CONSTITUTIONAL DEMOCRACY & OTHER POLITICAL REGIMES
MODERN CONSTITUTIONAL DEMOCRACY:
SUMMARY & CONCLUSION
When representative democracy is combined with constitutionalism and the rule of law, the result is modern constitutional democracy. In a constitutional democracy, the Constitution, or basic law, of the political society defines, distributes, and limits political authority, restricting the discretionary authority of government officeholders and institutions and protecting the rights and liberties of the individual members of the society. The legitimate right to govern the society is in the hands of representatives elected by the voters in free, competitive, and frequently held elections--elections in which opposition parties and candidates have the legal right and opportunity to criticize and compete with the governing party and elite and in which the vast majority of adult citizens have the legal right and opportunity to vote. There are legally established and widely respected rules of procedure for (1) making and carrying out governmental decisions on public policy, (2) calling into question the decisions of government, after the decisions have been made and have become official as well as during the preceding stage of the policy process, when the decisions were mere proposals, and (3) ensuring that government officeholders and institutions follow due process of law when acting against individual members of the society.
In a constitutional democracy, the legitimate political process includes peaceful means by which the voters can hold their elected representatives in the government accountable for their official decisions and actions, the voters voting in meaningful elections and thereby availing themselves of the opportunity to cast judgement on their elected representatives' decisions and actions while in office and, if dissatisfied with those decisions and actions, to withdraw political support from their representatives by denying them reelection. Such political means for holding elected representatives responsible can also be employed to force them to abide by the Constitution and other laws of the political society.
Moreover, legal processes are available for holding government officeholders answerable if they violate the Constitution or other laws of the society--legal prcedures such as, for example, (1) going into court to challenge the constitutionality of the decisions and actions of the legislature or those of the executive (e.g., in the U.S.A.), (2) use of the courts to question the statutory authority of the decisions and actions of executive and administrative officials in the government (e.g., in the U.S.A. and Great Britain), (3) instituting impeachment procedings in the legislature against particular executive officers in the government, forcing them to stand trial for "high crimes and misdemeanors," and, if convicted, removing them from office before the expiration of their terms (in the U.S.A., but no longer in Britain), (4) employing the impeachment, trial, conviction, and removal process against partitular judges (in the U.S.A.), (5) removal of a judge for misbehavior, after an address presented to the Crown by both chambers of Parliament (in Britain), and (6) a legislative chamber's expulsion, by an extraordinary majority vote, of one of its members (in the U.S.A.).
In a given political society, a constitutional democratic system of government cannot be established on a sound basis and made to endure unless the society's political culture is compatible with and supportive of constitutionalism, the rule of law, and representative democracy. For constitutional democracy to be successful, the character and content of the society' political culture must be such that there exists within the society consensus-- widespread agreement--on matters of fundamental importance to the society. This fundamental political consensus must include must either a common national identity and perspective or the ability and willingness of different nationalities and other groups within the same political jurisdiction to accomodate one another to the extent necessary for maintenance of internal peace and order. The fundamental political consensus must also include widespread agreement on the basic goals and purposes of the society, the legitimate means of managing and resolving political conflict and competition within the society, and a set of basic political values, norms, and beliefs which nourish and sustain the institutions and practices of constitutional, representative democracy. While the Constitution is the legal foundation of government in a stable constitutional democratic society, the Constitution itself rests on a cultural foundation--the society's political culture.
Constitutional democratic political regimes, in terms of their ability to function and survive, have demonstrated the greatest degree of success in political societies where such regimes and their supporting political cultures evolved over very long periods of time--e.g., Britain, the U.S.A., and other English-speaking societies.