'Politics Are Rather a Form of War': How Partisan-Ideological Polarization Endangers American Constitutional Democracy
92 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2019
Date Written: January 19, 2019
Recent legal and political science scholarship finally has turned to critical questions of democracy, democratic vitality, and risks of democratic backsliding or failure, and many have begun applying lessons from those literatures to an all-too-often ignored case: the modern United States. This paper extends several such works, tracing the historical development of structural design choices in the U.S. Constitution, the underlying philosophical debates of the framers, and peak eras of partisan polarization, explaining historical trajectories and present-day worries through a comparative politics lens. In so doing, the paper advances several arguments. One, models of risks to American democracy are alarming, but require extension and careful comparison. Two, the constitutional framers created long-lasting institutions, but they could not foresee the kinds of national polarizing issues which might undermine -- and have already compromised -- democracy systemically. Three, combining the legal and political science research traditions on American constitutionalism provides a guide for much-needed research on grave questions of democratic resilience, especially given the modern extremity of partisan-ideological polarization. Four, the insights of comparative politics research on democratic consolidation, in particular the empirical research on "fragile" democracies, should be applied to the United States -- a country, it merits repeating, which only recently attained true "democratic" status in the wake of the 1960s. Finally, this paper integrates the various literatures to argue for a systematic series of proposals to curb deteriorating democratic norms and procedures in U.S. government. Risks to America's democratic constitutional system have been gravely understated, and even the sharpest evaluations have ignored how initial institutional design choices and modern comparative examples of democratic backsliding combine dangerously in 2019. The conclusions provided offer a few guides to ongoing, utterly timely research in these domains.
Keywords: Constitutional Law, Federalism, The Federalist, Separation of Powers, Elections, Campaigns, Political Parties, Partisan Polarization
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation