CONSTITUTIONAL DEMOCRACY & OTHER POLITICAL REGIMES
The term "political regime" is used to designate the basic structure, or system, of govern- ment existing and operating in a given political society. The term refers to the fundamental approach to governing a society, e.g., the constitutional approach or the dictatorial ap- proach. A political regime consists of (1) the basic principles upon which a society's gov- ernment operates, (2) the institutional forms and processes of that government, (3) the distribution of political authority among the major offices and institutions of the govern- ment, and (4) the resulting power relationships among these government offices and insti- tutions.
The type of political regime existing and operating in the United States of America is called "constitutional democracy." In addition to the U.S.A., present-day political societies with stable, well-established constitutional democratic systems of government include most of the other Anglophone, or English-speaking, societies in the world, especially Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Other examples of societies with stable po- litical regimes that are both constitutional and democratic in character include Japan and the countries of Western Europe.
In Part Two of the course, we will explore the fundamental character of modern constitu- tional democracy, identifying and examining its essential ingredients--constitutionalism and representative democracy. We will see how constitutionalism differs from dictatorship and how representative democracy differs from direct democracy. We will examine briefly the body of political theory, or philosophy, underlying direct democracy and that underlying representative democracy. Part Two concludes with a brief review of the basic features of modern constitutional democracy.
A. MODERN CONSTITUTIONAL DEMOCRACY: FUNDAMENTAL CHARACTER ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS
What is constitutional democracy? What are its essential ingredients?
1. Constitutional Democracy--A Definition:
Constitutional democracy is a system of government in which (1) political authority--i.e., the power of government--is defined, limited, and distributed by a body of fundamental law called "the Constitution" and (2) the electorate--the general voting populace within the political society--has effective means of (a) controlling the elected representatives in the government and (b) holding them accountable (responsible, or answerable) for their decisions and actions while in public office.
2. Constitutional Democracy--Two Essential Ingredients:
A constitutional democracy has two essential ingredients, (1) a constitutional ingredient and (2) a democratic ingredient.
The Constitutional Ingredient. The constitutional ingredient of modern constitutional democracy is called "constitutionalism," or "constitutional government." This ingredient relates to how political authority is defined, limited, and distributed by law. Under constitutionalism, the Constitution, the basic law of the political community, (1) defines and limits the power of government and (2) determines the degree and manner of distribution of political authority among the major organs or parts of the government.
The Democratic Ingredient. The democratic ingredient of modern constitutional democracy is representative democracy and relates to (1) who holds and exercises political authority, (2) how political authority is acquired and retained, and (3) the significance of the latter as regards popular control and public accountability of those persons who hold and exercise political authority. In a representative democracy, (1) political authority--the power to make and enforce authoritative, binding decisions for and in the name of the entire political community--is held and exercised by the voters' elected representatives in the government and by officers appointed or succeeding to their positions of authority in accordance with the laws of the community, (2) political authority is acquired and retained either directly or indirectly as the result of victory in free and competitive elections, and (3) the voting citizenry, through participation in free and competitive elections held periodically, can effectively control their elected representatives and hold them responsible for the consequences of their exercise of governmental power as well as for the manner in which and the purposes for which they exercise that power.