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When governance in America and other presidential regimes is compared with governance in most parliamentary systems, it becomes evident, I think, that presidentialism faces far greater obstacles than parliamentarism in creating a sense of legitimacy for the state. The historical successes of the United States and veneration for its Charter as felt by most Americans means that its constitutional design is likely to continue indefinitely without fundamental changes. However, that model should not deceive observers in other countries, where, especially in the successor states of the modern empires, it is surely a recipe for disaster.
The truth of this conclusion needs to be tested by empirical analysis as well as the theoretical explanations offered here. Such data can be found in the historical record (see note #2 and Riggs 1993). One might suppose that American advisers in other countries would warn them against the dangers involved in copying the American model. Unfortunately, because they do not systematically compare the American experience with that of other presidentialist regimes, they are unaware of the inherent difficulties involved in the separation-of-powers design. They prefer to think that, because the United States constitution has, indeed, survived with widespread applause for two centuries, it must be a model that can be emulated with advantage by other countries. When they compare different parliamentary regimes with each other, it becomes easy enough to point to cases where, for various reasons, parliamentarism has worked quite badly. When conclusions from comparative analysis are made by reference to the worst cases of parliamentarism and the most (if not only) successful case of presidentialism, how credible are these results?
My own conclusion, based primarily on an assessment of the IND challenges of modernity, is that on all three fronts -- industrialism, nationalism and democracy -- parliamentary regimes have a better chance of coping with these great challenges of modernity. To recapitulate:
The inherent difficulties experienced by presidentialist regimes in solving these modern problems does not mean that parliamentarism offers a "magic bullet," that it can assuredly solve these problems more effectively. For various historical, economic, demographic, geographic and other reasons, many of the new states of the world will continue to live in poverty and despair, under weak authoritarianism and anarchy, experiencing violence and self-destructive behavior, genocide, "ethnic cleansing," civil wars and terrorism. However, if any state can establish a constitutional democracy, I believe that its prospects for success will be significantly higher if its constitution supports parliamentary rather than presidential rules for self-government. It will do so because:
Whether or not these hypotheses are true remains to be shown, but the arguments that support them seem strong enough to deserve serious attention.
See linked pages:  introduction || industrialism || nationalism || democracy (1: representativeness) || democracy (2: legitimacy) || endnotes || bibliography