What will happen to American democracy? The nation's past holds vital clues for understanding where we are now and where we are headed. In The Cycles of Constitutional Time, the eminent constitutional theorist Jack Balkin explains how America's constitutional system changes through the interplay among three cycles: the rise and fall of dominant political parties, the waxing and waning of political polarization, and alternating episodes of constitutional decay and constitutional renewal. If America's politics seems especially fraught today, it is because we are nearing the end of the Republican Party's political dominance, at the height of a long cycle of political polarization, and suffering from an advanced case of what he calls "constitutional rot." In fact, when people talk about constitutional crisis, Balkin explains, they are usually describing constitutional rot--the historical process through which republics become less representative and less devoted to the common good. Brought on by increasing economic inequality and loss of trust, constitutional rot threatens our constitutional system.
But Balkin offers a message of hope: We have been through these cycles before, and we will get through them again. He describes what our politics will look like as polarization lessens and constitutional rot recedes. Balkin also explains how the cycles of constitutional time shape the work of the federal courts and theories about constitutional interpretation. He shows how the political parties have switched sides on judicial review not once but twice in the twentieth century, and what struggles over judicial review will look like in the coming decades. Drawing on literatures from history, law, and political science, this is a fascinating ride through American history with important lessons for the present and the future.