Achen and Bartels on the Democratical Republick
We examine how the notion of popular sovereignty has animated the evolution of American political institutions. We argue that the triumph of democratic rhetoric at the Founding has left Americans with just one remedy in times of governmental failure, namely that reform should move toward greater democratization. More “democratic” institutions have generally emerged (1) when existing institutions have been strained by economic or political crises, (2) when powerful elites have discerned an immediate political advantage in “reform,” and (3) when new institutions could be established with only modest popular involvement. Initially, reform meant extending the franchise and reducing the role of political parties. With time, it has come to mean greater reliance on plebiscitary elements in government. The result has been a gradual ratcheting-up of democratic expectations, and attendant discontents. We illustrate this process in the evolution of the direct primary and the establishment of initiative and referendum procedures in the Progressive Era. We also explore a notable case of resistance to direct democracy: the repeated failure of Minnesota voters to approve a constitutional amendment establishing a statewide initiative and referendum process.
Chris Achen and Larry Bartels (2007), “Tumbling Down into a Democratical Republick,” unpublished paper. Available here.