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Frozen Republic: How the Constitution is Paralyzing Democracy [Paperback]

Daniel Lazare
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug 1997 0156004941 978-0156004947
In this thought-provoking polemic, "an accomplished iconoclast" whose "knowledge of american history is as persuasive as his wit" (New York Times Book Review) blames americanca's outmoded constitutional system of checks and balances for the political malaise and governmental gridlock of recent years. Index.

Product details

  • Paperback: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Thomson Learning (Aug 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156004941
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156004947
  • Product Dimensions: 22.1 x 14.4 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 824,967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
3.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It makes you think 5 Aug 1999
By A Customer
Anyone who complains about the author's left-wing views, which are obvious, is pretty much missing the point of the book. Left vs. right is only one axis, orthogonal to and in many ways less significant than older distinctions - Whig/Tory, Court/Country, federalist/parliamentary, etc. What, you say? Those are old issues, no longer relevant today? In fact they are as important today as ever, and are infrequently discussed in the modern United States because only one approach to them is allowed by the Holy Constitution...and that's precisely Lazare's point.
According to Lazare, the Constitution and the religious awe in which it is often held (even to the extent of my feeling compelled to capitalize the word) form the straitjacket in which our current looney-bin government and culture are confined. He seems to feel particular hatred for the amendment clause, but this brings us to the major flaw in this book. Despite his claim that the barriers to amendment are too high, Lazare himself discusses examples (e.g. Prohibition) that might lead one to the opposite conclusion. Likewise, though he favors a strong unicameral legislature, his commentary on the conduct of House members hardly support his own argument. In the end, much of the essential message of the book is muddied and lost.
Despite these flaws, though, this book provokes thought on a variety of matters not limited to the form of government. Of particular interest is the way Lazare discusses the relationships between abstract concepts such as separation of powers or individual rights to very concrete concerns such as public-health policy and urban sprawl. While his leftist tendencies do become annoyingly apparent in the later chapters, the attempt to tie everything together is laudable. Even if you disagree vehemently with all of Lazare's views, including the central thesis, the book is well worth reading in the spirit of broad intellectual exploration.
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By A Customer
Lazare's premise is that the Constitution is seriously flawed because of its insistence on checks and balances and the separation of powers. In contrast to the Founding Fathers's view of concentrated power being a menace, Lazare argues that power becomes irresponsible if it divided. Lazare refers not only to the federal government, but also the cornucopia of various governmental entities on the state and local level.
As shocking as this may be, it is a reasonable alternative to blaming politicians, big government, liberals, conservatives, the media, etc. for the inability of Washington to do anything. No one can really be held accountable as the other branches of the government can be blamed for stalling.
Lazare convincingly illustrates the negative effects of this system in his chapter about civil liberties. From the standpoint of the legislative branch (Congress), the judiciary (Supreme Court) is the institution that exists to protect civil liberties. Thus Congress need worry about passing constitutional laws as the Supreme Court would invalidate them if necessary. Of course, if the Supreme Court were to abdicate its role, then no one would be in charge of protecting civil liberties.
Not all of Lazare's arguments are convincing. His link between the separation of powers and urban decay is not entirely convincing. He also declines to thoroughly discuss the downsides of a parliamentary system which he strongly advocates throughout the book. Nonetheless, "The Frozen Republic" is a very insightful critique of the U.S. Constitution, and a plausible (although not complete) explanation for the current state of politics in the United States.
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1.0 out of 5 stars History of the U.S. through socialist lenses. 22 Aug 1998
By A Customer
Lazare's own politics are extremely pro-socialist, and in "The Frozen Republic" he lists problems with the Constitution and a few Constitutional crises and then uses them to justify a need for a socialist government.
Not only is the logic of his argument entirely faulty; in addition, he frequently takes time out from his main thesis to criticize and caricature various moderate or conservative historical figures (Jefferson, Reagan, Ford, Bork, Blackstone, Burke, etc.) for little reason, apparently, other than his own dislike.
Lazare's argument misunderstands the clearly-stated intent of the Constitution: "...to ensure the blessings of Liberty...," and to protect the people from being denied their unalienable rights (life, liberty, property) without due process of law.
Instead, he argues that the Constitution's only goal is to promote "democracy," and that as long as limits or checks are placed on elected officials, democracy is being restrained. The effect of placing UNLIMITED power in the hands of elected officials is not discussed, despite ample 20th century empirical evidence (Hitler, Mussolini...).
The argument is pure sophistry. The book is well-written as far as STYLE is concerned, but silly in most other ways.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Proves only his own ideology and bias 22 Aug 1998
By A Customer
"The Frozen Republic" mixes insight and good research with extreme-leftist beliefs and blindness to the failures of 20th-century socialism. The mixture is unsatisying.
He starts with some facts: That the Constitution is old, that the founders did not account for a variety of possible problems, that the founders' language protected the institution of slavery, and that the founders made it so difficult to update the constitution that it could not easily be altered to handle contemporary issues.
From these premises, Lazare argues that the IDEAL government is unlimited centralized socialism: states and local governments made powerless, every aspect of local life controlled at the Federal level, and the power of elected officials made unlimited, unchecked by either the Constitution OR seperation of powers.
Needless to say, these conclusions are not justified by Lazare's inital observations. They do, however, make Lazare's own political leanings rather obvious.
Lazare is so anxious to scrap the Constitution's limits on government power that he's quite willing to discard a person's guaranteed freedom to exercise his own religion or to speak freely. Even the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and property would be abolished, and Lazare would not protest. Why not? Lazare feels that by perpetuating these limits on the powers of our elected officials, we limit democracy itself (since our democratically elected officials would not be omnipotent). Lazare feels that the rights of the people would not, in fact, be damaged because a tyrant elected through a democratic process is somehow less likely to behave like a tyrant.
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