THE VELVET COUP by Daniel Lazare


The Constitution, the Supreme Court, and the Decline of American Democracy
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Inspired by the 2000 presidential-election debacle, Lazare issues another polemic on the breakdown of American democracy.

Lazare’s avowed preference for Al Gore takes some burnish off his first assertion: that the hovering presence of the electoral college and the partisan intervention of the Supreme Court represented a collapse of American democracy. Even those who grant his premise may not be convinced when the author blames this collapse on his favorite whipping boy, the archaic US Constitution. Recapitulating the argument he made in The Frozen Republic (1996), Lazare characterizes the Constitution as a conservative document tailored to a rural nation with an interest in preserving divided authority held by an elitist group of landowners he calls “Country.” They were more English than the English, who moved on to the parliamentary system Lazare admires. In addition to the electoral college, the author is also unhappy with the all-states-are-equal composition of the Senate, which he views as inherently undemocratic. The system of checks and balances designed by Jefferson and Madison troubles him, for it insures that “each constituent element would be simultaneously superior and inferior to every other.” It’s never quite clear who’s in charge, and at times (during the Civil War, or indeed, the recent election), the system is paralyzed. Matters are worsened, Lazare goes on, because Americans revere their Constitution as a perfect document, by definition infallible. Even if they wanted to amend it, Article V makes the process extremely difficult. What can be done? After running down his wish list of issues—proportional representation, campaign-finance reform, voting rights for felons, gun control, and stronger Congressional control of war powers—the author has nothing more concrete to suggest than a national mobilization of the citizenry, which can only come about once an outraged, energized intelligentsia have issued their clarion call.

Lazare sings one note, and it’s shrill.

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 2001
ISBN: 1-85984-633-5
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Verso
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2001


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