Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Teaching about Democratic Constitutionalism

Teaching about Democratic Constitutionalism. To my American readers, happy election day. Go out and vote. Further, if you are an educator at any level (pre-school, primary, secondary, post-secondary) please let your student know that you voted. Talk about it and be sure to stress the importance of voting in a constituional democracy.

This ERIC Digest from 1997 may gave you some ideas on how to teach the concept in class. It was written by John J. Patrick and published by the now defunct ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science.

From the site:

Constitutionalism means limited government and the rule of law to prevent the arbitrary, abusive use of power, to protect human rights, to support democratic procedures in elections and public policy making, and to achieve a community's shared purposes. Constitutionalism in a democracy, therefore, both limits and empowers government of, by, and for the people. Through the constitution, the people grant power to the government to act effectively for the public good. The people also set constitutional limits on the power of the democratic government in order to prevent tyranny and to protect human rights (Holmes 1995, 299). The rights of individuals to life, liberty, and property are at risk if the government is either too strong or too weak. Both tyranny and anarchy pose critical dangers to security for individual rights.

An effective democratic constitutional government is sufficiently empowered by people to secure their rights against foreign invaders or domestic predators. Its power is also sufficiently limited by people to secure their rights against the possibility of oppressive government officials. A continuing challenge of democratic constitutionalism is determining how to simultaneously empower and limit the government in order to secure the rights of all persons in the polity.

Not every government with a written constitution exemplifies democratic constitutionalism. Many constitutions have presented merely the appearance of democratic government with little or no correspondence to reality. Soviet-style constitutions of the recent past, for example, grandly proclaimed all kinds of rights while guaranteeing none of them. Only governments that usually, if not perfectly, function in terms of a constitution to which the people have consented may be considered examples of democratic constitutionalism.

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