that its distinctively republican form of government could be lost, crushed under the weight of an unbalanced political structure. In particular, Ackerman worries that the office of the presidency will continue to grow in political influence in the coming years, opening possibilities for abuse of power if not outright despotism.
Ackerman must be commended for the honesty and directness of his defense of constitutionalism, irrespective of the ‘sensitivities’ he quite obviously offends… The book has already made a significant impact in America where it has generated a robust debate over the ‘renewal’ of U.S. constitutionalism.
The persuasiveness of [Ackerman’s] individual points varies, but the overall view is rather compelling.
In his extraordinary new book, The Decline and Fall of the American Republic, Bruce Ackerman begins, quite literally, by condemning the ‘triumphalism’ that surrounds most discussion of the Constitution… I certainly agree that he has identified a genuine problem with our polity, and I admire him, not for the first time, in having the willingness to speak in tones that many of his more moderate and ‘reasonable’ colleagues in the legal academy will undoubtedly dismiss as overwrought.
Bruce Ackerman’s The Decline and Fall of the American Republic is a profoundly important constitutional wake-up call. It presents a powerful, multi-layered, yet highly accessible argument that the body politic faces the serious and unprecedented structural risk of presidential extremism and lawlessness—and a series of new checks and balances that offer the rare combination of pragmatism and originality. One hopes that the book will receive its just deserts by provoking a vigorous new constitutional debate not only among fellow academics but also, more importantly, among We the People.
Ackerman’s central contention is right on target—our constitutional system is in grave difficulty. He points to the right evidence, a recurrent series of crises linked to the exercise of presidential power: Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the illegalities of the Bush II administration. These crises must be taken seriously as objects of analysis as they are central to a proper understanding of where we stand. Ackerman is also right to claim that the constitutional triumphalism so pervasive in our political culture has gone stale.
Alarmist or alarming, The Decline and Fall of the American Republic is a serious attention-getter. Bruce Ackerman has adroitly woven recent changes in our institutional arrangements into a provocative argument that the expanding powers of the twenty-first-century presidency have put our constitutional order at risk.
At once audacious and plain spoken, Ackerman offers a fierce critique of democracy’s most dangerous adversary: the abuse of democratic power by democratically elected chief executives.
In The Decline and Fall of the American Republic, Bruce Ackerman, one of our nation’s most thoughtful and most influential constitutional theorists, sounds the alarm about the dangers posed by our ever-expanding executive authority. Those who care about the future of our nation should pay careful heed to Ackerman’s warning, as well as to his prescriptions for avoiding a constitutional disaster.
- 280 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
From this author
Sorry, there was an error adding the item to your shopping bag.
Sorry, your session has expired. Please refresh your browser's tab.