The Dynamics of Transformation

“American superpower,” “the greatest power in history,” or, more recently, “America first” have become part of American political values. What about constitutional democracy?

This post belongs to a reading series of Democracy Incorporated by Sheldon S. Wolin. For quick access to all chapters, please click here.

Disclaimer: This chapter summary is personal work and an invitation to read the book itself for a detailed view of all the author’s ideas.

Americans are raised in the idea that their main political institutions, the Constitution, and the protections of citizenship are firmly established because the United States is, after all, “the world’s oldest continuous democracy.” But expressions such as “American superpower,” “the greatest power in history,” or, more recently, “America first” are objectively referring to something else than the principle of constitutional democracy. According to Sheldon Wolin, “Instead of a system in which governmental powers are measured by a constitution of enumerated powers, there appears to be an expansive conception of power and a triumphalist ideology alien to the Constitution.”

This ambivalence in the exercise of power is nothing new in the history of the United States. This chapter aims at describing the dynamic by which the shift from its constitutional background to its expansive one was made possible.

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