The Broken Constitution and other Democracy Books This Week


This week includes three books on American politics including two books focused on the American Constitution. The other two books discuss political thought in India and democracy in Latin America. Only two of the books touch on democracy directly, however all the books involve topics with interest for those concerned with democratic governance.

This list focuses on new books published this week. It’s likely a few books will escape my notice. The rise of ebooks has also made publication dates less clear. So, this is my best effort to raise awareness about the newest scholarship on democracy.

The Broken Constitution

The Broken Constitution- Lincoln, Slavery, and the Refounding of America

Noah Feldman is a professor of law at Harvard University who hosts the podcast, Deep Background. He recently did a series of three bonus episodes on his podcast where he discusses the ideas in his book. The book discusses what historians have long called The Second Founding. However, it seems to focus more on Lincoln’s approach to the constitution during the Civil War rather than the recreation of the constitution during Reconstruction through the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.

The book is partly historical, but Feldman emphasizes in his brief bonus podcasts that it has relevance for our interpretation of the constitution today.  Anyone who studies American democracy has found it necessary to wrestle with the constitution. For example, Robert Dahl even wrote an important work called, How Democratic is the American Constitution. Feldman appears to use the motif of a broken constitution to establish a new point of origin for American democracy. This looks like a great read for those interested in the history of American democracy.

Noah Feldman, The Broken Constitution: Lincoln, Slavery, and the Refounding of America

The Original Meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment

For those looking for an even deeper dive into the constitution, Randy Barnett and Evan Bernick offer a close examination of the 14th Amendment. This Amendment more than any other reminds scholars why the period the Civil War really was a Second Founding. The 14th Amendment reshaped the constitution in many ways the founders never intended. Indeed, this amendment nudged America far closer towards liberal democracy than anything in the nineteenth century other than the abolition of slavery. This book involves a close examination of primary sources to explain the literal meaning and the spirit of the law itself.

Evan D. Bernick and Randy E. Barnett, The Original Meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment: Its Letter and Spirit

America: Unite or Die

America unite or die

Douglas Schoen and Carly Cooperman offer yet another assessment on the state of American politics. Some readers can’t get enough of this topic, while others may have grown tired of this reading book after book on this same theme. Schoen and Cooperman approach the topic as political insiders with backgrounds as campaign consultants rather than as historians or political scientists. It’s unlikely to attract much attention among academics, but might draw a more popular audience.

Douglas Schoen and Carly Cooperman, America: Unite or Die: How to Save Our Democracy

Democracy and Security in Latin America

Democracy and Security in Latin America

Democracy and Security in Latin America is an edited volume with contributions focused on state capacity with some reflections on the pandemic sprinkled throughout. It is divided into a part on overarching themes followed by specific country case studies. A few notable scholars contributing in this volume include John Polga-Hecimovich on Venezuela and Rut Diamint on Argentina.

Gabriel Marcella, Orlando J. Pérez, and Brian Fonseca (eds.) Democracy and Security in Latin America: State Capacity and Governance under Stress

Violent Fraternity

Violent Fraternity

India is the world’s largest democracy and among the oldest outside the West. It has long represented a model of democracy for non-western states. However, the rise of Hindu Nationalism has challenged liberalism if not democracy itself in India. Of course, Indian politics did not change overnight. Many of the political traditions discussed today have long histories. Shruti Kapila offers a deep dive into the history of political thought in India that explains its political traditions and its current trajectory.

Shruti Kapila, Violent Fraternity: Indian Political Thought in the Global Age

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