Sunday, May 10, 2009

Book Review: Our Undemocratic Constitution

I have spent the last week reading a book by a man named Sandy Levinson called: "Our Undemocratic Constitution: Where the Constitution Goes Wrong." Mr. Levinson wrote the book in hopes of inspiring an effort to call for a new Constitution Convention to address the issues that he sees need to be dealt with with our current version. Despite my initial suspicions, I actually see some merit in what he was advocating. I cannot say I agree that we need a new Convention, in general, nor do I advocate all that is stated in the book more specifically. Nonetheless, he did make me think.

This is especially true of the point he makes about small states having a disproportionate amount of representation as compared with bigger states. He list a multitude of statistics to back up his point but one jumped out to me more than the others,

"Although it is unrealistic to think that the fourteen senators from the seven smallest states would be united on any given controversial issue.... should that ever occur , they would offset a similarly hypothetical united group of senators from California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas, whose collective population in 2000 was approximately 124 million." p. 51
In his view this is allowed to happen because,

"To be sure, this illustrates an important feature of the Constitution that underscores many of its features: Those who framed the document, and those who VENERATE it today are fundamentally fearful of change...." p. 35 (caps mine)
As I read the latter quote I wrote a few notes in the margin of the book. I asked: 1) Why were they fearful of this at the time? 2) What did they fear would change? 3) Were these fears based on rational concerns about going back to the same type of system that they had just broken from? I am skeptical of change for many of these same reasons that our founders had at the time based on my questions above. However, as I began to think about the veneration of the Founders and the document they constructed he began to persuade this skeptic to listen to them merits of the former quote regarding the disproportionate power of small states in the Senate.

This was because I began to realize that this same argument was had at the Convention and was the subject of numerous arguments on the Federalist and Anti-Federalist side as each state voted for ratification. If they discussed it then why can't we now? If people at the time questioned the men we now venerate why can't we? As my assumptions began to crack apart when I admitted my veneration of the document and the men who wrote it, I soon realized that I was more open to the other problems that Mr. Levinson sees with our Constitution. In fact, I am starting to think his major premise, that it is undemocratic, is probably correct in that our current system does not seem that responsive to the voice of We the People anymore.

Do we need another convention? I am not sure. But I am listening. I have begun to read a similar book by Larry Sabato called, "A More Perfect Constitution." He makes some similar arguments. Both men are self proclaimed Liberals. Though I am no Conservative, this does make me take what they say with a grain of salt considering that most of what they advocate would seem to favor the Democratic Party. Nonetheless, I am intrigued and plan to post more on both books. The next post will be about the similarity of one of Sabato's arguments with those that were made in Centeniel One which was the first Anti-Federalist paper. Both arguments seem to back what Levinson was arguing about the Senate on p. 51 quoted above. Until next time....


  1. Interesting post. I think a very good case study in what a "liberal" Constitution would look like is the Constitution of the EU, which is a massive document filled with nanny state regulation. I fear a liberal Constitution because I believe it would come from a fundamentally flawed and dangerous worldview, one in which it is assumed to be the responsibility of the "benevolent" legislator to create a perfect world for the peasant citizens. Why would a legislator have the right to design a perfect society for the citizens? Who are they to assume they have the right to dictate to citizens how they are to live their lives? I believe that the brilliance and success of the US Constitution is that it created a government to reign in the evil excesses of human nature while allowing citizens the freedom to pursue their life's pursuits unimpeded by meddlesome legislators. Instead of the legislator attempting to create the perfect society and forcing it on the citizens, the citizens were free to mold their own societies without the interference of a strong, centralized government.

  2. M roberts,

    I am starting to realize where a lot of these people are going with their ideas. Most of it is based on trusting government to the right thing for the people. It almost never does. I think you are right

  3. Hello, I must tell you I think you are truly, and simply remarkably God Like. I value your thoughts, and views so much so that I am no longer using my own messages at the church i pastor, but am printing out your blogs and reading them to my congregation. Thank you so much for your work. You are amazing, I love you. May the Lord Richly bless you, may he lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. Cheers from England.