Strong Constitutions Maxwell CameronStrong Constitutions: Social-Cognitive Origins of the Separation of Powers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013) by Maxwell A. Cameron

In this imaginative and readable book, Cameron (University of British Columbia) provides a learned defense of the separation of powers. While not disputing the importance of the separation of powers as a source of restraint in democratic theory, the author contends that the concept allows for collective action, which can promote and sustain democratic regimes. Other conceptions of the separation of powers are integrated into his critique, as well as the importance of divided power in promoting the survivability of any government. The separation of powers, if rightly understood, actually strengthens regimes. The refinement of democratic institutions is also based on the “social-cognitive” aspects of politics, especially the use of language that encourages “collective organization” (p. 19); and, the value of a written constitution is yet another extension of this analysis. Other factors in addition to language, including collective bargaining and “democratized” technologies (p. 51), can aid the evolution of the “social-cognitive” contribution to the separation of powers. For the non-specialist, the book also contains many useful assessments of a wide range of political thinkers, from Aristotle to F. A. Hayek.  The tome is one of the most insightful defenses of the separation of powers to appear in many years.

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