The Promise of American Life eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 620 pages of information about The Promise of American Life.

In considering this matter of institutional reform, I shall be guided chiefly by the extent to which certain specific reforms have already become living questions.  From this point of view it would be a sheer waste of time just at present to discuss seriously any radical modification, say, of the Federal Constitution.  Certain transformations of the Constitution either by insidious effect of practice, by deliberate judicial construction, or by amendment are, of course, an inevitable aspect of the contemporary American political problem; but all such possible and proposed changes must be confined to specific details.  They should not raise any question as to the fundamental desirability of a system of checks and balances or of the other principles upon which the Federal political organization is based.  Much, consequently, as a political theorist may be interested in some ideal plan of American national organization, it will be of little benefit under existing conditions to enter into such a discussion.  Let it wait until Americans have come to think seriously and consistently about fundamental political problems.  The Federal Constitution is not all it should be, but it is better than any substitute upon which American public opinion could now agree.  Modifications may and should somehow be made in details, but for the present not in fundamentals.  On the other hand, no similar sanctity attaches to municipal charters and state constitutions.  The ordinary state constitution is a sufficiently ephemeral piece of legislation.  State and municipal political forms are being constantly changed, and they are being changed because they have been so extremely unsatisfactory in their actual operation.  The local political machinery becomes, consequently, the natural and useful subject of reconstructive experiments.  A policy of institutional reform must prove its value and gain its experience chiefly in this field; and in formulating such a policy reformers will be placing their hands upon the most palpable and best-recognized weakness in the American political system.

A popular but ill-founded American political illusion concerns the success of their state governments.  Americans tend to believe that these governments have on the whole served them well, whereas in truth they have on the whole been ill served by their machinery of local administration and government.  The failure has not, perhaps, been as egregious or as scandalous as has been that of their municipal institutions; but it has been sufficiently serious to provoke continual but abortive attempts to improve them; and it has had so many dangerous consequences that the cause and cure of their inefficiency constitute one of the most fundamental of American political problems.  The consequences of the failure have been mitigated because the weakness of the state governments has been partly concealed and redeemed by the comparative strength and efficiency of the central government.  But

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The Promise of American Life from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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