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Bruce Ackerman shows how the institutional dynamics of the last half-century have transformed the American presidency into a potential platform for political extremism and lawlessness. Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the War on Terror are only symptoms of deeper pathologies. Ackerman points to a series of developments that have previously been treated independently of one another—from the rise of presidential primaries, to the role of pollsters and media gurus, to the centralization of power in White House czars, to the politicization of the military, to the manipulation of constitutional doctrine to justify presidential power-grabs. He shows how these different transformations can interact to generate profound constitutional crises in the twenty-first century—and then proposes a series of reforms that will minimize, if not eliminate, the risks going forward.
The book aims to begin a new constitutional debate. Americans should not suppose that Barack Obama’s centrism and constitutionalism will typify the presidencies of the twenty-first century. We should seize the present opportunity to confront deeper institutional pathologies before it is too late.
Ackerman makes a powerful case that the Executive's reach has expanded by leaps and bounds over the last half century, due to factors internal and external to the presidency itself...The questions he raises regarding the threat of the American Executive to the republic are daunting. This fascinating book does an admirable job of laying them out.
— Bezalel Stern
In his extraordinary new book, The Decline and Fall of the American Republic, Bruce Ackerman begins, quite literally, by condemning the "triumphalism" that surrounds most discussion of the Constitution...I certainly agree that he has identified a genuine problem with our polity, and I admire him, not for the first time, in having the willingness to speak in tones that many of his more moderate and "reasonable" colleagues in the legal academy will undoubtedly dismiss as overwrought.
— Sandy Levinson
The nature of the power embodied in the U.S. presidency has evolved over the years, and if Bruce Ackerman's The Decline and Fall of the American Republic is right, the results of that evolution are unfortunate. The contemporary view that tends to see the president as the center of our country's government and the locus of its political power is something new and quite different from what was intended by the founders. Ackerman, a professor of law and political science at Yale who has written more than a dozen books on American politics, makes clear that his fear is not that the nation is in imminent danger of ceasing to exist as a country. What seems more likely is that its distinctively republican form of government could be lost, crushed under the weight of an unbalanced political structure. In particular, Ackerman worries that the office of the presidency will continue to grow in political influence in the coming years, opening possibilities for abuse of power if not outright despotism.
— Troy Jollimore
The persuasiveness of [Ackerman's] individual points varies, but the overall view is rather compelling.
— Matthew Yglesias