The challenges of democratic backsliding and institutional resilience have recently exploded onto the agenda of research scholarship across the social sciences, especially in world and economic history, comparative politics, and constitutional law. Tom Ginsburg and Aziz Z. Huq’s How to Save a Constitutional Democracy is one of the most lucid and authoritative accounts in this increasingly crowded yet scholastically sophisticated field.
As with many other such recent treatments, the catalyst for the book has been the election of President Trump in the United States, and many others like him in varying degrees and styles of strong leadership across the world. The challenge these leaders pose for established assumptions about the nature of political order are fundamental, the book argues, and not simply a transient choice of ordinary democratic competition. In varying degrees, these leaders and the movements they lead challenge the values of political liberty and cultural pluralism, the principle of government limited by laws of general application, and the norms of behaviour that flow from the distinction between political power and legal authority.
The book explains the foundational (or aspirational) unit of the post-World War II international order—or “Liberal Constitutional Democracy,” as Ginsburg and Huq call it—and the alternative conceptions of statehood that challenge it. The core of the book, and the most interesting discussion within it, is the account offered by Ginsburg and Huq about how Liberal Constitutional Democracies sometimes collapse, or more often, decay. The book’s great strength is not only that it offers explanatory theories on all these questions, but that it sets out a practical agenda for institutional reform and political mobilisation, if Liberal Constitutional Democracies are to survive the challenge posed by authoritarian populism animated by appeals to primordial identities. In this, it reflects the authors’ strengths as serious scholars of both theory and institutions, as well as active contributors to policymaking and constitution-building across the world.
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