Abstract

http://ssrn.com/abstract=1809794
 
 

References (58)



 


 



'Government by Public Opinion': Bryce’s Theory of the Constitution


Adrian Vermeule


Harvard Law School

April 14, 2011

Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 11-13

Abstract:     
In The American Commonwealth (1888), James Bryce identified a political regime-type that he called “government by public opinion,” and argued that the United States had developed it to a greater degree than any other constitutional democracy then extant. Bryce’s analysis entails that familiar propositions about the relationship between public opinion and the constitutional order – many stemming from Publius – must be questioned, and perhaps heavily qualified or discarded. Bryce argues that the basic Madisonian strategy for channeling and containing majoritarian opinions and passions, by means of checks and balances and an extended republic, has perverse results; it strengthens rather than containing the force of public opinion. The power of mass opinion in America thus results, in part, from the very safeguards the framers put into place against it. Once in place, government by public opinion sets both a lower bound and an upper bound on the performance of the American democracy, ensuring that it performs tolerably well but also preventing it from performing better still. In Bryce’s paradoxical assessment, “the American democracy is not better just because it is so good.”

Number of Pages in PDF File: 33

working papers series


Download This Paper

Date posted: April 16, 2011 ; Last revised: July 9, 2011

Suggested Citation

Vermeule, Adrian, 'Government by Public Opinion': Bryce’s Theory of the Constitution (April 14, 2011). Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 11-13. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1809794 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1809794

Contact Information

Adrian Vermeule (Contact Author)
Harvard Law School ( email )
1525 Massachusetts
Griswold 500
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
Feedback to SSRN


Paper statistics
Abstract Views: 4,750
Downloads: 363
Download Rank: 45,315
References:  58

© 2014 Social Science Electronic Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.  FAQ   Terms of Use   Privacy Policy   Copyright   Contact Us
This page was processed by apollo8 in 0.250 seconds