1st Edition

Constitutional Polarization A Critical Review of the U.S. Political System

By Josep M. Colomer Copyright 2023
    156 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    156 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    In this book, Josep M. Colomer argues, against much conventional wisdom, that political polarization is embedded in the constitutional design.

    The book puts forth that sustained conflict and institutional gridlock are not mainly questions of character, personalities, or determined by socioeconomic or cultural inequalities. They are, above all, the result of the formula of separation of powers between the Presidency and Congress, which, together with a system of only two parties, fosters adversarial politics and polarization. Colomer contends that in the past, bipartisan cooperation and domestic peace flourished only under a foreign existential threat, such as during the Cold War. Once such a threat vanished, unsettled issues and new social concerns have broadened the public agenda and triggered again animosity and conflict.

    Constitutional Polarization offers innovative and relevant insights in political science to a broad readership without technical or academic jargon. It will be of high interest for those reader attentive to current affairs, as well as for public officers, journalists, pundits, and those in the study of political science, where it can also become a staple for courses in American Politics.

    Introduction: It’s the Institutions, stupid!

    Part 1: A Tamed Democracy

    1. Democracy Was Only for Small Countries

    2. From Empire to Federation

    3. Montesquieu Did Not Speak English

    Part 2: An Elected King with the Name of President

    4. The Archaic Presidential Election

    5. Biased Filters and Checks

    6. The Presidentialist Temptation

    Part 3: Two Parties with Narrow Agendas

    7. The Framers Did Not Like Factions

    8. The Unforeseen Emergence of Only Two Parties

    9. Shifting Majorities and Accordion Agendas

    Part 4: Either Internal Anger or External Fear

    10. Anarchy and Civil War

    11. Cold-War Fear and Cooperation

    12. The Ongoing Turmoil

    Epilogue: A Future in Hope



    Josep M. Colomer is a political scientist at the School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and a life member of the American Political Science Association. He is the author or editor of two dozen books about comparative political institutions and governance, including the reference textbook The Science of Politics and the most recent monograph Democracy and Globalization. Personal website: www.josepcolomer.com

    "Many who worry about the state of American democracy adopt a narrow focus and consequently propose specific reform proposals such as ranked-choice voting or campaign finance restrictions. This book by an eminent scholar of comparative politics situates American democracy in a broader historical, comparative, and—especially--international context. Along the way, it makes a welcome shift in the focus of attention from what is going on inside the heads of voters to what is occurring in the larger social, economic, and international worlds in which they live."

    Morris P. Fiorina, Stanford University and Hoover Institution

    "In this brilliant book, Josep Colomer documents how the visionary framers of the US Constitution devised the doctrine of separation of powers to curb monarchical rule and the follies of immoderate majorities. Although presidentialism generally succeeded in a world long dominated by imperial powers, he shows how in recent decades the increased gridlock of divided government continues to undermine genuine democratic governance."

    Arturo Valenzuela, Georgetown University and co-author (with Juan J. Linz) of The Failure of Presidential Democracy