Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Congleton on Rational Choice and Constitutional Democracy in America
Posted by Mary L. Dudziak
Roger D. Congleton, George Mason University, has posted a new paper, Constitutional Exchange, Ideology, and Democracy in America, bringing rational choice to the development of constitutional democracy in the United States. Whether democratization in the United States has really occurred "peacefully and lawfully" and whether "no revolutions or revolutionary threats were necessary or evident," would seem to be questioned by much of the literature on the history of race and civil rights in the U.S., most of which is not cited in the paper. Many such works have been noted on the Legal History Blog, for example this and this. And on the under-studied nature of violence in American history, see this. For another, broader, take on the history of democratization, see Rogers Smith, Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in U.S. History. Here's Congleton's abstract: Constitutional democracy in the United States emerged very gradually through a long series of constitutional bargains. A theory of constitutional exchange grounded in rational choice models provides a good explanation for the distinctive features of American constitutional history, as it does for much of the West, although it does less well at explaining the timing of some of changes. No revolutions or revolutionary threats were necessary or evident during most of the three century–long transition to constitutional democracy in America. As in Europe, wealth-based suffrage laws were gradually eliminated, the secret ballot was introduced, and the power of elected officials increased. For the most part, this occurred peacefully and lawfully, with few instances of open warfare or revolutionary threats.