How flawed constitutions undermine democracy

In a resounding article by Michael Albertus and Victor Menaldo of The Washington Post, factors that undermined the institute of democracy and its longevity are taken into account. According to an analysis called the “Varieties of Democracy Project” it is the quality of democracy that has declined rather than the number of democratic countries. Ukraine, Hungary, Turkey Poland, and Venezuela, all teeter the line of authoritarianism. Albertus and Menaldo maintain that with the current U.S. political debacle, both the global presence and strength of democracy seem to be waning. Political scholars and pundits alike suggest that the strengthening of authoritative power occur when democratic informal norms erode such as when the elite exercise political ruthlessness rather than restraint. “Informal norms of cooperation and collegiality across differences both complement and ultimately enforce democratic constitutions”. Additionally, according to Albertus and Menaldo, “outgoing authoritarian governments write biased constitutions and out of 122 democratic transitions since 1800, 80 cases- or 66%- new democracies inherited a constitution from authoritarian predecessors”. This process allows the outgoing authoritarian regime to implement shields to protect the elite from the rule of law while giving them a hand up politics and the economy. The good news however, is that changing the U.S. constitution to give the president even more powers would be difficult. Lastly Albertus and Menaldo suggest that democracies may “avoid populism and improve democratic quality through measured statesmanship and patient, incremental change’’.

By Timothy M. Champagne, World Affairs Council Intern
Photo Credit: The Washington Post