What Challenges Might Face American Constitutional Democracy in the Twenty-first Century?
The U.S. Constitution has proven to be remarkably resilient. It has
survived more than two centuries
because it has been able to accommodate massive transformations in
American life, including the increasing diversity and size of the nation
and a traumatic civil war. The constitutional system provides Americans
many opportunities to participate in local, state, and national
affairs. At home and abroad its principles and ideals have inspired
people. In this, the twenty-first century, its resilience
will continue to be tested.
In this unit you will learn about American citizenship and opportunities for participation in local, state, and national government. You also will learn how the American constitutional model has influenced other countries and international organizations. Finally, you will consider some challenges facing American constitutionalism in the future.
What Does It Mean to Be a Citizen?Justice Louis D. Brandeis once remarked that "the only title in our democracy superior to that of president is the title citizen." Brandeis was acknowledging one of the oldest principles of American democracy, part of the nation's legacy of classical republicanism. America's experiment in self-government depends foremost not on presidents, members of Congress, or justices, but on each of us as citizens. This unit begins with a discussion of influences of classical republicanism and natural rights philosophy on Americans' ideas about citizenship. It concludes by offering you the opportunity to discuss some of the most fundamental questions of citizenship. This lesson examines the concept of "citizen," how the concept has changed in American history, how one becomes a citizen, and the moral and legal rights and obligations of citizens.
When you have finished this lesson, you should be able to explain the meaning of citizenship in the United States, the ways Americans become citizens, and why all American citizens are citizens both of their states and their nation. You also should be able to identify essential rights and responsibilities of citizens, and why citizenship is particularly complicated for Native Americans. You should be able to describe the process of naturalization, differences between citizens and resident aliens, and how citizenship can be lost. Finally, you should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions on the legal and moral rights and obligations of citizens.
What Is the Importance of Civic Engagement to American Constitutional Democracy?America's founding principles assume the active involvement of its people in civic life. Popular sovereignty, for example, means that the people have ultimate governing authority, which carries with it the responsibility to exercise that authority knowledgeably to balance individual interests and the common good. Protection of individual rights requires people to be guardians of their own rights and to be willing to defend the rights of others.
This lesson describes ways that Americans can participate in civic life to help achieve the ideals they have set for themselves and their nation, ideals that were examined in Units One and Two. It explains how civic engagement can advance both self-interest and the common good. It also discusses issues related to voting and voter turnout.
When you have finished this lesson, you should be able to explain why Americans need to be engaged in civic affairs. You also should be able to identify opportunities for civic engagement through voluntary associations and nongovernmental organizations and participation in local, state, and national politics. Finally, you should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions on challenges associated with voting and other forms of participation in civic life in the United States.
How Have Civil Rights Movements Resulted in Fundamental Political and Social Change in the United States?The Declaration of Independence is celebrated for its commitment to the principles of human liberty and equality. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees equal treatment under the law. This lesson focuses on political and social movements that have used and continue to use the Declaration and the Fourteenth Amendment to effect fundamental political and social change in the United States.
When you have finished this lesson, you should be able to explain why African Americans, women, and other groups found it necessary to take concerted action to ensure recognition of their civil rights. You should be able to describe some of the goals and tactics that civil rights movements have used. You should be able to describe and explain the importance of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. You also should be able to identify some ongoing issues involving civil rights. Finally, you should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions on landmark legislation involving civil rights and the role of civil disobedience in America's constitutional democracy.
How Have American Political Ideas and the American Constitutional System Influenced Other Nations?The ideas in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights have inspired other countries seeking to create independent, democratic governments. This lesson examines some of the challenges associated with using the American constitutional model in other parts of the world.
When you have finished this lesson, you should be able to identify which aspects of the American constitutional system have been influential elsewhere. You should be able to explain why some countries and international organizations have chosen to modify the American system or to use other types of democratic systems. You also should be able to explain how the Bill of Rights has influenced other countries and how some countries have adopted bills of rights that are considerably different. Finally, you should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions on why some aspects of American constitutional democracy that have been effective in the United States have not been used in other countries.
What Key Challenges Does the United States Face in the Future?From the beginning Americans have looked to the future. This lesson examines some of the challenges that might affect Americans as individuals and in their civic lives in coming years. It also explores issues that might lead to proposals for additional changes to the United States Constitution.
When you have finished this lesson, you should be able to discuss the effects of diversity and technology on the lives of Americans. You also should be able to explain the importance of civil discourse in debating divisive issues. Finally, you should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions on the changing expectations of America's governments and potential constitutional amendments.
What Are the Challenges of the Participation of the United States in World Affairs?The United States is involved in a system of international relations in which sovereign nations compete to achieve and maintain strategic positions in world affairs. The challenges facing the United States and its citizens in world affairs are complex and difficult. They will continue to be so.
This lesson highlights some aspects of Americans' participation in the international arena. When you have completed the lesson, you should be able to identify the constitutional responsibilities of the three branches of the national government in shaping the involvement of the United States in world affairs. You should be able to describe globalization and to identify some of the challenges that globalization poses for citizenship and participation in world affairs. Finally, you should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions on issues involving globalization and improving the image of the United States abroad.
What Does Returning to Fundamental Principles Mean?One of the Founders, George Mason from Virginia, said,"No free government, or the blessings of liberty can be preserved to any people, but by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles." In this concluding lesson, you have the opportunity of relating some fundamental principles and ideas of our government to contemporary issues.
The format of this concluding lesson differs from the others. Critical Thinking Exercises similar to others throughout this text present a series of quotations that represent great ideas and principles that have shaped our constitutional heritage. Some of these ideas contradict each other. However, American constitutional history has witnessed many conflicts between competing principles of equal merit. Examples include the conflict between majority rule and minority rights, between sovereign power and fundamental rights, between liberty and order, and between unity and diversity.
Examples of conflicts appear in the following exercises. In each case you will be asked to apply the principles and ideas suggested in the quotations to a contemporary issue, to work through the issue on your own or in small groups, and to reach your own conclusions.
In so doing you will use the skills of citizenship?observation, analysis, debate, and careful selection of value judgments?to reach, express, and defend an opinion. These exercises provide practice for the responsibilities you will encounter in the years ahead.